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Apr 5, 2016

A Look at All Sides of the Curfew Debate

The curfew for minors is a topic that is being hotly debated across the land. ACP Chester Williams believes that it is the answer to keeping minors away from urban crime and gang activity.  But in many sectors, it is out rightly rejected because it is in contravention to the rights of the child and in previous instances; it has not been the solution to curb crime. So where is the middle ground to keeping teenagers away from the claws of the gangs? Williams is meeting with stakeholders to find that out. News Five’s Duane Moody talks to all sides, including a minor who was subjected to the lockdown.

 

ACP Chester Williams, Regional Commander, Eastern Division South [File: March 17th, 2016]

“I have given instructions to my police officers that anywhere a minor is found on the street at night after nine p.m.; that minor will be detained and taken to the police station. He will be kept in custody and the next day morning, the parent will have to come for the child.”

 

Chester Williams

Duane Moody, Reporting

The unofficial implementation of a clampdown on unaccompanied minors after nine p.m. in the south side of Belize City has stirred a firestorm.  The imposed curfew is wide ranging, it essentially affects all children seventeen years and younger, including primary-school-aged minors. But the targeted group is in fact teenagers—those, who for some time now, are being recruited by gangs to commit violent crimes.

 

ACP Chester Williams [File: March 17th, 2016]

“The longer we take, the more the streets will be bleeding. We need to bring an end to the violence on the street and that is one way that I believe that we can assist our law-abiding citizens to feel free and safe in our community.”

 

A curfew is only imposed when governments cannot maintain public order. It’s normally put into effect in times of martial law or hurricanes and disasters and when the regular apparatus of the state cannot take control.

 

Now, Belize was the fifth country to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child back in May of 1990.  According to the convention, curfews typically restrict children to their homes during nighttime hours and are contrary to children’s right to associate with one another.

 

Ivan Yerovi

Ivan Yerovi, Country Representative, UNICEF

“I think it is a measure which UNICEF totally disagrees with it. Probably the good intention of reaching parents—it is a good intention—however reaching parents by penalizing children and by taking children into custody is not the right way.”

 

Luwani Cayetano, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF Belize

“Curfews tend to target the most vulnerable so there is a lot of discrimination going on there. Curfews don’t really engage what the root causes of the problems are.”

 

The first time a statutory instrument for a curfew was signed in Belize was back in 1999. Minors, sixteen and younger in Belize City and Dangriga, were not allowed to leave their homes after eight p.m.  In October 2004, the Police and Human Development Departments effected a curfew on children thirteen years and under found on Belize City streets between eight p.m. and six a.m.  They were picked up, taken to their homes or held until a parent or guardian was located. Then in summer of 2007, another curfew was reintroduced in the Old Capital to protect children from criminal activities.  Now fast track to 2016, the Ministry of Human Development agrees with the objective of child protection, but has concerns about the methodology.

 

Judith Alpuche

Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation & Poverty Alleviation

“We are trying to see how we can leverage all that we have in a concerted way and in a way that doesn’t penalize children for the shortcoming of their parents. If a child is on the road and you pick up that child, then what is the responsibility of the parent in all that and you are detaining the child. So we have concerns as to how we can meet the objective of keeping children safe and engaged in a way that does not penalize them for the shortcomings, in a way that respects their rights, in a way that supports their families.”

 

Several minors have since been picked up by police: some heading to the shop to buy food, on errands, playing with friends, others were traveling home after a school activity and of course those who were up to no good.  For seventeen-year-old Ever Colindres, he works to help his family and is now fearful because he was detained over the weekend and treated like a criminal.

 

Ever Colindres

Ever Colindres, Minor Detained by Police

“Police stopped me and took me to the station for no reason. I was just going to buy at Lee Chee a fry chicken with my friend and they say that I was running away from them and I wasn’t. They act like dehn ketch criminal too…like dehn ketch El Chapo or something cause it was siren and everything like dah big thing di go on, but nothing. I came out from work nine o’clock, I went home; there was nothing to eat so I went to bathe and get ready and went to buy a fry chicken and that was about it.”

 

Joana Colindres, Guardian

“We came in and we saw many kids there; there were only three seventeen year olds there, everybody else was of age thirteen fourteen twelve, etc. I heard the parents mention that the kids were just going across to the grandparents.”

