5 ways COVID-19 is affecting children in Belize and how UNICEF is helping

From education to health, UNICEF is working around the clock to support children and families.

By Martina Tomassini
UNICEF Belize: close-up image of a boy wearing a mask.
UNICEF Belize/2020
25 August 2020

BELIZE CITY, Belize ─ COVID-19 is claiming lives and livelihoods across the globe. Sadly, Belize is no exception.

As families struggle to stay afloat, the crisis is battering essential services that secure the education and protection of the country’s children. With over 40 per cent of the population under the age of 18, tens of thousands of young Belizeans are at risk.

Children are falling behind in schoolwork. They are more vulnerable to abuse. And they are missing out on the nourishment their young bodies and brains need to develop to their full potential.

Here are 5 ways COVID-19 is affecting children in Belize and how UNICEF is working with the Government and partners to help them.

1. Keeping children healthy and well nourished is a challenge

Overburdened health systems threaten more than those who fall ill with COVID-19. And with school closures, children who depend on school feeding programmes are cut off from the food they need to learn and thrive.

In Belize, about 25 per cent of surveyed households indicated skipping of meals or reduced food intake. This represents an additional threat, especially to 15 per cent of children under 5 who suffer from stunting, and pregnant women who do not have access to nutritious food.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education’s School Feeding Programme by delivering 1,500 nutrition hampers, including hygiene kits, to families in need affected by school closures.

As we respond to COVID-19, we are ensuring that vital supplies reach the most vulnerable communities. And we are prioritizing the delivery of food; hygiene kits; and protective and health equipment, including testing kits.

2. For some, proper handwashing is out of reach

Handwashing with soap and water is critical to stop the spread of COVID-19. But in Belize, one in three schools have no or limited hygiene services.

What UNICEF is doing

In Belize and globally, UNICEF calls upon governments to prioritize the most vulnerable children with basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

UNICEF continues to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing by disseminating hygiene messages through Belize’s radio, TV and print channels. Plans are in place to reach 50,000 students with critical hygiene packages – which will help promote handwashing with soap and keep classrooms clean when schools reopen.

3. With schools closed, learning opportunities are limited

With schools closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, parents, caregivers and educators are challenged to find new ways to keep children learning.

In Belize, more than 100,000 children and adolescents have been affected by school closures. This has produced a dramatic drop in the time dedicated to learning.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF partnered with the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture to produce and air the TV and radio programme “In It Together”.  Led by children for children, the show has kept children learning through COVID-19, while offering help to relieve stress during these challenging times.

Realizing the impact of school closures on families’ mental health, UNICEF has also produced and broadcast messages for parents and caregivers to assist children at home with psychosocial support.

4. Families are struggling to stay afloat

The socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 will be felt hardest by the world’s most vulnerable children. With an estimated 40 per cent of Belize’s population living in poverty, the pandemic risks plunging them further into hardship.

Preliminary data from the MICS Plus survey show that up to half of surveyed households have lost their job or livelihood, and 60 per cent have suffered a reduction of income.  

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF supported the Government of Belize with the implementation of the national COVID-19 Food Assistance Programme. This has helped 32,000 families to ensure there is enough food on the table.

Additionally, we are working with the Ministry of Human Development to expand the national BOOST Cash Transfer Programme so that children and their families get the financial support they need to keep healthy.

5. Violence is on the rise for children

As communities are disrupted, children already at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse find themselves even more vulnerable.

In Belize, data shows that violence against children has increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF provided the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation with guidance and supplies for remote reporting and handling of cases.

With curfews in place and increased patrolling, we have distributed to the police 200 hard copies of protocols on how to interact with children during COVID-19.

Additionally, to address rising levels of domestic violence and child abuse, we continue to disseminate messages on positive parenting.

Reimagining a world fit for every child

The costs of the pandemic for children are immediate. If unaddressed, they may persist throughout their lives.

In Belize and the rest of the world, UNICEF is leading the charge to respond, recover and reimagine a world fit for every child.

Together with the Government of Belize and partners, we must continue to support the most vulnerable children. So that they have a fair chance in life and can shape their own futures.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has been working in Belize both to reduce COVID-19 transmission and mortality through Belize’s public health response, and to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts on children and families, especially the most vulnerable.

Find out more on our COVID-19 response so far.