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Dec 31, 2020

Behind the Walls of the Princess Royal Youth Hostel

Tonight, we begin our final newscast for 2020 by going behind the razor wires and chain-link fence at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel.  For the better part of the last thirteen years, the facility has been closely guarded by the Ministry of Human Development which has kept the media at bay, particularly during times of unrest.  On Wednesday, Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of State Gilroy Usher Sr. and Chief Executive Officer Tanya Santos toured the facility and saw firsthand the heartrending situation that teenagers are forced to reckon with in the name of rehabilitation.  This morning an invitation was extended to us, for the first time, and here is what reporter Isani Cayetano also saw.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

For many years, the Princess Royal Youth Hostel has been off-limit to the probing eyes of the media.  Escapes, uprisings and even a deadly fire in November 2015 that claimed the lives of three female residents have largely been covered from the outside.  Perhaps this has been so for good reason, the facility here at Mile 21 is in poor repair from neglect.  Since taking over the Ministry of Human Development several weeks ago, ministers Dolores Balderamos-Garcia and Gilroy Usher Sr. have completed a walkthrough and what they’ve observed is upsetting, to say the least.


Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Human Development

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia

“We have been appalled at what we’ve seen, both physically, in terms of the crumbling infrastructure, but also we had a meeting with some of the staff and we believe that there are massive changes, systemic changes, you know, you talk about, in the United States, systemic racism.  Well we have systemic problems within the ministry and in this facility.”


With a population of twenty-five at-risk teenagers, male and female, conditions at the youth hostel are squalid.  Corroding steel doors, exposed shower stalls, poorly kept toilet facilities and ramshackle dormitories are all akin to the cellblocks at the Belize Central Prison, except these are not inmates.  The young boys and girls that are housed here are not necessarily serving time for grave offenses committed on the outside.


Gilroy Usher Sr.

Gilroy Usher Sr., Minister of State, Human Development

“One of the things that I am very letdown with here is that this facility should be a facility where the youths are given a second chance to turn their lives around and the way this is setup, this will probably result in the opposite effect.  Number one, you have to teach children to take care of their environment and so from you enter the compound you the site with the rubbish that needs to be thrown away, you see the garbage that is not burned.  Then when you go in the dorms, you see the lot of graffiti in the dorms with guns and with gangs and those are some of the very things that you are trying to steer them away from.”


In the past, the administration that oversaw the Princess Royal Youth Hostel had been very tightlipped, to the point where information on residents and the challenges they face within this fortified perimeter was hardest to come by.  The purpose of this exposé is not only to highlight what has gone horribly wrong in the management of the facility, but to also reveal the systemic neglect and violations of the fundamental rights of these residents under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Dolores Balderamos-Garcia

“We’re not dealing here with just an ordinary little home or things like that.  These are children in conflict with the law, they come from very dysfunctional families but I believe, and let me speak for myself now, that because you have come from a dysfunctional family and you may have committed an offense, you do not lose your human dignity and I don’t see that being respected here at the moment.”

Problems having been identified, the Ministry of Human Development is now looking at existing legislation to remedy a lot of what has gone wrong here.


Dolores Balderamos-Garcia

“I will be looking very closely at the law.  We have some very old laws like the Certified Institutions Act.  We have to bring all of that into confluence with the Families and Children’s Act which takes a more protective approach to children.  For example, I will be speaking with the magistrates so that when there is a placement or a committal here, it’s not for an indefinite period or until that person turns eighteen.”


Ahead of revising the laws, however, is a dire need to address the living conditions at the facility.  Ministers Balderamos-Garcia and Usher have pledged that the dire situation faced by residents will be ameliorated by April 2021.

Gilroy Usher Sr.

“I invite you all to come back here within the next four months and you will see the changes that are being undertaken because we are committed to having this facility being a true child-friendly facility where children come here, where the children see it not as punishment but as an opportunity to turn their lives around.”


Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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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