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By: Janelle Chanona





“In their own words” Belizean children share their stories of violence…stories that have to be heard By: Janelle Chanona

Whenever you say violence, the first thing that pops into my head is children. First thing. And I always wonder, why would first thing pop into my head of children? But then it’s because I realize that there are many little children that are just being taken advantage of and being used for the parents or anybody, an older person’s own, how would you say, benefit. Agatha, 12 Violence. The very word evokes different emotions for different people. In November 2013, my emotions rose to a fever pitch after I listened to 22 Belizean children, boys and girls aged nine to eighteen, detail the various forms of violence that they had either been exposed or to experienced themselves. It was traumatizing to listen to these harrowing accounts of murder, rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and bullying. But the scariest part? All the children I met were randomly selected; representatives of every district, economic class, ethnicity, age and gender. I have worked in the media for more than a decade but I will confess here that after this project I realized that I had been allowing myself to believe that yes, violence happens everywhere but that it only plagued pockets of our country. How very wrong I was. The true prevalence of violence in our society is disturbing. The children you are about to meet are just like the children in your life and as you will discover, they are all trying to survive growing up in Belize. My ma only mi shub in the door right and then same time he come inna fu we house en time we mi di sleep. It look like a, come inna fu we house when time we mi di sleep and then we knife pan we table and then the person get the knife off ah we table and come inna the room whe paw all ah we sleep and then my bredda turn on the light cause he mi have by yah so tie with a rag and eh mi have eh pants


zip open. And then afta dat now he tek the knife and then he mi di hold yah so fu my ma. And then afta dat he mi di haul my sista because he mi want my sista. Kenton, 9 I went to this friend’s house and then as the father just reach home, he just went and slap the mother for no reason. And I was like why does your father do that to your mother? And then she just told me I don’t know. My ma just allow him and I say but that’s not correct. It’s like domestic violence. It affects you and your mother. And then she seh, I spoke to my mother so many times but she just say she’s going to wait until I graduate and then she’s going to divorce from him. Alvaro, 16 I see bullying happening every day. All around with many different children. Whether it’s because of their weight or because of their colour or simply because they are being themselves. When it comes to bullying, the main reason is probably, what I think about the person is that maybe they have been facing problems at home or they’ve been through a lot the reason why they are treating people this way. They are not happy so they don’t like to see others happy. Irianna ,16 I think a little girl from my class name [removed] should be protected and [removed] because the parents don’t really care. Because they went to sleep to other people’s house and they didn’t know. Their parents didn’t know. My teacher found out cause another little girl went to buy and she saw her at a bar with the other little girl. Right there kids can get hurt because there adults places not places where kids should be playing around. Leshanie, 9 My daddy mi deh inna deh shop and all of a sudden we just see that two masked men deh come and one he just come and ker wah knife affa ah and seca he neva know, he mi think dah just one but afta that wah next one come


in. And then deh stab ah. I always scared because every time afta the time whe they rob we with the money, when me and my auntie mi deh deh, we can’t put we guard down they rob we again. So it kinda stressful really. My pa and my ma deh work hard fu deh money and they di thief it. Jeremy, 11 When I found out my friend got raped, I went to her and talked to her about the situation and she wouldn’t open up to me in any sort of way. And it kinda made me feel bad because if I were in her shoe, I would want someone there to console me. It’s not a reality that I would like to face right now and sometimes I try to block it out but it is there and it’s happening, it’s real, it’s live, it’s now. Ormie, 16 One night I’m walking home and up to this day I don’t know what it was but something just, I heard somebody say, Robin, duck. And the minute I did, I felt like a breeze over my head and the guy, one of his friends had rode past me and he had swung a machete at my head and if I hadn’t ducked, my head would have been chopped off probably. And all over because this guy thought I was a threat to a girl that didn’t even like him. I don’t think any teenager should have to go through something like with people trying to kill you. And you can’t even walk the streets or go out because you fear for your life. I don’t think it’s right that anybody should have to go through that at such a young age. Robin, 17 When my bredda was 17, he gawn dah jail fu murder. He always tell me, my friends wah never get me whe I wah go. He always tell me that. If I wah be somebody good inna life. No follow my friends deh. Mek I always be the one leading. No the follower. Cause once yu follow, who knows, maybe you dah the one whe get inna trouble and they no get inna trouble so he always deh deh di give us, well now he deh give us a good example and he di advice we. Marcia, 18

