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Jun 6, 2018

UNICEF Empowers Local Partners on Child Abuse

Child abuse comes in many forms; it can be limited to one incident or it can be a series of events that occur many times. In Belize, many organizations have been doing their part putting in place strategies to create safe environments for children who are exposed to abuse. Over the past two years, four organizations have worked on different approaches to minimize the abuse among young children. Today, UNICEF brought together these agencies for a two-day workshop. News Five’s Duane Moody reports. 

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

UNICEF has been working with various organizations in Belize to support a project that aims to create an enabling environment to prevent child abuse and exploitation in Belize. The project falls within the purview of the organization’s three priorities: protection of children, access to justice and prevention of violence.

 

Susan Kasedde

Dr. Susan Kasedde, Country Rep, UNICEF

“This particular project is a central platform through which UNICEF offers its support through partnership, advocacy, communication and engagement at the technical level to ensure that Belize can gradually move towards the realization of our goals here in Belize to make Belize a safer place for children, free from violence and with available support in the long term to transform Belize into a safe and supportive environment for children.”

 

A two-day workshop began today to reflect on the work of several partner agencies including the Youth Enhancement Services, the Child Development Foundation and Legal Aid. The initiative spread across the countrywide over the past two years.

 

Diana Shaw

Diana Shaw, Child Development Foundation

“We partnered with UNICEF to provide some awareness raising for parents and issues relating to violence against children. So looking at inappropriate disciplinary practices and helping parents to address common behavioral problems with children so that is doesn’t result in parents abusing the child in an attempt to discipline them.”

 

Karen Cain

Karen Cain, Executive Director, Youth Enhancement Services

“Our role was almost three-fold. One, we were working with young people, adolescent boys and girls, we were going into schools talking about sexual abuse, talking about exploitation, human trafficking, how to protect themselves from abuse and where to report. The second part of the project had to do with parents and as you know YES operates a teen mom center so we have a lot of teen mothers who attend our programme. And what we did with them was to say you all are young parents, you are still immature in that field and so every other Tuesday, twice a month, we did parenting sessions along with the S&RH sessions that we did.  And thirdly, we looked at older parents because the older parents have also been saying that they have challenges working with adolescent children.”

 

The Productive Organization for Women in Action is based in Dangriga and also participated in the programme cooperation agreement. Michelle Irving says that living a life free of violence is a human right and the country should be working towards that goal and ideal.

 

Michelle Irving

Michelle Irving, Coordinator, Productive Organization for Women in Action

“We had educators that go into the schools that talk to children about child abuse and the prevention of child abuse: what it is, what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like and then give them the tools necessary to report if they are being abused or if they see someone being abused. So the idea to look at our community systems and to build on those systems as it relates to ending violence, for children particularly, but for communities and for families in general.”

 

The largest component of the project was the legal aspect where people, specifically children, seem not to know their rights and where the law protects them. Eighteen clinics where organized across the country by the Legal Advice and Services Center, commonly known as Legal Aid, to provide free legal services to the general public.

 

Baja Shoman

Baja Shoman, Attorney-at-law, Legal Advice and Services Center

“A small portion is that they don’t know what their rights are. So that is a small portion of it; we can’t discount that. But the greater problem Duane is that the access to the legal services—getting not only the information that you need, but then the secondary issue of getting the representation that you need.”

 

But is the concept of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ taken too far? An interesting finding of the project is that there are traditional forms of discipline that are abusive.

 

Michelle Irving

“Sometimes there is some cultural acceptance of violence and a lot of times violence to correct a wrong or what we perceive as a mistake and things like that. We all grow up with our parents whipping us or stoning us with a scrub board or those kinds of actions because they want to create wrongs.”

 

Diana Shaw

“There are very varying parenting styles we found from doing this project and we did have to have some conversation about some things that we may be doing that may not be the best thing. So we looked at traditional methods of discipline which focus a lot on physical punishment and the heavy use of corporal punishment.”

 

Country Rep for UNICEF Belize, Doctor Susan Kassede says that there must be a public/private sector approach to address the issues of child abuse and exploitation.

 

Dr. Susan Kasedde

“We are not going to solve the problem of child abuse and exploitation without every hand on deck because violence may begin in the home, but the factors that lead to violence and we’ve heard about some of that today. The conditions of stress, exclusion, lack of employment, financial hardship and all the things that contribute to the mental state, the feeling of inclusion and capacity of a parent factors into the way that they relate to children. And the same applies for teachers and schools.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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