Headline — 25 February 2017
Cops pursuing “Belizean Cheaters” after cyber-bullying of child

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 23, 2017–Since this weekend, scandalous Facebook pages, carrying the name “Belizean Cheaters”, of which there are now several versions, captioned parts 2, 3, 4 plus other social media versions, described as “uncut” for their raw video content, have gone viral, with one social media group garnering as many as 12,000 members after a scandal broke about someone accused of being a cheating cop.

The groups do not just scandalize adults, but go further to post harmful comments about minors as well. One such case was brought to the attention of police, and while there has been no official statement on the matter, or no arrest, we are told that police were called to intervene in a fight over a post via the group.

The egregious case in question involves an 11-year-old child whose picture was posted along with her name with allegations of affairs with grown men, but the post went on to suggest that the child would give her body to any man for little or nothing—what could be deemed as a covert attempt to support child prostitution.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Chester Williams posted on Facebook that, “The mother of the child has contacted me and we will be looking into her complaint. Those found responsible will be dealt with accordingly. We cannot tolerate or condone these acts, especially against a child.”

Police Press Officer Raphael Martinez told our newspaper that he was not privy to any information about the complaint, and when we contacted Williams, he declined to comment beyond what was stated via Facebook. Williams said that he could not speak with us unless the Commissioner of Police has given the green-light.

Martinez suggested that the matter is one that should be taken up by agencies such as the National Committee for Families and Children (NCFC), the Belize Red Cross the Special Envoy for Women and Children and the Department of Human Services, as it concerns the rights of the child. As we go to press tonight, there have been no statements from any of these agencies reaching our newsroom on the matter.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, told our newspaper that no one has referred anything to her, in relation to the Facebook complaint. She also explained that the circumstances of the case in question are unclear to her. Vidal clarified, though, that it is no defense for persons to say that they thought the affected child is over 18.

Although there are provisions under Belize’s Commercial Sexual Exploration legislation, under which sentences of up to 10 years can be imposed, as well as the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act, under which a paltry fine of $250 or a 6-month sentence could be imposed for the circulation of or traffic in obscene materials (which also addresses distribution of child pornography via the Internet), the legislation has so far not been used for cases involving the exposure of children via social media.

Attorney Lisa Shoman, senior counsel, in a social media post, complained that, “…someone has posted a picture of a minor with salacious information about the said minor. This is cyber-bullying, harassment and may even amount to an assault. It is an attack on a CHILD.”

Shoman said that to her knowledge, there is very little that can be done within the context of current law. She said that police can try to get at the administrations of the Belizean Cheaters Facebook groups, but, she noted, there are probably more fake profiles online than real ones. She said that the only way to stop the problem is for people to leave the groups so they won’t have a social media audience.

Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte told Amandala that new legislation is “very, very imminent.” He said that he would like to see legislation tabled in Parliament as early as March 10, when the national budget is scheduled to be tabled, to address the problem. He told us that he spoke with the DDP today about the problem, and consideration is being given to amending Belize’s Criminal Code to capture what he says is “becoming terrible now.”

The idea would be to prosecute both those who post malicious material, as well as those who share them with others.

It can be done in a matter of days, Shoman says, adding that she will send a message to the Attorney General and let him know that she is ready to join in the effort.

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Eden Cruz

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