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. The law requires the registration of the birth of children within 42 days of birth. The Vital Statistical Office and the Ministry of Health have an agreement to offer bedside registration in hospitals shortly after birth.
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.
Through monthly payments the government assisted families of needy children at the primary school level and, to a limited extent, the secondary school level. The Ministry of Education continued to assist secondary schools students in the two southern districts with a BZ$300 ($150) grant for two years of high school. Students in other parts of the country had to apply to qualify for the subsidy.
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. 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.
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 mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in the home of a relative.
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 to promote children’s welfare.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes 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, due to 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.
There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were involved in child prostitution, including the “sugar daddy” syndrome whereby 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. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” 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 law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html, as well as country-specific information at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/country/belize.html.