by Kristen Ku
BELMOPAN, Mon. Nov. 13, 2023
Last Friday marked the 4th Annual National Children’s Parliament in Belmopan, during which 51 students gathered at the National Assembly building to debate the bill surrounding the topic, “Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, 2023.”
The National Children’s Parliament is an annual initiative where children engage in mock debates in simulated meetings of the House of Representatives and the Senate in order for them to showcase their voices, talents, and decision-making as they learn more about the intricacies of parliament.
It’s an event made possible through the collaborative effort of the National Commission for Families and Children (NCFC), the Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology.
The day commenced at 9:00 a.m. with the Belize National Prayer, led by Angelique Itzab. This was followed by an announcement by Reyna Chi, the student assigned the role of Speaker of the House, about the endorsement of the 2021 Children’s Parliament Bill’s by the Ministry of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries on Criminal Code.
Subsequently, Hon. Alyssa Bell, who played the role of the Minister of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous People’s Affairs, presented the “Bill for an Act to provide for the prohibition of solemnization of child marriages; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
“I stand before you all in this House to advocate a crucial piece of legislation, a bill that seeks to prohibit child marriages by raising the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 years. This amendment aims to rectify an outdated law—the Marriage Amendment Act of 2005, which has inadvertently perpetuated cycles of poverty, domestic violence, and a lack of education across our great nation. Marriage is fundamentally a contract, and it is with a heavy heart that I address the harsh reality that minors, due to their limited experience and understanding, are ill-equipped to enter into binding contracts of any kind,” she strongly stated.
The bill, after being debated and referred to the Health and Human Development Committee, was passed without any amendments in the House of Representatives.
Following this, the Senate session began, again initiated with a prayer by Ms. Itzab. Emerson Tzalam, who sat in the seat of the President of the Senate, then acknowledged the endorsement of the 2022 Children’s Parliament Bill by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology on Vocational Education Development.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill was introduced by Sol Meighan, who was assigned the role of Leader of Government Business, and who stressed the global implications of child marriage and its impact on Belize.
“I stand before you all to express that child marriage, a global issue transcending borders and cultures, has silently plagued the lives of countless young individuals within our country. I’ve come with a resolute purpose to tackle this pressing concern and herald a significant change for the betterment of our cherished Belize. In our beloved Belize, as it currently stands, the legal age of marriage is 16; however, we must recognize that child marriage not only infringes upon the rights of our young citizens but also causes a shadow over their future prospects. Our motivation for change is unwavering and deeply rooted in the well-being of our young people. By raising the legal age of marriage to 18, we instate a safeguard for human rights and secure their future,” she pointed out.
The bill, following a comprehensive debate, was also passed without amendment in the mock Senate.
These special sessions were not just for students but also included parents, teachers, and principals, who observed the debates and the subsequent award ceremony. Awards were given for various categories, including Distinguished Parliamentarian for both the House and Senate, Emergent Leadership, Outstanding Achiever, and Goodwill Ambassador. Special plaques were also awarded to five notable participants: Ryan Castellanos, Karleen Tun, Carlos Nah, Sabrina Enright, and Sol Meighan.