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Belize[1] [print]

Last edited: November 2005

 

Summary and Analysis

 

Belize maintains a child welfare system similar to the American system.  The Belize Families and Children Act gives the family court the authority to place children who have been abused or neglected by their parents or guardians under the supervision, care, and custody of the Belize Ministry of Human Development (MHD).[2]  In child protective proceedings, the Act mandates the family court to hear the wishes of children, given it is appropriate to do so considering the child's age and understanding.[3]

 

While the law does not explicitly give all children the affirmative right to speak in child protective proceedings or guarantee children the right to representation, in practice it appears that most courts do in fact consider the views of children.  The Ministry of Human Development acknowledges that while judges maintain discretion to hear from the child, it is general practice to allow all children over the age of seven to speak in court.  Furthermore, while lawyers are not provided for children in the process, they are permitted if privately retained.  In addition, a Ministry of Human Development social worker is assigned to every child's case, and often voices the concerns of the child.  These informal procedures help ensure that a child's desires are expressed in the process.

 

Moreover, the legislature has made some efforts to support the children's voice in the system.  For instance, before making a supervision or care order, the court is required to analyze a “social inquiry report,” which is written by a social services practitioner within MHD, and recommends the action to be taken by the court.[4]  According to Belize law, in preparation of this report, the MHD must interview all children deemed to be of “sufficient age and understanding.”[5]  In addition, the Belize law emphasizes the goal of family reunification in the child protective process, and to this end requires the MHD to bear in mind the wishes of the child.[6]

 

Belize ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in May 1990, almost four months before the CRC officially came into force.  Shortly thereafter, the Belize legislature passed the Belize Families and Children Act, which afforded children “all the rights set out” in the Convention.[7]

 

Sources of Law (In Order of Authority)

 

International Law

 

Convention on the Rights of the Child, [8] ratified May 2, 1990.

 

Article 12

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

 

Statutes

 

Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, First Schedule. Guiding Principles In The Implementation Of The Act.[9]

1. Whenever the state, a court, a Government agency or any person determines any question with respect to -

(a) the upbringing of a child; or

(b) the administration of a child's property or the application

of any income arising from it;

the child's welfare shall be the paramount consideration…

3. In determining any question relating to circumstances set out in subparagraphs (a) and (b) of paragraph 1, the court or any other person shall have regard in particular to-

(a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned considered in the light of his or her age and understanding;

(b) the child's physical, emotional and educational needs;

(c) the likely effects of any changes in the child's circumstances;

(d) the child's age, sex, background and any other circumstance relevant in the matter;

(e) any harm that the child has suffered or is at the risk of suffering;

(f) where relevant, the capacity of the child's parents, guardians or others involved in the care of the child in meeting his or her needs.

4. A child shall have the right…

(c) to exercise, in addition to all the rights stated in this Schedule and the Act, all the rights set out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, with appropriate modifications to suit the circumstances in Belize, that are not specifically mentioned in the Act or in this Schedule.

 

Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 29(2).[10] Nothing contained in this section or in sections 26 to 28 shall interfere with or affect the power of the court to consult the wishes of the child in considering what order ought to be made under this section, or diminish the right which any child now possesses to the exercise of its own free choice.”

 

Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 99.[11]  (1) The Family Court or a magistrates court shall require a written social inquiry report in respect of a child before making a supervision order or a care order. (2) It shall be the duty of the social services practitioner to prepare a social inquiry report and he or she shall comply with the request of the Family Court or a magistrates court whenever required to produce a social inquiry report. (3) A social services practitioner shall make a home visit and interview the parents or guardians of the child concerned and carry out his investigations concerning the child before making a social inquiry report. (4) Where the child in respect of whom the social inquiry report is made is considered by the Department to be of sufficient age and understanding, he or she shall be interviewed by a social services practitioner. (5) A social inquiry report shall contain matters relating to the welfare of the child and recommendations as to any action to be taken by the Family Court or a magistrates court. (6) The Family Court or a magistrates court shall take the information contained in the social inquiry report into account in so far as it is relevant to the order being made. (7) If the Family Court or a magistrates court is not satisfied with any recommendation made by the social services practitioner in the social inquiry report, it shall state and record its reasons for not complying with the recommendation.

 

Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 111.[12]  (1) It is the duty of the Department, before and after the termination of the care order, to work with the parents, guardians or relatives, to whom the child returns or is expected to return after the termination of the care order. (2) The duties of the Department under this section include child and family counselling, before, during and after the child's return and gaining the assistance of those in the community who can help in the process of resolving the problems which caused the care order to be made. (3) In carrying out its duties under this section, the Department shall bear in mind the wishes of the child. (4) Where a child is placed with a foster family, it shall be the responsibility of the Department to communicate with the guardians or parents of the child, to inform them of the progress of the child and to arrange a trial period for the child to be at home as soon as it is appropriate.  (5) The social services practitioner shall visit the child during the trial period at home and make plans for the future of the child in consultation with foster parents, the natural parents, or the adoptive parents.

 

Local Contact Information

 

Mrs. Ava Pennil
Director
Department of Human Services
2nd Floor, Commercal Centre
Belize City, Belize
Tel: 501-227-7451 or 7452
Fax: 501-227-1276

 

Additional Resources and Links

 

Ministry of Human Development website

http://www.belize.gov.bz/cabinet/d_balderamos_garcia/welcome.shtml

 

 



Endnotes

[1] This page is also available as a .pdf Document, and Word Document.

[2] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Part VIII, available as .pdf Document.

[3] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, First Schedule, available as .pdf Document.

[4] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 99, available as .pdf Document.

[5] Id.

[6] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 29, available as .pdf Document.

[7] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, First Schedule, available as .pdf Document.

[8] G.A. Res. 44/125, U.N. GAOR, 44th Session, Supp. No. 49, U.N. Doc. A/44/736 (1989).

[9]Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, First Schedule, available as .pdf Document.

[10] Sections 26, 27, 28, and 29 of the Families and Children Act respectively speak to the court's power as to production of the child, the court's power to order repayment of cost of bringing up child, the court's duty to have regard for parents' conduct, and the court's power as to the child's religious education.  See Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, available as .pdf Document.

[11] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 99, available as .pdf Document.

[12] Families and Children Act, Chapter 173, Section 111, available as .pdf Document.

 

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