This past week we have witnessed the appointment of several people recognized for their contributions to Belizean society and development. These people were nominated sometime last year and before the last election, a few of them are questionable at best. Belize signed on to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on March 1, 1990 but almost thirty-one years later nothing much has changed at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel. Ironically, just as Judith Alpuche, former CEO in the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation was named an Ordinary Member of the British Empire (MBE), we discovered the inhumane conditions in which children are currently forced to live at the hostel. Yet, it is precisely for her work and contributions to Social Work and Public service that she has been recognized. The squalid conditions of the grounds littered with garbage gives previews of even worse conditions inside. The facilities are rundown and resemble prison cells more than a rehabilitation center for troubled youth. In fact, that is precisely how they are forced to live behind bars like hardened criminals beyond redemption.
In November 2015, on the fourth day of the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence there was a fire at the hostel. Three young girls perished together in a fire. Their names were Anna, Elizabeth and Shadisha. These girls died a violent death in a place that should have been their sanctuary. There was a coroner’s inquest, and administrative discipline. The report was never made public and those responsible were never held accountable for their actions and their neglect. It was Judith Alpuche who told us that the experience would serve so that the conditions that led to the horrible incident would never again happen. It has been more than five years since Belize witnessed horrified as the building where these girls were, was engulfed in flames. Until just recently, it was still Ms. Alpuche who served as the CEO of the Ministry, and it was under her watch that our girls died. To add insult to injury, the conditions at the hostel did not change, they remained exactly the same.
Under the convention children are guaranteed the right to life, survival and development, non-discrimination, and the devotion to the best interests of the child. The abomination that is the hostel in its current state violates all the core principles of the rights of children. It is inconceivable that the former CEO under whose watch three children died in a fire and who did nothing to change the systemic rot that permeates every corner of that institution should now receive recognition and award.
However, it is not only the inept former crocodile tears CEO who is responsible. The last administration spent millions on over-priced and substandard roads. Millions were also spent on sporting facilities, on the famous pibil, and of course, on fruitless litigation. When we say that in the past there was not enough investment in the people, this is a prime example. It is easy to dismiss young girls as problematic, angry, and out of control, but as wards they are under the protection and care of the state. They are placed in the system for rehabilitation not incarceration. The retired ministers who live in the mansions in the hills, or on their luxurious farms developed with public owned equipment do not care for these children or the conditions in which they are forced to live. Some former ministers had to stuff their cash in their socks because their pockets were so full, while these children are locked behind bars in run down rooms full of trash with barely enough to eat. We know that Hon. Dolores and Hon. Gilroy will not rest until the rot is rooted out and the hostel becomes the haven for young girls and boys that it should be.