Belize: State protection available to victims of domestic violence
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||21 June 2001|
|Citation / Document Symbol||BLZ37337.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Belize: State protection available to victims of domestic violence, 21 June 2001, BLZ37337.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df4be141c.html [accessed 8 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
On 14 June 2001 a representative of the Women's Department of the Belizean Ministry of Human Development, Women and Civil Society stated the following:
Belize has both a Domestic Violence Act, which was passed in 1992, and a Sexual Harassment Act, passed in 1996. Also, in October 1999, the criminal code was amended to include marital rape.
In the Domestic Violence Act, there are provisions for Protection Orders and Occupation Orders. However, due to the limited financial and human resources these may take a bit longer to issue. Interim orders can be given in emergency cases.
Belize does have a legal aid system that provides free legal assistance to Belizeans who otherwise cannot afford it, such as women who are victims of domestic violence. The system, however, is rather slow due to limited resources.
At present we have one [women's shelter] – Haven House, a shelter for battered women but it has capacity for only three families at any given time. The period of residence is for 21 days.
Unfortunately cases are not recorded under domestic violence but rather under general criminal cases. Statistics on issuance of protection orders under the Family Court are the ones available. Efforts are presently being made to ensure that cases as a result of domestic violence are recorded as such.
Over the past two years, with funding from the Pan American Health Organization, the Women's Department has worked closely with the Police Department to assist them with training of police officers in the area of domestic violence and in setting up anti-family violence units. At present, there are anti-domestic violence units at all major police stations in the district towns. The officers who work and run these units have all received specialized training. In fact, the Police Training Academy now includes domestic violence training in their curriculum and a new project will be launched this year to train every police officer in this area. To further assist in this area, the Women's Department, Ministry of Health, and the Police Department are developing standardized protocols to further improve the service to family violence victims. Improvement in the services is slow, however, since changing attitudes and the entire socialization process is very difficult. Therefore, there is need to monitor police procedure and offer continuous training, which we try to do.
On 20 June 2001 a representative of the Belize Organization for Women and Development (BOWAND), a non-governmental organization in Belize City that provides services to women, stated that although there has been some progress in recent years, and women are now less afraid to seek help than they were in the past, violence against women remains a serious problem. Despite the existence of a Family Violence Unit staffed by female police officers in the Belizean police force, police officers still tend to take the man's side when they are called to intervene in domestic violence cases if they know the man personally, and Belize is such a small country that that is often the case. In addition, police tend to take accusations of domestic abuse less seriously if the accused is a public figure (which could mean an elected official, a well-known entertainer or a prominent businessman) or a police officer. So far only a small number of Belizean police officers have had specialized training in domestic violence. BOWAND is hoping that the government will succeed in implementing its plans to provide such training for all police officers.
Another problem is that it takes five days for a woman to get a restraining order from a court, during which time she is vulnerable to further attacks. Although interim orders are available on an emergency basis, there have been instances in which women have not been advised of that fact by their legal counsels (ibid.).
BOWAND works with the police, the family court, government and other NGOs on issues related to domestic violence. A conference was recently held on the issue with the participation of the four sectors, and they intend to hold future conferences on a regular basis (ibid.).
Regarding services to victims of domestic violence, BOWAND has seven lawyers on staff, all women, who provide free legal advice to those who cannot pay for lawyers. BOWAND deals with about 12 cases of domestic violence a week. It will often provide emergency accommodation to women who have to leave their homes in the middle of the night, until the office of Haven House (the women's shelter) opens (ibid.).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Belize Organization for Women and Development (BOWAND), Belize City. 20 June 2001. Telephone interview with a representative.
Women's Department, Ministry of Human Development, Women and Civil Society, Belize City, Belize. 14 June 2001. Correspondence with a representative.
Additional Sources Consulted
Telephone call to the National Women's Commission, Belize
Internet sites including:
Government of Belize