BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 9, 2016–For the past two years, Belize has been at the bottommost tier of the United States’ human trafficking index, at level 3, amid concerns over child sex tourism, which the 2016 report by the US has said is sometimes facilitated by Belizean relatives, as well as cross-border trafficking for prostitution between Belize and Guatemala and exploitation by even some law enforcement officers.
Although it rarely results in arrests, human trafficking does continue to be a problem in Belize and one that Philip “Fawda” Henry, 48, a Belizean, has added to the personal safety talks he has been having with youths in primary and secondary schools across Belize, including Stella Maris School in Belize City, Bella Vista Primary School in Toledo and Holy Ghost School in Dangriga, Stann Creek.
The well-known ex-traffic officer has been traveling around the country to do in-school presentations, and he told us that recently, he has been focusing on southern Belize, including Bella Vista, from where the latest report of a child kidnapping emerged some months ago. That village also has the largest elementary school, he said, adding that he was able to present traffic safety and personal safety talks to about 1,500 students class by class.
“Since then, children are aware of walking in groups and being trained what to do if an unlicensed motor vehicle shows up,” he said.
He said that if a suspicious vehicle shows up, they should immediately move in the direction opposite to which the vehicle is traveling, run to an open area where there are a lot of people, and scream out for help.
He added, “Call the police and inform them of the color of the vehicle and the type of vehicle. Was it a brown or silver Toyota?”
If the vehicle carries a license plate, one student should keep an eye on the license plate while the other grabs a pen and paper to write the license plate number, so that the information can be given to police. Henry said that he also gives safety tips to teachers and parents, such as advising them to acquire fluorescent vests to use when they are riding through unlit portions of the highway at night.
Henry told Amandala that since 2009, he made a commitment to deliver talks across the entire country and that he will carry out a national safety drive in every school under his Do the Right Thing Pedestrian Crossing Safety Program. Among those on his team are Tiffany Rodriguez, a student of the University of Belize, and Josie Martinez of San Pedro.
He has been getting support from corporate sponsors as well as community groups, but his lead patron is Glenda Fuller, who leads the Miss America Belize Charity Program from Los Angeles , and who, he said, has been assisting with items such as footwear, clothing and school books to donate over 5 years, as well as items needed by the elderly in the community.
He said that he has been informing children that human trafficking can be perpetrated by anyone and especially people close to them: relatives as well as family friends. He also warns parents against leaving their children in the care of young relatives who cannot adequately care for those children and who may leave them unattended, making them more vulnerable to predators.
Henry said that human trafficking appears to be more prevalent in southern Belize, and especially in communities that are remote and forested, where potential criminals may seek cover.
He told us that he does in-school sessions from Mondays to Fridays, and community sessions on the weekends. He said that they also engage young people in feeding and taking care of the elderly, as well as providing special meals to senior citizens with diabetes and accompanying them to do their medical check-ups.