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May 27, 2004

UNICEF examines Belize?s commitment to children

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Belize and the other hundred and sixty or so other nations of the world are constantly signing international agreements. Some are taken seriously, others quickly forgotten by the signatories. One document that the United Nations seems determined to be remembered involves the status of the planet’s children. Today a U.N. regional representative told journalists that Belize and many other countries need to try harder.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

On November twentieth, it will be fifteen years since Belize signed on to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. On that day, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) will publish a report on how each member country has done in living up to its commitments.

Dr. Nils Kastberg, Regional Director, UNICEF

“Most of the countries of the region Belize included are not living up to the convention, that is very clear and straight forward and there are very clear recommendations from the Commission on the Rights of the Child on what some of those issues that need to be improved are. Some of them have been implemented since the first report, some of them have not. And your submission has to be made by Belize just like Panama did it last week and Salvador on how they are living up to the convention.”

UNICEF’s Regional Director Dr. Nils Kastberg briefing journalists on his working visit to Belize.

Kastberg is in the country to look at what measures have been implemented since Belize ratified the Convention in 1990. According to Kastberg, there are certain areas that Belize must work on including improving the rate of birth registration and the juvenile justice system. Kastberg says the situation in which a child in Belize as young as nine years old can be charged with a crime is one of the worst in the region

Dr. Nils Kastberg

“I think that the good examples of treatment or rehabilitation of young people that are emerging from organisations like the Kolbe Foundation are showing that you can actually show a better way out for the future of young offenders against the law than just putting them in jail. There are better ways of dealing with that. You are proving it yourselves in Belize and therefore you need to adapt your legislation accordingly. I did raise that, both with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and I think that are taking good note of that as part of the ongoing dialogue.”

Kastberg says he has been encouraged by what he has observed at the youth facility at the Hattieville Prison in terms of measures taken to rehabilitate young offenders.

Dr. Nils Kastberg

“Obviously, I would like a series of other facilities that are not connected to prisons, but in other places. I think a judge when confronted with a young offender of the law should have a whole range of different tools that could be used for rehabilitation purposes, and I hope the positive signs that we are seeing there can be reproduced elsewhere.”

UNICEF says it is also concerned about the young age at which girls are allowed to get married in certain parts of the country and hopes that recommendations made to address that situation will be implemented. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

Kastberg says it is not up to UNICEF to penalize any member country that has failed to live up to its commitments but it should be the citizens of those nations who hold their authorities accountable.

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