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Belize City, 7 November 2013 – Violence against children is all too often unseen, unheard and underreported, said UNICEF’s representative Ivan Yerovi, announcing the launch of a program in child protection aimed at changing social norms and engaging government and civil society to end violence against children. This was reasserted by the EU Ambassador Paola Amadei who stated that "I am happy also to see that this project will work to improve the response capabilities and sensitivity of public health and security officials to issues of child abuse. Improving the capacity of health and human service workers; the police; and educators, to detect, report, and halt physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children will be critical. We can work to treat the symptoms of this crisis as we also work to create long term and permanent change at a values level."

The program was launched at Belize Chamber of Commerce & Industry Conference Room at on Thursday, November 7, 2013. The program urges all citizens, lawmakers and governments to take necessary actions to end violence against children. The program will build the capacity, engage and mobilize caregivers, adolescents, government and civil society organizations to develop, implement and monitor rights based program using a community model to prevent violence against children and to provide safe and protective environments.

UNICEF has noted that in every country, in every culture, there is violence against children and whenever and wherever children are harmed, our outrage and anger must be seen and heard and must make the invisible visible. In aiming to end violence against children new positive behaviors and attitudes as well as social norms must be adopted to prevent and mitigate violence including sexual abuse, corporal punishment and violence in the homes, schools and communities. In Belize 70.5% of children age 2-14 years were subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by their caretakers or other household members (MICS4 Report 2012). This statistic must be reduced with zero tolerance for violence being the goal.

Belize Takes Action to End Violence against Children

The program will also aim to strengthen the child protection system so that quality services are accessible to all survivors of all forms of violence in particular reference to child sexual abuse, corporal punishment and violence in the homes, schools and communities. Policy and legislative reforms and its implementation are specific actions that will also strengthen the child protective system as there is a need to harmonize the laws. Examples include standardized definition of a child in the Indictable Procedures Act, the Family Court Act, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, The District Courts ( Procedures’ Act) and the International Child Abduction Act to mention a few. This program is part of a greater initiative in Belize and around the world to recognize violence against children and end it by joining global, national and local movements to bring together new ideas to focus collective action on this goal and add to the many efforts already underway.

Violence inflicts not only physical wounds but leaves mental scars on children. It affects their physical and mental health, compromises their ability to learn and socialize and undermines their development. It affects their ability to realize their fullest potential and in the long term, affects national development.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child everywhere has the right to be protected from all forms of violence. This program will provide the means for communities to speak out forcefully to end violence against the children in Belize and so that this country can be known not only for its spectacular reefs and forests but for a Belize that protects all its children from violence. This joint program by the European Union, UNICEF along with partners expressed their commitment to closing the gaps on limited knowledge and capacity around violence prevention and move all stakeholders to action regarding our responsibility in child protection.

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