 

ACP Williams says that it is a drastic measure that some may not agree with, but it has become necessary to address the broader issue of engaging parenting. That differs depending on various social factors.

 

Joana Colindres

Johanna Colindres

“I understand what they are trying to do, but at the end of the day, who gets penalized for other people’s action. I signed for him right. So they saying if they catch him another night on the streets, I will be the one that will be responsible for him. They’ll either charge me two thousand dollars—now I don’t know where I’ll get that money from—I don’t have that money to pay for someone. Or take me to jail for a year.”

 

Darwin Westby

Darwin Westby, Resident

“I would not say I fully support it, but it is something that we look at for security reasons to ensure that children are safe and to prevent them from engaging in crime.”

 

Kezia Arnold, Resident

“When I was a minor, by six o’clock I deh ina mi house. When street light come on, dah time fi yo deh ina yo house. I believe no parent should have any thirteen, fourteen year old out on the street around that time.”

 

But on March eighteenth, 2016, the Old Capital was officially named a child friendly municipality. It’s a community where children are free—ensuring that all minors, irrespective of their social, economic or ethnic background have equal rights and access to health, education, shelter, social protection and social care. A community where children have access to public space to recreate and one that is free of violence and abuse. So the idea of a curfew, according to Mayor Darrell Bradley, goes against this reality.

 

Darrell Bradley

Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor [File: April 1st, 2016]

“The idea of a curfew and we have to be very careful in relation to the language that we use, we don’t support that. So that when you engage with young people and you are talking with trying to do strategies in relation to preventing crime, I think the police is on the right track in a lot of their community policing initiative; their engagement with various stakeholders. And I think that when you go curfew, that creates a negative image, because first and foremost every effort that you are doing in the city is undermined because you are saying that the city is unsafe.”

 

Different youth service agencies, including the Truancy Unit of the Ministry of Education and RESTORE Belize UNICEF and the Ministry of Human Development, have since met with the Police to ensure that the curfew is in compliance with the requirements of the Families and Children Act. But back to the objective of reducing crime committed by minors; will a curfew have an impact?

 

Luwani Cayetano

Luwani Cayetano

“It was tried three times during that period and I think a good lesson is that the department of human services, community rehabilitation department and the police need to work together. That is the strongest lesson; this is a very complicated issue and we need to work together. What does not work is penalizing children is penalizing children for a problem that is really coming out of the adults.”

 

Ivan Yerovi

“Let’s suppose I am a nine year old and my mom tells me to go to the store and get something I am going to be detained and taken because my mother sent me to get something from a grocery store. I’m sorry, detained. For how many hours? Six, four, three…it depends; for doing nothing. You see the psychological impact on the child? Why am I being detained? They don’t even understand what’s going on, and they are detained. And then the parents…I’m sure if the parent comes and pick them up, they are going to corporal punish them. I told you…etc and then they are going to start calling names. It’s a whole issue of violence. Again, they are victims and they are re-victimized again.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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1 Response for “A Look at All Sides of the Curfew Debate”

  1. Calvin Flowers MD says:

    In the Urban Communities in the USA including Chicago a minor curfew which is 10:0pm has its problems. The government must be ready to provide the minors with programs and activities before such an entity can be effective. Just doing curfew is not enough. The Government must also have these programs available during school hours and after school hours for this to be effective. The parents must be fully given the responsibility also to help enforce such an act. Basic after school work for teenagers is a must also so that they are able to get some monies which definitely decreases interaction with the youth gangs which provide monies for illegal activities such as drug dealing.

    Finally ,the government must also focus on the victims of the non fatal violence as well as the victims and others who witness the violence and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is now seen in the youths of Urban Dwellings from Urban Violence similar to USA Veteran Soldiers who return from the battlefield. .The Psychological and emotional effects are just now playing out in the communities and many of these youths Drugs for comfort.

    Calvin H. Flowers MD
    Chief Neuroimaging/MRI Department
    Jesse Brown VA Medical Center/Department of Defense USA
    Specialist in Traumatic Brain Injury Returning Defense Forces
    Veterans of OEF/OIF (Operation Endurance Freedom /Operation Iraqi Freedom)
    Chicago,IL

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