Belize launches road map to end child marriage, early unions

Belize launches road map to end child marriage, early unions

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

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BELIZE CITY, Belize — With the second-highest level of child marriage and early unions in the Caribbean, Belize — through its National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC) — last Friday launched a five-year Road Map to End Child Marriage and Early Unions in the country.

The road map, which was launched in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), highlights worrying trends in child marriage, early unions, early sexual debuts, and teenage pregnancy across regional, urban/rural and social divides — with girls being the worst affected, a recent UNFPA release said.

In Belize, one in five girls (20.8 per cent) and one in 10 boys (10.7 per cent) aged 15 to 19 years are married or in a union, according to the release.

This has tremendous repercussions on the physical, emotional, educational, health, and livelihood opportunities of both girls and boys, with girls being the hardest hit, it continued.

The release said, too, that girls who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, and contract HIV/AIDS with higher risk of morbidity and mortality due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

“Child marriage is a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence,” said Pearl Stuart, chair of NCFC.

“NCFC's National Child Protection Technical Working Group was commissioned to safeguard the child protection agenda across all ages and stages of the child's life cycle. This can only be achieved through effective coordination and collaboration,” she added. “The road map contains several strategies and interventions that are already reflected in sector plans, and is aligned with the National Children's Agenda 2017–2030.”

Child marriage and early unions (CMEU) are harmful practices, the release said. CMEU refers to any formal marriage or informal union involving a boy or girl under the age of 18. Exacerbated by poverty, lack of education, violence, tradition, and insecurity, these practices are rooted in gender inequality — in which girls are being valued less than boys.

To tackle them, the Road Map to End Child Marriage and Early Unions in Belize takes a holistic approach across sectors, while focusing specifically on girls, the release said.

Areas of intervention include increasing girls' and boys' access to training as well as to sexual and reproductive health education and services; transforming social norms and behaviours by stimulating national and community dialogue on the dangers of child marriage; gathering robust data to inform policies; and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage.

Global momentum towards ending child marriage has never been stronger, with several resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council urging countries to increase investments in eliminating the practice, UNFPA said in the release.

A signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Belize counts several policies that address the drivers of CMEU.

“The worsening socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on families and communities across the country heightens the risk of a further spike in an already worrying trend amongst adolescents and young people, who constitute some 50 per cent of the population,” said Alison Parker, UNICEF representative to Belize. “Important going forward with this road map will be the harmonisation and enforcement of legislative frameworks; investment in systems and accessible services to support vulnerable groups; as well as robust community engagement to address social norms with families and other stakeholders, and [to] help protect the rights of thousands of girls and boys in Belize,” she highlighted.

Child marriage and early unions are a global challenge. To end the practice by 2030 — the target set out in the sustainable development goals — progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, in 10 years more than 120 million additional girls globally will marry before their 18th birthday, the release said.

“With commitment, political will and leadership, active outreach and community engagement, child marriages and early unions can be reduced remarkably quickly,” said Alison Drayton, UNFPA director and representative for the Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean.

“It is, however, impossible to talk about solutions on these issues without factoring economic empowerment and opportunity, access to education and health services, and sustained engagement with young people and their parents to expand life choices,” she emphasised.

With the launch of the road map, which is the first in the Caribbean region according to UNFPA, Belize has not only joined a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as girls, but also became a trailblazer, taking this agenda forward in the region.

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