Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of 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.
Domestic violence was often prosecuted with charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape, but charges were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.
According to data provided by a government ministry in 2016, there were 731 cases of domestic violence filed by women and 123 by men; 460 followed through with court action. The government ran awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence, a domestic violence hotline, and shelters, and major police stations had designated domestic abuse officers, although 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. The Women’s Department recognizes sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence, but no cases have ever been brought under the sexual harassment protections.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
There were reports of Mayan women receiving involuntary caesarian sections to discourage large families. There were uncorroborated anecdotes of Mayan women being sterilized unnecessarily because of irregularities found during annual checkups.
For additional information on maternal mortality and other health issues, see the see the World Health Organization website at www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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. 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.
The BDF and Belize Coast Guard maintain a 5 percent and 10 percent limit, respectively, on the number of female service members allowed to serve. Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported that women faced social and economic discrimination. Although participating in all spheres of national life and outnumbering men in university classrooms and 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 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. Failure to register does not result in any denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card and therefore accessing health care.
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.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred, and as of December 2016 (the most recent date for which statistics were available), 1,407 cases were reported to authorities of which 78 cases were considered either trafficking or cases of unaccompanied minors.
In June, two 13-year-old primary school girls reported to police (in the company of their parents) that the principal of their school had sexually assaulted them. Police arrested and charged the principal. The investigation continued 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 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 trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and 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. The government did not undertake any prevention or mitigation efforts to reduce the rate of early marriage.
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.
The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under 18. 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.
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. 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, 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 Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports 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.
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 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, composed of the Toledo Maya Council, Q’eche Council of Belize, Toledo Alcaldes Association, Julian Cho Society, and 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 properly consulted before decisions were made.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down the interpretation of Section 53 of the criminal code, which criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature.” The government partially appealed the ruling in September, conceding the decriminalization of homosexuality but questioning a section of the decision that made “sexual orientation” a protected class. The Roman Catholic Church appealed the entire ruling in September. The Court of Appeals had not heard the case as of November.
The Immigration Act prohibits homosexual persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law. A Venezuelan man intending to visit a Belizean man was harassed by immigration officers, and eventually denied entry and returned to Venezuela, allegedly due to a lack of travel funds.
The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) registered four killings or attempted killings based on sexual orientation and gender identity from January to September.
According to UniBAM, lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons were denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.
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.
The law provides for protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status. The government provided free antiretroviral medication and other medical services to persons with HIV registered in the public health system; however, the government sometimes had insufficient supplies of medication.