Belize is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In the most recent national election, held on November 11, the People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly. Party leader John Briceno was sworn in as prime minister on November 12.
The Ministry of National Security is responsible for oversight of police, prisons, the coast guard, and the military. The Belize Police Department is primarily responsible for internal security. The small military force primarily focuses on external security but also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest that are executed by the Belize Defence Force for land and shoreline areas and by the Coast Guard for coastal and maritime areas. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of security forces committed few abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: allegations of the use of excessive force and inhuman treatment by security officers, allegations of widespread corruption and impunity by government officials, trafficking in persons, and child labor.
In some cases the government took steps to prosecute public officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government enforced the code. The code states that a person convicted of rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although on occasion sentences were much lighter. Problems facing the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape. According to UniBAM, the majority of sexual abuse crimes continued to be against girls between the ages of 10 and 19. Public perception was that complaints may be filed without repercussion but that investigations were hampered by insufficient police officers and funding for investigations.
Rape continued to be a problem in the BDF. In January the BDF received between 50 and 70 allegations from female members of sexual assault and abuse of authority committed by senior male superiors. A female recruit reported that a senior officer on the training team sexually assaulted her and that another senior officer ignored her report of the assault. Another female recruit reported she was raped by a senior officer during her recruit training, which led to her becoming pregnant. The government responded by setting up an investigation and concluded that no criminal offenses were discovered during the investigation, except for one incident that qualified as inappropriate behavior by one of the instructors, who was removed immediately. A government statement further noted that persons responsible for misconduct would be dealt with internally as stipulated in the Defense Act. There were no credible indications of any form of discipline imposed.
Domestic violence is prohibited under the Domestic Violence Act, and it was generally enforced. Victims noted that the remedial procedure was lengthy but that nevertheless perpetrators were convicted. Domestic violence was often prosecuted with charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape, but allegations of domestic violence were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury as evidence of domestic violence. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.
The government directed awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence, a domestic violence hotline, and shelters for victims. Major police stations had designated domestic abuse officers. Due to understaffed police stations, however, these measures were not always effective.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the government enforced the law. The Women’s Department recognized sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence, but no cases had ever been brought under the sexual harassment provisions.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. According to a representative of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, after the birth of every child, couples and individuals were provided with counseling including methods of family planning.
Information on reproductive health was generally available in multiple formats and media: print, electronic, and on billboards and displays.
Some NGOs stated that in socially conservative communities, women seeking tubal ligation sought the permission of the husband for cultural and religious reasons.
There were no legal barriers to access of skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, and the policy of the Ministry of Health and Wellness was to provide as much access as possible.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, but the government lacked a stock of rape-kits including emergency contraception.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also mandates equal pay for equal work, but the labor commissioner verified that men earned on average 90 Belize dollars ($45) more per month than women did because they held higher managerial positions. There are restrictions on women working in certain industries, including mining, construction, factories, energy, water, and transportation. The law provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the workplace, pregnancy, or HIV status, but it was not enforced.
Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although participating in all spheres of national life and outnumbering men in university classrooms and having higher high school graduation rates, women held relatively few top managerial or government positions.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the parents’ nationality. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country. The standard requirement is for births to be registered no later than one week after birth; registration after one month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. Failure to register does not result in any denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card to access services such as health care. Children without birth certificates had trouble registering for school and often had to move from school to school. Government experts from the Ministry of Human Development indicated that 4 percent of children up to age five were not registered, making them legally stateless. The government’s Vital Statistics Unit, with support from the embassy of Mexico, UNHCR, and UNICEF, expanded registration by introducing a mobile registration program that traveled across the country. Registration offices existed at all major hospitals, but the offices were open only during the workweek from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Child Abuse: The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until the age of 18. Abuse of children occurred. There were publicized cases of underage girls being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in a relative’s home.
The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development is the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s problems. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of human trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and UNICEF to promote children’s welfare.
In January a former police officer was found guilty of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons ages 16 to 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabitating before reaching age 18. Early marriage was more prevalent in certain areas–Toledo, Corozal, and Orange Walk–and among the Maya and Mestizo ethnic groups.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child trafficking, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone younger than age 18. The law stipulates that the offense of child trafficking does not apply to persons exploiting 16- and 17-year-old children through exchanging sexual activity for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits.
The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under age 18. Sexual intercourse with a minor younger than age 14 is punishable from 12 years’ to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor age 14-16 is punishable with five to 10 years’ imprisonment.
There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited through child trafficking, including through the “sugar daddy” arrangement whereby older men provide money to minors, their families, or both for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increasing exploitation of minors, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist-populated areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” younger than age 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender is liable to eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.
The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not provide for accessibility accommodations for persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses and government departments had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring of persons with disabilities in the public or private sectors.
Mental health provisions and protections generally were poor. Informal government-organized committees for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. The country does not have a reliable system for identifying persons with disabilities who need services. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports maintained an educational unit offering limited and segregated education programs within the mainstream school system. Two schools and four education centers specialized in working with children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children and were placed with nondisabled peers.
The special envoy for women and children continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for them. A survey conducted by Rights Insight found that approximately 50 percent of respondents believed persons with disabilities were treated unfairly.
No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous peoples, since the government maintains that it treats all citizens the same. Employers, public and private, generally treated indigenous peoples equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.
The Maya Leaders’ Alliance monitored development in the Toledo District with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. During the year the Maya in the southern part of the country and the government continued working on a way to implement the 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice consent order on Maya customary land tenure. In January the government approved the appointment of a mediator to hear matters and complaints from the Maya community regarding the court order.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not prohibit discrimination specifically against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.
The Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.
In December 2019 the Court of Appeal upheld the 2016 ruling of the Supreme Court that overturned a section of the criminal code decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations between adults. The government made the appeal after pressure from the churches that disagreed with the court’s interpretation of sex. As of October the government had declined to appeal the case to the Caribbean Court of Justice–the highest appellate court in the region–nor had the Council of Churches publicly called for such an appeal.
The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. UniBAM stated that discrimination and assault based on these factors continued to be substantially underreported, and its director noted that in communities with strong religious affiliation, police officers often refused to take reports from victims of discrimination. According to UniBAM, LGBTI persons continued to be denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.
According to a study conducted by Our Circle, a local LGBTI rights advocacy group, 13 percent of respondents felt unsafe in their homes because of their sexuality, 70 percent of whom lived in the Stann Creek District. A survey conducted by Rights Insight found that 34 percent of respondents believed LGBTI persons were treated unfairly, compared to other groups.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, and the government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development.
The law provides for the protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status.