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May 28, 1998

Thousands vote in youth elections

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While election fever may be raising the temperature of Belize’s body politic, a different type of democratic voting took place throughout Belize today. The choices were not between red and blue but instead ranged over a number of different rights of children as set forth by the United Nations. Patrick Jones covered the balloting as if the future of the nation depended on the outcome.

For most of the day classrooms all over the country were transformed into makeshift polling stations as thousands of boys and girls exercised their franchise in the first ever children’s election.

Patrick Jones

“The children began queuing up shortly before the polls opened at eight o’clock this morning. It was time to let their voices be heard on the issue that is most important to them.”

It was like clockwork once voting began, those who had special assignments seem to understand their roles pretty well.

J.B. Bounahra, Presiding Officer, St. John’s College

“My job is to make sure that everyone dips their finger in the ink, and they vote, go over there vote, bring the ballot back with my signature on it and place it in the ballot box and leave.”

Q: “How important is your job as the presiding officer here?”

J.B. Bounahra

“Very important. I am in charge of the whole polling booth and I make sure that everything goes smoothly.”

Alexander Evans, Polling Clerk, St. Joseph’s School

“Right now we’re supposed to go, three at a time, we’re supposed to go down and get ten people and bring them up here and make sure they keep quite, go in one at a time and explain to them the procedures.”

The election is sponsored by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, UNICEF and while certain aspects of the day’s exercise included some make believe, there were real life lessons to be learnt.

Chinique Kemp, Student Gwen Lizarraga High School

“I learned today that we all as students could be able to speak out for our rights. For the betterment of this community we all could say the different things that we want in our lives, the different things we want to change. Cause many of us students we might be in abusive families and other people do not know. And this, we could speak out and say what we want to change – the different things we want to change in our lives.”

Alexander Evans

“I’ve learnt what the adults do at the elections.”

Marie Reneau, Student, Gwen Lizarraga High School

“I learned wah lat because most students deh pan di street weh want education and dey parents no gat the money and dey cyan go da school.”

Elvis Aguallo, Student, School For the Deaf

“I learnt that children are abused daily and that parents should understand them and through UNICEF’s help children will know their rights and hopefully it will be positive.”

The elections focussed on the rights of children as defined in the UN Convention, which Belize endorsed in 1990. In the run-up to the poll, a special committee comprising children from various schools and institutions was set up to canvass the views of their peers.

Casey Polonio, Student, St. Joseph’s School

“The right to live in a home where people will treat me well. The right that nobody hurts my body or feelings and the right to voice my opinion.”

The result was the nine rights on the ballot paper, from which the voters had to choose the one they consider most important to them.

Casey Polonio

“I think it is important for the children to know their rights and so that people on the street won’t abuse them.”

Rhonda Genus, Student, Gwen Lizarraga High School

“We as the kids have a choice to say what we want for our country or what we can do to help. With this maybe the Prime Minister or the ones in politics can help us to see what is affecting our young youths of today.”

These include all young people, and not only those from mainstream society. Organizers made provisions to also include children between the ages of eight and eighteen who are out of school.

Jason Kuylen, Inmate, Youth Enhancement Academy

“I think my vote, the one that I vote for, I think it will do better for the coming up generation, for younger generations.”

Roger Bradley, Inmate, Youth Enhancement Academy

“I understand my rights; nobody can look at me and chance me. I understand my rights because I am an education man too.”

The children’s election, by all accounts, went off without incident. The ballot boxes will remain sealed until counting begins in a couple of days. The results will be presented to both political parties in hopes that the desires of Belize’s youngest citizens will influence future policy decisions. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

The official tabulation of ballots will be done on Saturday and the results announced on Monday.

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