UNICEF LAUNCHES REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN BELIZE: Calls to Put Children’s Rights at the Center of Development in Belize
San Ignacio Town, 24 August 2011 - United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC) today called for action to improve the status of children and women. The call was made at the Launch of the Situation Analysis (SitAn) on the status of Children and Women in Belize on 24 August 2011 at a two-day conference. The event commenced with an opening ceremony at 9:00 am in San Ignacio Hotel in San Ignacio Town in the Cayo District. The focus of Day One was on A Follow-up to the United Nations Study on Violence against Children followed by Putting Children’s Rights at the Centre of Development in Belize on the second day. Featured speakers include Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary General, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Jurgen Weller, Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nadine Perrault, Child Protection Regional Adviser for UNICEF, Mark Edberg, Associate Professor at George Washington University, Diana Shaw, Attorney-at-law and Project Coordinator for the International Organization for Migration’s Anti Trafficking Belize Project and Claudia Chambers, Research Psychologist and Qualitative Research Consultant in Belize. One hundred participants from all sectors are attending this conference.
The report acknowledges that notable successes have been made to improve the lives of children and women in Belize. However, unequal access, coverage and quality of social/health services, education , child protection as well as gender inequity, ethnic and regional disparity are major impediments for children’s and women’s development. It also points to poverty and wealth inequity being significant. While the poverty rate is typically higher than the norm for Caribbean countries, it is comparable or slightly better than other Central American countries with general economic and environmental conditions contributing to high levels of vulnerability.
UNICEF Representative Christine Norton states that the rights-focused Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Belize is about the importance of the ecology in which children grow and she underscores the importance of early and consistent investments across the lifecycle which can translate into positive outcomes for boys, girls, and women to shape lives. She adds that children and women will be healthier, happier and ready to contribute to Belize’s national development agenda when families, schools, social services and communities provide equitable access and opportunities for social participation and networking.
The most salient factor in this report is poverty. It states that children in the poorest households are far more likely to die before age 5, to be malnourished and have stunted growth. Access to health and other basic services is significantly less and the likelihood of early marriage and childbirth, dropping out of school, HIV and STI risks, abuse and exploitation is higher. In conclusion, disease, under-nutrition, ill health, illiteracy and many protection abuses are highest in the most impoverished child populations. Providing these children with essential services equitably has great potential to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and other international commitments to children.
Through its findings, the SitAn recommends building strong connections between developmental programmes and policies in order to construct a coherent set of supports and services. Some of these programmes can be aimed at supporting access to basic social services for women and children to alleviate poverty, increase and diversify economic opportunities equitably, increase awareness through mass media, among others. It also recommends the development of policies and programmes to improve crisis vulnerability and support equitable involvement of all cultures prevent violence against women and children.
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“ Violence hurts when it happens, and also leaves dramatic scars and lifelong consequences, hampering children’s development, learning abilities and school performance, and very often for a long time. Violence inhibits positive relationships, provokes low self-esteem, emotional distress, and depression and, at times, leads to risk taking, self harm and aggressive behavior,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children (SRSG), Maria Santos Pais.
Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro further stated, “ The harmful effect of corporal punishment on children is well researched, and it associated with higher levels of aggression and antisocial behavior in childhood, and this association continues into adulthood. If we want to reduce all forms of violence in the society, including physical and sexual violence against women and children, we must urgently prohibit and eliminate this violence disguised as discipline. It is also a key strategy for reducing and preventing all forms of violence in the society…Regarding the impact of violence on children and adolescents, it is important to implement public policies in this area that are adequate to meet the particular needs of young people.”
Belize is rebounding from global recession that led to an increase in poverty levels and socio-economic inequities, leaving many women and children to bear the impact of this deterioration. Notable successes in the health sector are recognized and the Government of Belize continues to prioritise the social services. The SitAn encourages the donor community to continue to provide financing mechanisms that bolster women and children from hardships and reduce vulnerability.
“If there was ever a time when we needed the support from our local and international development partners, it is now,” said Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. “We call on our media, and our local and international partners to support the children and women of Belize against this background of numerous challenges”.
Developed through combined effort of Government Ministries, civil society, academia, UN agencies and children and women themselves, the SitAn will be a powerful reference tool to monitor changes in the situation of children and women in Belize.
“Our government pledges its continued commitment to the protection and upholding of all human rights, particularly those of our women and children and other vulnerable groups. I express my government’s gratitude to UNICEF for the indispensable role they played in the completion of the Situation Analysis Report. Up to now, relevant and evidenced based data on women and children in Belize were scarce and piecemeal. UNICEF brings credibility to the findings; as such, the report will be extremely useful for policy development and planning. The ultimate success of this report in improving the situation as it relates to women, children and other vulnerable groups is contingent on our ability to forge new synergies and partnerships among various stakeholders, to advance national and international efforts in this area.” said Honourable Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. Christine Norton, UNICEF Representative