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‘Child Justice Bills’ have bipartisan support

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Posted: Sunday, December 5, 2021. 7:23 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples Rights, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, moved forward the second readings of related bills collectively termed ‘child justice bills.’

The Certified Institutions (Children’s Reformation) (Repeal) Bill, 2021, proposes to repeal the relevant Act, Chapter 121; the Juvenile Offenders (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposes to repeal the provisions that relate to status offences; and the Families and Children (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposes to amend that Act to substitute the term “approved children home” with the term “residential care facility’ in order to ensure consistency with its use in those laws that refer to residential care facilities; and to provide in each case for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The changes come after an emotional visit to the Princess Royal Youth Hostel, now a residential care facility, at Mile 21, George Price Highway, in which the Minister noted, “So horrendous were the physical facilities and the breakdown of the infrastructure, but I pledged then to my colleagues on this side of the House and the entire House, National Assembly and the people of Belize that we would bring about fundamental infrastructural changes as well as systemic changes to the condition of our children who need residential care as well as children who may be in conflict with the law.”

Approximately 15 percent of the residents of the Hostel, the Minister stated, are there for so-called status offences and mostly petty offences at that; the majority have financial, family needs and have seen neglect and difficulty in their growing up circumstances. The Certified Institutions Act would be removed in its entirety and the Juvenile Offenders Act would no longer criminalize such things as begging, running away, drinking, or other poor behavior.

“Mister Speaker, the children who are at risk and in difficult circumstances will experience a better life now with our change to the residential care facility, the protection that the Families and Children’s Act provides in providing for that residential care facility in that legislation so that we put it all together; those are the things that we’re trying to achieve this afternoon. With better supervision for children and more assistance to meet their health, educational, and family needs, we will do better, not only for the children of the Hostel but in signaling to the entire country that we mean business about the protection, best interest, and advancement of all Belizean children,” the Minister concluded.

The Family Court, it would be expected, would lose the power to send children to such residential care facilities; the matter would be placed under the power of the Community Rehabilitation Department, and it would be limited to those over 18 and for the shortest amount of time possible after all proper assessments have been concluded. Parents would no longer be allowed to abdicate their responsibilities in regard to ‘problem children;’ a rights-based system would be put in place that looks at the best needs of the child.

The Bills gained bipartisan support from Opposition Leader Patrick Faber and member for Albert Tracey Taegar-Panton, who noted the strides made from their time as Ministers.

 

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