BELMOPAN, Belize – Belize has launched its National Child Labour Policy and Strategy 2022-2025 amid concerns that an estimated five thousand children are engaged in some form of work that presents a real danger to their physical, mental, and moral well-being.
The authorities said that the policy document seeks to bridge key legislative gaps over the next three years, and increase penalties, while providing children with the necessary educational and financial support required.
The document was launched Monday by the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and contains data on the child labor situation in Belize based on surveys conducted over the last two decades.
“The policy speaks to what is considered safe work for children, because let’s be real, our children need to be taught to value work, they need to be taught to value the ethics of work, because it is important. The only we are going to build a nation is to build strong healthy children who also have a good work ethic, but for children the policy distinguishes what is light work, safe work, that children can do,” said Minister of Labour, Oscar Requeña.
In his address, Requeña said that there are certain industries that require migrant labour and a lot of times “we have migrants who come bring their children and because of their situation in their country they take every opportunity to ensure that they can earn as much as they can, sometimes to the detriment of their children and that matter have to be addressed.”
“The overall goal of the Belize National Child Labour Policy and Strategy is to reduce the incidence of child labor in Belize by addressing information and legislative gaps, increasing compliance with labor laws, by reducing existing barriers to school attendance, and by providing adequate support and economic resilience for children and their families.
“We have a duty by virtue of our commitment to international conventions that protects the rights of children, to ensure that our children are safe, they go to school, are afforded good health opportunities and they are not deprived of their opportunity to be children.”
In Belize, children above the age of 14 years can be legally employed, but they must only engage in light work. This is defined as work that is not likely to be hazardous to their health or development, and work that does not prevent their attendance at school.
The ILO defines hazardous child labor as work which is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. In 2013, the ILO found that approximately5, 000 children between the ages of five to 17 years old, in Belize, were engaged in some form of labor.
Of that number, close to four thousand were engaged in hazardous labor. UNICEF Belize has played a key role in the development of this policy.
“The consequences of child labor on children are devastating with lifetime effects. It compromises children’s education and limits their future opportunities, depending cycles of poverty. Child labor violates the rights of every child to be a child and to grow up free from exploitation, abuse and violence,” said Enkhnasan Nasan-Ulzii, Program Coordinator/Deputy, UNICEF Belize.”
Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, acknowledges that it is difficult to detain the perpetrators of these crimes.
“It is extremely difficult because of the situation that normally surrounds these incidents. People have found ways to make it seem as if it not child labour, when in fact it is child labor. If you put lipstick on a pig dah still a pig.
“That is why I am so grateful for the policy, because the policy will now guide investigators, guide the different agencies so that we know what to look for and whatever situation may confront us.”