UNICEF Belize works to combat all forms of violence on or against children and adolescents in their homes and communities.
Child protection is a global challenge in need of global action. Every 7 minutes, somewhere in the world a young person of 10-19 years old dies a violent death while millions of children are physically abused in their homes and at school.
Worldwide 600 million children under five live without legal protection against corporal punishment at home. Sexual abuse often starts early, around age 10. 9 out of 10 teen girls who were raped say the perpetrator was someone they knew. Only 1per cent of them reached out for professional help.
1 in every 3 students in the world has been bullied and/or physically assaulted. Children who are bullied are often marginalized by their peers, with children from ethnic minorities and children with disabilities more likely to be singled out. Adolescents are often targeted for their sexual identity.
With 1 in 3 internet users now below age 18, almost half of these young people have been cyber-bullied. This is not an online-only problem: research has shown there is a strong link between cyber-bullying and n-person bullying. Victims of cyber-bullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, get poor grades, develop low self-esteem and health problems. In extreme cases, it can even lead to suicide.
Silence is not acceptable – if we see violence against a child and do nothing, we are saying what is happening to him or her is okay.
In Belize, 65 percent of children experience violent discipline in their homes. Of these children, 6 percent report experiencing severe forms of punishment and 52 percent of children up to age of 14 are subjected to psychological aggression.
The violence, both physical and verbal, is often an invisible problem because it occurs within families and is not only tolerated, but considered normal. A recent UNICEF study reveals that in Belize, 3 in 4 small children, aged 2-4, experience violence from caregivers; 1 in 4 of those adults believe this is necessary. Those who do perceive it to be a problem are unaware of how to report it, are too afraid to or have no access to services for persons who experience violence — or simply turn a blind eye.
Among the key challenges facing UNICEF in Belize are:
- lack of comprehensive data on child abuse;
- no strong mechanisms for data collection and reporting;
- low conviction rates for perpetrators; and
- limited access to support services for victims of abuse.
Protecting children from harm, abuse and exploitation is at the heart of UNICEF’s mandate. In Belize, we work to eliminate physical and sexual attacks, corporal and other degrading forms of punishment in schools, as well as digital dangers like cyber bullying, online sex trafficking and sexual abuse.
In 2017, Belize became the first country to adapt a multi-sectoral approach to ending violence, making child protection a top priority. Largely guided by the National Road Map to End Violence Against Children (based on the recommendations from the Secretary General’s study) UNICEF supported the development of the New Children’s Agenda 2017-2030. This collaborative effort aims to ensure optimum health for Belizean children and youth, to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, provide quality education and affordable programs to help children grow up with self-confidence, and appreciation for our diverse culture and gender equality.
UNICEF uses Communication for Development (C4D) approaches such as community outreach, participation and capacity building of teachers, parents and key stakeholders to inspire lasting changes in behaviours and attitudes. A successful example of our C4D approach is Belize’s TIME OUT campaign — public service announcements through television, social media, online messaging with content inspired by children’s stories from across Belize. TIME OUT is integral to our partners’ activities in educating children and youth about different forms of violence and sexual abuse and providing safe spaces for them to explore how to end the violence in their communities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child, everywhere, has the right to survive, grow and be protected.
UNICEF is proud to sponsor community-based projects for children and teens through art, music and sports and continues to work for legislative reform, recently helping to establish the first child-friendly family court in southern Belize.
UNICEF continues to support community-based actions: vigils, rallies and social media movements aimed at education, sensitization, behavioral and attitudinal change; and a call to action to eliminate violence against children with a specific emphasis on small arms violence and physical, sexual abuse and exploitation.
Some notable achievements with UNICEF support in Belize include:
- the banning of corporal punishment in schools;
- strengthening legislation around commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and human trafficking;
- increasing the age of criminal responsibility;
- devising a National Youth Policy and National Policy on Crime and Violence to protect at-risk children from violence through safe spaces in their communities.