Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the nationality of the parents. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country, but citizenship by descent is not automatic for a child born outside the country. The law requires the registration of the birth of children within 42 days of birth. During the year the Vital Statistical Office and the Ministry of Health signed an agreement to offer bedside registration in the hospital shortly after birth. This program began in the southern Toledo district, which had a large population, had high rates of poverty, and was geographically difficult to reach.
Education: Primary education is free, and education is compulsory between the ages of six and 14; however, primary schools may incorporate other fees, and parents may be required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and meals.
Belize BOOST Conditional Cash Transfer benefits citizens who meet certain criteria and conditions though monthly payments from the government. One component of the program assisted needy children with support for primary and to a limited extent secondary school participation.
Child Abuse: No data was available regarding the number of cases of domestic violence and of sexual abuse against children under age 14 reported during the year. In 2012 there were 80 cases of domestic violence against children under age 14 and 31 cases of sexual abuse against children under age 14.
Unlawful sexual intercourse (previously termed “carnal knowledge”) of a girl under the age of 14, with or without her consent, is an offense punishable by 12 years’ to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse of a girl 14-16 years of age is an offense punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. As of August police reported 64 cases of carnal knowledge and 23 arrests. Anecdotal evidence suggested this reflected better public education on the issue and improved protection of minors’ names by the National Council for Families and Children.
The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until the age of 18.
There were publicized cases of underage young women being victims of sexual abuse and misconduct.
The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation is the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s issues. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote children’s welfare.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 can marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF, 26 percent of girls under 18 were married.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law prohibits FGM/C, and the practice was virtually nonexistent in the country.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: In February 2013 the government passed laws increasing criminal penalties and improving protections for victims of trafficking and of the criminal sexual exploitation of children. The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Prohibition) Act, 2013 (CSEC) introduces penalties related to child prostitution, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child, defining “child” as anyone under 18 years of age. The law includes a provision stipulating that the offense of child prostitution does not apply to 16- and 17-year-old children in a consensual sexual relationship with a person promising remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits. NGOs expressed concern that this specific clause in the law could render children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation given the common practice of parents’ pushing their children to provide sexual favors to older men in exchange for remuneration. The legal age for consensual sex is 16. First Lady Kim Simplis Barrow, who is the country’s special envoy for women and children, continued to advocate publicly against the sexual exploitation of children.
There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were involved in child prostitution, including the so-called “sugar daddy” syndrome where older men provided money to young women and/or their families for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increasing use of minors involved in prostitution and sex tourism in tourist-populated areas, or where there were transient and seasonal workers, including in the south among oil truckers and citrus workers. A 2013 criminal code amendment criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” (changed from “a female”) under the age of 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender is liable to eight years’ imprisonment. Sexual activity with anyone age 16 or under is a criminal offense.
The criminal code establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.
In November 2013 UNICEF launched its Ending Violence against Children Campaign. As part of that program, the government, with UNICEF support, hosted in October countrywide training and sensitization sessions for key public officials in law enforcement and social services on the 2013 CSEC, trafficking in persons, and criminal code amendments.
The government also commenced judicial reform to improve legal proceedings that involve children as victims, juvenile offenders, or witnesses. In September magistrates and judges participated in a two-day “judicial dialogue” aimed at sensitizing justices on issues of child response and behavior in the courtroom, particularly relating to children who are victims of abuse, neglect, trafficking, and exploitation.
Displaced Children: There were occasional cases of displaced children who arrived in the country unaccompanied from neighboring Central American countries. Authorities usually placed these children in the care of the Department of Human Services, which placed them in foster homes while authorities worked with the relevant diplomatic missions to repatriate them.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information see the Department of State’s report at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/country/belize.html.