Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of rape or marital rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although sentences were sometimes much lighter. Challenges to the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape offenses. A number of cases resulted in acquittals or discontinuance because the accusing party dropped the charges or refused to testify at trial. In many instances the failure to proceed with a case was due to the victim’s fear for personal safety. Perceived inefficiencies in the police and judicial systems as well as fear of further violence, retribution, and social stigma contributed to the underreporting of rapes.
Domestic violence was frequently prosecuted with charges such as “harm,” “wounding,” “grievous harm,” rape, and marital rape but were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations; the level of fine or length of sentence depends on the severity of the crime. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders. Persons who may apply for protection orders against domestic violence include de facto spouses or persons in “visiting relations,” defined as couples in a relationship but not living together. Protection orders may remain in place for up to three years and may include a requirement for child support where applicable.
There were 15 cases of gender-based murder against women. In March the mother of seven children was stabbed to death by her common-law husband. In July another woman, a mother of three, was killed while socializing with a group of men. In September a pregnant mother of two was shot and killed inside her house in front of her children.
The Women’s Department under the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation and the first lady and special envoy for women and children continued their campaign against gender-based and domestic violence. The Women’s Department received referrals from both the criminal and civil courts. The BPD operated a toll-free domestic violence hotline, and most of the major police stations in the country had designated domestic abuse offices administered by a female police officer where victims could make their complaints. A lack of resources and coordination among the response agencies inhibited the provision of viable alternatives for victims.
Three women’s shelters in the country offered short-term housing but lacked the resources and staff to provide other basic services to victims of domestic violence. By mid-year resource shortages led to the closing of one of the shelters. There were no transitional or medium-term shelters to assist victims to move toward independent living.
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. The Women’s Department recognizes sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence.
Many cases of sexual harassment allegedly went unreported. There were several anecdotal reports that female officers in the police and defense force were victims of sexual abuse. In October, two female police officers attached to the Gang Suppression Unit reported to the Office of the Ombudsman sexually assaults by their male colleagues. The matter was under investigation both internally and by the ombudsman.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
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 and was generally respected. The law provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the work place, pregnancy, or HIV status.
The BDF and Belize Coast Guard maintain a 5 percent and 10 percent cap respectively for female service members.
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 in high school graduation rates, women held relatively few top managerial positions. The labor commissioner verified that men traditionally earned more–on average BZ$90 ($45) more per month than women–because they held higher managerial positions.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the nationality of the parents. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country. The standard provision is for births to be registered no later than a week after birth; registration after a month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. The Vital Statistical Office and the Ministry of Health have an agreement to offer bedside registration in hospitals shortly after birth.
Education: Primary education is free, and education is compulsory between the ages of six and 14; however, primary schools may incorporate other fees, and parents may be required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and meals.
Through monthly payments the government assisted families of needy children at the primary school level and, to a limited extent, the secondary school level. The Ministry of Education continued to assist secondary school students in the two southern districts with a grant of BZ$300 ($150) for two years of high school. Students in other parts of the country had to apply to qualify for the subsidy.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred, and as of the end of October, 1,217 cases were reported to authorities.
Sexual intercourse with a girl under age 14 is an offense punishable by 12 years to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl ages 14-16 is an offense punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment.
In September, David Taylor was convicted of committing extreme acts of pornographic exploitation of three boys in 2012. After three years in trial, Taylor pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent assault.
In July the commander of the Gang Suppression Unit, Mark Flowers, was placed on interdiction after a minor reported that Flowers had unlawful sexual intercourse with her on two occasions. The minor, who was 14 years old, was five months pregnant when she made the report. The matter awaited trial at year’s end.
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. There were publicized cases of underage girls’ being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in the home of a relative.
The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation 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 trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote children’s welfare.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF 26 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married or cohabitating before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child prostitution, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone under age 18. The law stipulates that the offense of child prostitution does not apply to persons exploiting 16- and 17-year-old children in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits. NGOs expressed concern that this specific clause in the law could render children vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, due to the common practice of parents’ pushing their children to provide sexual favors to older men in exchange for remuneration. The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under 18.
There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited in child prostitution, including the “sugar daddy” syndrome whereby older men provided money to young women and/or their families 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” under 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. For information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air or other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. The constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not provide for accessibility to persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses, such as banks and government departments (social security offices), 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 private or public 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. Private companies and NGOs provided services to persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Education maintained an educational unit offering limited special education programs within the regular school system. There were two schools and four special education centers for children with disabilities.
In June a schizophrenic man attacked three adults and three minors with a machete, fatally injuring one of the minors. Police detained the attacker and held him in the Belize Central Prison. He was charged with aggravated assault and murder and scheduled to undergo an evaluation to determine his fitness to stand trial. A psychiatrist from the public health system said the man was placed at the prison because there was no other suitable place for him. Residents from his community petitioned police to have him moved from the prison for security reasons but the petition has not yet been heard.
The Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow, spouse of the prime minister, 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 persons with disabilities.
No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous persons, since the government maintains that it treats all citizens the same. Employers, public and private, generally treated indigenous persons equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.
The Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA), composed of the Toledo Maya Council, Q’eche Council of Belize, Toledo Alcaldes Association, the Julian Cho Society, and the Tumul K’in Center of Learning, monitored development in the Toledo District with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. While the government noted the need to respect and consult the Mayan communities when issuing oil exploration licenses in the south, the alliance believed it was not consulted properly before decisions were taken. The government, without consulting the Mayan community, renewed a one-year extension contract for petroleum exploration for U.S. Capital Energy over which the Supreme Court had given the Mayan community some jurisdiction in a 2010 decision.
In January the government established the Maya Land Rights Commission to honor a Caribbean Court of Justice court order for the government to legitimize communal land rights for traditional Mayan villages. As of October, however, no progress was made, and the MLA claimed the government was deliberately stalling and not acting in good faith.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In July the Belize Supreme Court interpreted Section 53 of the criminal code that criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature” to clarify that Section 53 does not apply to sexual acts between consenting adults in private.
In September the government partially appealed the ruling, conceding the decriminalization of homosexuality but questioning a section of the decision that made “sexual orientation” a protected class. The Roman Catholic Church and the National Evangelical Association of Belize submitted an appeal of the entire ruling.
The Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.
The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to lack of official reporting. According to the NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM), 34 killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity had occurred since 1997. At the end of October, UniBAM had registered six cases of violence as a result of sexual orientation and gender identity, including cases involving homicide, violent attacks, (political) hate speech, medical service discrimination during pregnancy, denial of education due to sexual orientation and gender identity, and family-based violence.
As of October police made no arrests regarding the January 2015 killing of an openly gay man. The LGBTI community classified the killing as a hate crime, but the police did not declare it as such.
Local LGBTI rights advocates noted that, while LGBTI persons still feared police and were harassed or intimidated while reporting crimes, police relations slightly improved. UniBAM reported that continuing harassment and insults by the public affected its activities and that its members were reluctant to file complaints.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development. NGOs such as the Pan American Social Marketing Organization also actively countered discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The law provides for protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status.