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Oct 5, 1999

Curfew violators being picked up nightly

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After the murders of four little girls in Belize City, and rising crime the government imposed a curfew for all children. It was among the recommendations made by the children themselves at the Children’s Summit in March and for the most part the kids and their parents are observing the curfew. But there are those who “tief chance” every night and it is the job of the special patrol to gently, but firmly escort them home, and remind their parents of why their little ones shouldn’t be on the street at night. As News Five found out, however, old habits die hard and often it is the parents themselves who encourage the children to leave the house.

On any given night children under the age of sixteen can still be found on the streets, alone or in the company of their peers. This, despite the fact that the curfew has been in effect for six months.

Dr. Shirlene Smith, Deputy Director, Curfew Programme

“Most of the children are aware that there is a curfew and if sometimes they can recognize the vehicle they will usually run home before we get to them, which is alright, because we do not chase the children if they are running home. We just make sure that they have run home.”

Dr. Shirlene Smith is the Deputy Director of the Curfew Programme. Since April, the team, which comprises police and personnel from the Department of Human Development, has been patrolling the city streets and looking for minors out late at night.

Curfew Patrol

“What your mother send you to do?”

Child

“She send me to a lady.”

Curfew Patrol

“What lady? Oh… this lady that is coming? Well when she comes you can give her the money. How far you live from here?”

Child

“Right there.”

When the children are stopped they are questioned and then returned home. If no responsible adult is found they are taken back to the program’s center where further attempts are made to reach a parent or guardian. If none is found, then the child stays at facility until the child’s parent or guardian is located.

Dr. Shirlene Smith

“So we go out there and if the children are out in the streets, then we have the obligation to ensure they reach home safely and that there is somebody responsible at home to take care of them.”

Jacqueline Woods

“The curfew is not only keeping the children from off the streets late at night, but the exercise is held to protect them from crime.”

Since it is basically a protection exercise and no one is being arrested, the special patrol does not operate under blaring police sirens nor are the children body searched or locked down. Rather the exercise, which runs from eight p.m. to one a.m., is low profile, but well organized. Before they set out each night, the team is briefed on how the exercise will be managed. On this particular night, Friday October first, four zones will be visited.

The start of the weekend is usually one of the busiest nights and this night was no exception. Not fifteen minutes had gone by when a group of young boys was spotted on a basketball court on Euphrates Avenue.

Curfew Patrol

“How this one, he live in our yard too? But he just tell me that he lives across there.”

Child

“Over where?”

Curfew Patrol

“Right over there. So you are telling a lie? We will take you home then.”

Back at home, the boy’s mother was questioned and then had to sign a form in order for her son to be released back into her care. Patricia Parchue says she is grateful for the curfew.

Patricia Parchue, Mother

“Because you take care of kids and so. And I like it what you do cause you keep them off the streets and you do good.”

But not everyone has such a positive impression as we found out while leaving the basketball court.

Man

“They carry a little boy round by my house and the young boy ended up by hostel and the people they don’t even know.”

Most of the children who were stopped and taken home were either out playing with friends, on an errand or had gone to the shops.

Dr. Shirlene Smith

“One of the interesting things about tonight is all the people we have picked up are first time offenders, if you want to put it that way. It is the first time we have picked them up on the curfew patrol. And while it seems that most of the parents are aware of the curfew they have somewhat overlooked it for the soft drink and the other little things they desire at the moment.”

Curfew Patrol

“What are you doing out so late?”

Child

“They send me to buy.”

Curfew Patrol

“You went to buy? You gone buy soft drink?”

Dr. Shirlene Smith

“There is a misconception that we do not want children out after eight and the reality is that they can be out if they are with a responsible parent or guardian.”

Q: “Have there been any repeat offenders?”

Dr. Shirlene Smith

“Yes, there have been and those children who are repeat offenders, we have a number of them who are presently being worked with, with our Family Services Department to see if there are strategies that we can assist the family with to ensure that the family stays at home.”

One man we spoke to said he believes parents should be held accountable for their children’s actions.

Joseph McClaren

“So one thing they should do is if they catch the child two times then the parents should pay a fine, then the parents will know that they have a responsibility to keep the child in their house, that they can do something constructive.”

Smith says the general response to the curfew program has been positive. A total of twelve children between the ages of eight and fourteen were picked up the night News Five went along. All the children were safely returned home and none had to stay in any of the program’s facilities overnight. But parents are reminded that the curfew remains in effect and no soft drink or Boledo ticket is worth putting your child in harm’s way.

So far no parent has been fined for curfew violations although the Curfew unit says they may soon have to begin holding parents accountable.


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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