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UNICEF campaigns to register forgotten children of Belize 

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Posted: Saturday, November 28, 2020. 10:51 am CST.

Picture courtesy: UNICEF Belize

By Aaron Humes: The humble birth certificate is the gateway to all things Belizean. But despite being the subject of some controversy in recent years due to its role in Immigration scandals, 14 percent of those registered do not have it, and four percent of the population are not registered at all. 

According to Belize’s Vital Statistics Unit, a division of the Attorney General’s Ministry, in 2018 less than 50 percent of live births in Toledo District had been registered – leaving the majority of children born in that district not counted. 

The United Nations Children’s Fund has been on a mobile campaign, especially in the South, over the last two years to change that, arguing that unregistered children and adults do not exist according to the laws of Belize, and can be denied basic rights and services such as healthcare, education, and financial assistance, and thus be more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and violence including forced marriage, human trafficking or statelessness. 

One mom, Erma Cus of Aguacate, Toledo, says she registered her now five-year-old son years ago, but never got the birth certificate. It would have cost her too much to travel from the village to Dangriga Town, nearly 100 miles away (Punta Gorda is closer but it is not clear if it has a registration office). 

UNICEF says some parents are not even aware of the legal obligation they have to register children, and if they are, may not be able to afford the travel because of their remote circumstances. 

So, UNICEF brought registration to them, spreading the message in Spanish, English, Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya, brought with COVID-19 relief packages and an official from the VSU present. 30 communities have registered 201 new children thanks to the joint effort of the Belize Vital Statistics Unit; UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency; and UNICEF. 

The organizations call for eliminating late registration fees, increasing trained registrars, and putting them on the road countrywide. The system must be equally accessible to all and free of cost, according to UNICEF and UNHCR, who decry a recent increase of the fine for late registration of births. 

Not registering your child on time or at all means he or she has no proof of her name or nationality, and thus will not be counted. Says Michel Guinand, UNICEF Policy Specialist, Programme Coordinator, and Social Policy Specialist: “…quality vital statistics are essential to guide national policies and programs.

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