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Jan 29, 1999

Juvenile offenders to be housed separately

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But while financial issues seemed to dominate today’s proceedings, with the Minister of Budget and Planning Ralph Fonseca introducing a number of bills designed to make Belize more attractive to foreign investors, retirees and offshore bankers, there was one piece of legislation presented for a first reading which dealt with a concern almost everyone can identify with: crime. However, this bill is not asking for stiffer penalties for criminals, but that young offenders be treated in a different manner than hardened criminals. The intention is not only to prevent them from pursuing a career in crime, but to honor Belize’s international commitments on how we treat children and young people. Minister for Youth Dolores Balderamos Garcia told News Five why, although juvenile crime is up, it is in our best interest not to send them to Hattieville.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Youth

“Basically our laws in Belize says that anybody under the age of 18 is considered not an adult and therefore comes under the category of child. We have very serious commitments, both in our national law and also internationally not to bunch children with adults when it comes to punishment.

And so what we need to do is to make sure that we are not incarcerating young people and children with seasoned criminals or persons who are in the regular prison system. As you know we already have a Youth Enhancement Academy but in addition to that, because of the serious commitment under the Conventions of the Rights of the Child, we consider that there must be punishment, yes, but not with criminals over the age of 18 in the regular prison system.

And so we will find ways to make the punishment suit the crime but not in the exact prison system as the other offenders.”

Among the issues today, which generated a significant amount of debate, was the Belize City Council Bill. Minister of Local Government Florencio Marin says the provisions of the Bill are a step forward in realizing the People’s United Party’s manifesto promise that local governments would be given more autonomy and show that the government is committed to real political reform. The Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow took issue with the provision of the direct election of the Mayor of Belize City, saying the change offers no real benefit to the people and that the explanation that it will prevent political infighting in the city council is not a strong enough reason in itself to warrant a change in the legislation. He also objected to an increase in the number of councilors.

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