I mi deh inside and you know noise di mek outside and I find out that they throw a grenade cross the street from where I was and dah like I mi just feel awful inna sense. If that mi went off, I no know whe mi ah happen to the community. I no know who mi ah get hurt...loved one and then everybody round deh mi ah change. Cecil 16 I done see five dead people. One name Black, one name Trigga, one name piggy, one name Pie and one name Jims. And all ah deh, how deh dead? From gun violence. When time gunshot happen, I cover my head with sheet. The pellet gun deh sound “makes noise”. And then the nine they sound “makes noise”. And then the machine gun harder than that. I pray that how mek they stop the thing, stop the gun violence and when time they do the gun violence, people always dead that’s why. Kenton, 9 When I hear about something bad happening to a child, it’s very heartbreaking because you know it can happen to any child and that when a child is exposed to something like abuse, it can sometimes go around full circle and the child could end up abusing other people. Aidan, 16 One time my sister and I were in a car waiting for my dad to come out of a store and there was a gunshot that went through the back windshield through the front one. Every time I went in a car after that, it was kind of scary because you never know when it could happen again, if it will happen again or if you are just walking, it could happen to you. It could be just an innocent person just walking and anything could happen. Alexis, 16 Those terrifying stories reveal the gravity of what child rights advocates and activists are faced with in Belize. And after decades of trying to break the vicious cycle through various strategies, officials are trying a



different tact. The new plan of attack involves the children themselves; giving the vulnerable a chance to voice concerns and suggest possible solutions. And their thoughts on the current state of affairs and the way forward are as heart wrenching as they are provocative. Participants admitted that the status quo often triggers feelings of depression, anger and frustration.

If I met the Prime Minister, I would ask him to at least assist the poor people in the country of Belize to send their children to school. Because most people are poor in this country and they don’t have enough money to send their children to school. Diviano, 10 When I think about people that are supposed to be protecting me, I think about adults in general. My parents, my grandparents, my older siblings, teachers, even strangers that I meet on the street. Ormie, 16

We are children and a lot of children, the things they are experiencing make us feel unsafe. Just to hear what they are experiencing, it makes us sometimes want to It makes me feel kinda sad because a person cry and just feel really sad about it. Alisha 12 like me wonders what will happen in the future, like what will Belize turn out. Like now, To make Belize a better place, I would allow I see Belize just, the violence streak just the children to go to school free and for them going up and up so I’m like, what will happen? to be fed without having to pay any money Will it continue go up or will it lower? especially because nowadays times are hard Tiffany, 14 and life is getting harder, it’s not easier. Vincent 13 One of the people charged with answering that question is Special Envoy for Women and I think some people have just given up on Children Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow. “It’s both Belize cause of everything that’s going on, all saddening and upsetting when we hear the the crime and all the other various activities. horrors that so many children experience or And I don’t think that we should give up but witness; especially knowing that perpetrators I think some people are considering that and are getting away with little or no consequences. you know, because of their, they lack strength But their stories provide the rude awakening and what to do and how to do it. But I think that people need to understand how real this some people have given up. It’s sad to see that problem is and how urgently we need to fight though. Myles 11 for change… for our children. No act of violence against children is justifiable!” Barrow’s I think in this country, everyone should be continuing effort to advocate for that change treated the same and equal way. Just because included helping to organize a national you are a different color or different race, it symposium to “End Violence Against Children.” doesn’t mean that you can just chancey them. Held on November 21-22, 2013, the Special Edison, 16 Envoy hopes the conference will serve as a stepping stone for serious reform in the Child I know that something can be done here Protection System. in Belize. And I know we can try to make a change but if I were in charge, I really won’t But according to Stephanie Daniels Moody of the know what to do. Nathalya 9 National Committee for Families as Children, efforts at home will have to take place We dah the future of Belize so like wah simultaneously to efforts in corridors of power. saying whe I mi di tell my ma, you can’t teach “At the conference, children shared some of the wah old dog new tricks. So they have to start ways they feel the decision-makers can help when they dah puppy. Jeremy, 11 make Belize safer for them. But they all agreed that neglect is a key issue. Parents are not being 10 DECEMBER 2013 NEWS.EXCHANGE MAGAZINE


parents and are raising children irresponsibly and are also setting bad examples for them many of which include domestic violence and a general lack of respect for others,” says Daniels Moody. “They feel abandoned and long for relationships primarily with their parents or caregivers. They also spoke of the way adults ignore their well-being. They say that a lot of them are feeling depressed or are stressed out because of the conditions in their homes and the challenges they face within their homes and communities. They feel that adults ignore and downplay their psychological and emotional well-being and express that this is the reason some of them are depressed and “act-out” to get the attention that they are missing. And lastly, the young persons spoke of sexual violence and the fact that some adults prey on them and take advantage of the difficult situations some young persons live in.” Children can’t choose which home or country they have to live in. As adults, we should all feel personally responsible for the safety and well being of the next generation. We have said “The Children Are The Future” so many times it’s become a cliché. If only we could realize just how true that phrase is.