Highlights — 08 November 2013 — by Adele Ramos
UNICEF launches initiative to “end all forms of violence against children”

The agency of the United Nations brands corporal punishment as violence against children

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an agency of the United Nations, along with the European Union (EU), today launched a joint initiative in Belize which they say seeks to end all forms of violence against children. The campaign raised the controversial issue of corporal punishment in the home, school and wider community, and UNICEF takes the view that corporal punishment is an unacceptable practice – an act of violence, they say, which violates children’s rights.

Belize has already banned corporal punishment in schools, but Amandala understands that the Government of Belize has so far pushed back any notion of promulgating a blanket law which will do away with all forms of corporal punishment.

Today, though, UNICEF launched a new lobby at the Belize Chamber of Commerce & Industry Conference Room, through which it is urging all citizens, lawmakers and governments to take necessary actions to end violence against children.

Last week, the United Kingdom and the United States called on Belize to make legislative changes to reverse the ban on sodomy, as part of the lobby for special LGBT rights. The UK furthermore called on Belize to ban capital punishment.

Today, the UNICEF reps asserted that corporal punishment – including the whipping of children – is a violation of their fundamental rights, and so, in their view, corporal punishment should cease.

“Developed countries, as far as I understand, they are not in favor of corporal punishment as a way of disciplining children. There must be other ways, so talking about these issues and making sure we discuss them, we believe will change the way the country is facing this problem,” Ivan Yerovi, UNICEF representative in Belize, told Amandala in an interview after the launch of the program.

We asked: “Is the suggestion, then, that if you’re administering corporal punishment as a norm that you’re not as advanced, that you’re not as sophisticated a country, a society, a community?”

“I’m not saying sophisticated. I’m just saying that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is saying in Article 19 that violence against children should not be a practice, should not be the norm, should not be the way children are going to be disciplined – and it shouldn’t be that way,” Yerovi replied.

“Belize has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That means the country is committed to follow that. Of course, there is some country legislation that should consider whatever is written in the CRC – in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he added.

He said that national legislation should harmonize with Article 19 of CRC – a convention which Belize ratified on May 2, 1990.

That article specifically addresses ending violence against children. It states, in part, that countries that sign on to the convention “shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

“How do you justify a two-year-old child being raped? A child beaten to death by his own mother? A 7-year-old having to work under dangerous conditions? A father abusing his 13-year-old daughter? Or a teenager raped and killed?” Yerovi said in his remarks at the launch.

He said that, “In Belize, 70.5% of children age 2-14 years were subjected to at least one form of psychological or physical punishment by their mothers/caretakers or other household members.”

No doubt, these statistics take into account cases of corporal punishment.

“Violence against children is not normal; it’s not okay! It shouldn’t be the practice at household level; it shouldn’t be the practice at school level; it shouldn’t be the practice in the health services…” Yerovi told us.

We asked Yerovi: “Do you have children?”

“I have two,” he responded.

We queried: “In terms of discipline, what is your policy?”

“Well, basically, you know, the main idea is basically to talk to children. Those are universal rights. We don’t believe that either one [right – such as parental rights] is against the one or that one is more important than the other. We believe that human rights are basic and governments – in this case Belize, has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The country is committed,” Yerovi said.

He urged that violence against children should be discussed. He said that their objective is to “put the topic on the table, put the topic on the public agenda and have everybody talk about it…”

Whereas the Belizean society, as a general rule, frowns upon acts of sexual violence or sexual exploitation against children, the meting out of corporal punishment is another story. In fact, it could be deemed one of Belize’s social norms – but one which this EU-UNICEF initiative aims on changing.

Sherlene Tablada, UNICEF Adolescent Officer, conceded in our interview that this will be the most controversial part of this initiative; but in her presentation at the program launch, she said that the aim is to get the nation to collectively say: “Violence against children is not acceptable…”

In our interview, she admitted to having used corporal punishment in raising her 4 daughters, but she told us that her view of corporal punishment is different now.

She told us that no form of violence against any child is acceptable anywhere – and she included in the “unacceptable acts,” the whipping of children as a form of discipline.

She said that strengthening the child protection system is the primary challenge, as resources are limited. All children must be protected; everybody needs to access reporting and complaint services, she also said.

“We see corporal punishment as violence – but that’s UNICEF’s view. UNICEF’s view does not change policy, does not change legislation, does not change practice. It doesn’t change anything,” Tablada said.

“UNICEF can use its position as a convener in this country and its position of respect – where people respect what we say – to say, ‘Let’s have a discussion about this, let’s talk about this,’” she added.

Ambassador Paola Amadei, the EU rep for Belize, said at today’s launch that if children’s rights are not protected, it reflects a failure in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

Amadei said that violence is not an isolated problem, but a cyclical and entrenched issue that requires changes of societal norms.

If a child is abused and not allowed to go to school, if a child is submitted to violence, these would affect its capacity to become a positive contributor to society and affect the capacity of the country to achieve its goals, she said in her remarks at the event.

“It is a difficult problem to solve and it needs everyone’s efforts,” she asserted.

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