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Apr 27, 2001

Political leaders “Keep the Promise” for children

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Children–they have rights and with it comes responsibility. That was made clear today when they spoke from their hearts about what they wanted and in turn what they are willing to do. Ann-Marie Williams and Rick Romero were in Belmopan today for the proceedings.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

Twenty-two students representing Belize secondary and tertiary level institutions converged on the National Assembly halls along with a cross-section of government ministers and professionals this morning.

The purpose was simple–to see if they are “Keeping the Promise” to address key issues which emerged from the first children’s election conducted in 1998. The students sat on the government side of the House, while the officials took the seats of the opposition. The first speaker was Adriani Gonzalez of S.J.C. Junior College.

Adriani Gonzalez, S.J.C. Junior College

“Where are these children going that have been abandoned by drug addict parents, rejected because they have HIV? Put on the streets to fend for themselves, or put in the care of someone who does not have know-how to care for them emotionally, mentally and physically?”

Minister of Human Development Dolores Balderamos Garcia, rose to answer the call.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Min. of Human Development

“We have one Child Care Centre in Belize City, and one in Belmopan as well. Those are related to the government and to NGOs. But basically what we need to do, is to try to keep children out of institutions. That is why in the Human Services Department, which is a new department of the government, we have social workers, and we also have interventions of social workers getting out and investigating cases, and also creating the file to deal with the follow ups that are needed. Because we do not want to fill up children institutions, and as a government we cannot create more, we need to place children back with families.”

Adrian Ramirez, Belize Adventist College

“Where I live in Corozal, about two to three crack houses. On the streets I see children smoking weed on the corners. I see crack heads walking the streets. And once in a while I might see a police go in, bring out the person and send them back out on the street. What’s the point of just going in and not taking away everything.”

Lorna McDougal, Executive Dir., NOPCA

“Through the Child Labour Project in Corozal we have used the multidisciplinary approach to work with those children. It’s a serious problem, especially in the some rural areas in the Corozal District. And so, there have been life skills type of training for these young people and they are working closely with especially NDACC in Corozal, with the police to see how we can help these young persons, with the design of some rehabilitative project.”

Supt. Maureen Leslie, Orange Walk Police

“What we normally call crack houses, are temporary structures used by users of crack and marijuana. Once these areas have been identified by any member of the community or the Police Department, in this particular case, Corozal formation, they are immediately visited, confirmed and they are shut down.”

The drug problem was also a big issue.

Rodel Flota, Youth Department

“For this year’s budget for the new fiscal year, how much has the Government of Belize integrated towards rehabilitation and treatment towards the National Drug Abuse Control Council, helping the children in treatment as part of integrating them back into our community.”

Prime Minister Said Musa rose to answer that question, which featured prominently in this morning’s forum.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“Quite frankly, if I was given notice of your specific questions, I could have gotten the numbers for you, but I don’t know them at hand. But there is money in the budget for treatment and rehabilitation. So far, based on the existing scientific data, there is no conclusive proof that at least we have not been terrible successful in the treatment of drug addicts. It’s an ongoing problem and I’m talking about rich and poor countries alike, having a very difficult time getting people off drugs and that they remain off drugs. Part of the problem of course is that once they get the treatment and they are returned back into society, they return into the very same environment from which the problem was caused.”

Teenage Pregnancy was also an issue along with education and AIDS.

Patrick Faber, Opposition Representative

“It is not automatic for all schools that young women who become pregnant are allowed to come back. So maybe what we could ask is that these schools take such policies into consideration and that they try to offer counselling. I think that is very important indeed in order to help these young ladies. We don’t want it to sound like as you get pregnant you have an automatic chance to continue. That is certainly not true, and I’d want to encourage such schools to make such policies.”

Cordel Hyde, Min. of Education

“Within our education system, the national curriculum calls for family life education, and certain progressive schools have incorporated that in their curriculum and in their delivery and instructions to students. But we have a church state system and a church state partnership in education, where government provide the resources to run these schools, but for the most part, over eighty percent of our schools are actually run by the churches.

Hyde says this makes it impossible to do effective sex education in schools.

Cordel Hyde

“What came out of is was the material used in the instruction, to the mind of the bishops, were too abrasive and too explicit. So we have had ongoing discussions on how we deal with that. And I would like to tell you that just recently I met with the Council of Churches, that includes all the leaders of all the churches in this country. They have agreed that together between the churches and the government, we’ll work on coming up with documents and materials to be used in the instruction that will be more palatable and less explicit.”

In the end the Prime Minister made a promise to further put policies in place to keep the promise. He also reminded the gathering that ten points on all the issues will be presented to the UN Special Session on Children on September 2001.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“Of course the main things that stand out in the discussion are still that issue about the right to an education. That seems to be the number one, the overriding issue that came out today. Everything, whether it be the drug problem, the teenage problem, the AIDS problem, all of it goes right back to education. So we need to emphasise the importance of education in our system. This is why in fact our government has made it the number one priority in our system.”

Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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