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Child Poverty in Belize
Belize, a Central American country with a poverty rate of about 41.3 percent, struggles with the effects that poverty has on children. Of the Belizeans in poverty, approximately 40 percent of them are children. Income inequality and rapid population growth contribute to the high poverty rate. Child labor rates, poor health care and child prostitution are the primary factors playing into the rate of child poverty in Belize. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), UNICEF and the government are compounding efforts to reduce child poverty in Belize.

Nongovernmental Organization (NGOs) Efforts

Humanium is an NGO that enables donors to sponsor children in Belize and many other countries. Humanium emerged in Geneva in 2008 to improve the wellbeing of children worldwide. The child’s family can afford numerous basics, including better health care and education. Since 40 percent of families are in poverty, some children must work to aid in providing for the family. About 6 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 work to provide for the family. Also, 36 percent of Belize’s population is 0-14 years of age; the high child poverty rate is a fair representation of the country’s overall poverty rate.

Minister of Foreign Affairs

In a U.N. report, Wilfred Elrington stated that child poverty in Belize was nearly 40 percent. Elrington further commented on how “[poverty] affects [the] capacity to learn. It affects [children’s] capacity to maintain good health.” While there are many NGOs in Belize that assist Belizean adults and children in poverty, Elrington and other officials stated that people should do more to solve the high poverty rate in the country.

UNICEF in Belize

UNICEF representative Susan Kasedde mentioned that education initiatives are a possible solution to poverty and violence. Both education improvements and higher enrollment could reduce poverty in Belize while simultaneously solving violence that affects local and major tourist industries. Based on the homicide rate in 2018, Belize remains one of the most violent countries in the world. UNICEF’s Children’s Agenda 2017-2030 aims to support children on the path to living a safe, healthy and successful life in Belize. The program also focuses on disadvantaged groups that are people often forget, such as those in remote regions with high poverty.

Investments in Education

As of 2017, the Government of Belize spent about 7 percent of its GDP on education, which places Belize in the top 10 in the world for education expenditure. This indicates that the country is utilizing education as a path to reducing adult and child poverty in Belize. Universal education for all children has the potential to help reduce poverty in children and future generations as a study showed in the Asian Economic and Financial Review. The case study in Nigeria found that higher education led to a decline in youth poverty in Nigeria. Poverty in Nigeria was significantly higher at 70 percent; the research shows the possible benefit of investment in education to reduce poverty. 

In January 2020, the Inter-American Development Bank provided a $10 million loan to reduce child poverty in Belize. It will go towards the creation of a STEAM Lab School in Belize City. One of the goals of this school is to improve the quality of primary and secondary classrooms. Another goal is to improve gender equity from a young age, specifically in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths courses. With child poverty in Belize at an estimated 40 percent, investments in education could be a long-term solution to improve the country’s high child poverty.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Where is the Northern Triangle?
With a long history of political and economic instability, the Northern Triangle has provided little reason for citizens to stay. Where is the Northern Triangle? This emigration haven lies in Central America and comprises of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Causes of Emigration

In short, the main emigration drivers in the NTCA involve political corruption (due to past wars and ongoing greed), economic instability (due to droughts and poor trade practices), gang violence (related to lack of educational and rehabilitation programs) and family matters (attributed to desired remittance and reunification with distant family).

The NTCA’s past, current and potential (up-for-office) political officials consistently squander the countries’ limited funds for personal advancement at the cost of its people. These authoritarian countries recently switched to democratic rule, but its leaders lack the experience and morale necessary to implement a well-running democracy. Low tax rates and lack of direction prevent subsidization of social, civil, health-related and educational programs and protection agencies vital to the NTCA’s transition to a safe, thriving region.

Since 2014, the U.S.A.’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has collaborated with the NTCA to fund over $315 million of specialized programs improving tax administration, youth workforce and public-private markets across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Efforts from the MCC help the 25 percent of youth who do not work or attend school in these countries. As of 2017, nearly 60 percent of youth who do work do so informally or unregulated by the government.

Crime Management, Informal Work and Gangs

Beyond educational and vocational pitfalls, these countries possess poor crime management. NTCA homicide rates have decreased since 2014, but they remain higher than the global average. The Atlantic Council reports 75 percent of NTCA citizens as doubting their judicial systems’ ability to protect them. This primarily stems from the nearly active gang violence and 95 percent of homicides that go unsolved in these countries. According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, six children flee to the U.S. per every 10 homicides in the Northern Triangle. This leads to the separation of families and greater difficulty in establishing long-lasting labor practices in these countries.

Informal work is another causal factor of emigration as people search for better financial opportunities. The U.S. is such a major destination for these emigrants, it is no wonder many U.S. Americans might ask “Where is the Northern Triangle?” In fact, in the first five months of FY2019, authorities apprehended about 26,937 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) and 136,150 families at the U.S.-Mexican border, with nearly 47 percent of UACs and 49 percent of families, 25 percent of UACs and 38 percent of families and 11.5 percent of UACs and 9 percent of families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. These emigrants inadvertently create financial burdens, safety threats and attention deficits in the U.S.

UACs pose a huge threat to U.S. borders because of their use by gang members. U.S. immigration legislation, like Obama’s catch-and-release policy and the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), allow gangs to get around policies involving UACs. Gangs make about $1,500 per smuggled child in border regions that they control and oftentimes convert UACs into gang members once they settle in U.S. territory. In return, alien-driven crime and the U.S. opioid epidemic continue to implode. Furthermore, transnational government corruption with cartel commerce continues.

According to U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), the State Department gave Congress an incomplete watch-list of criminal Northern Triangle government officials as the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 required. Thus, skepticism surrounds U.S. and NTCA political ties in criminal activity. Overall, government corruption and U.S. immigration policy loopholes remain pressing obstacles to boosting the workforce and prosperity of the Northern Triangle.

US Humanitarian Efforts

Fortunately, many U.S. humanitarian efforts positively impact life in the Northern Triangle. Notably, in the Plan Columbia (PC) of 1999, the U.S. gave Columbia $10 billion for economic and anti-narcoterrorist efforts. In return, Columbia acts as a key trader with the U.S. and a facilitator of progression tactics in NTCA. Similarly, the U.S. derived the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) of 2006 that supports Northern Triangle involvement in commerce and exposure to retail chains.

The U.S. also works with the Inter-American Development Bank to fund a billion-dollar improvement strategy written by the NTCA presidents. Within this strategy, called the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, the three presidents provide strategic pillars and action plans to put outside funds to effective use. Additionally, the U.S. works with Mexican and Northern Triangle governments through the U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act to improve security at the NTCA-Mexico border.

Outside of government action, several international organizations aid in Central American projects that chip away at NTCA poverty and political issues. Action Aid largely focuses on anti-poverty efforts in the NTCA. Care International, CHF International and Center for International Private Enterprise assist the NTCA with crime reduction and community support, youth education and empowerment and educated civilian political involvement, respectively.

Assistance from humanitarian groups and relationships with American countries help NTCA leaders impose more effective government policies and citizen-focused programs. With expertise and financial aid from more developed countries, the new democratic leaders can grow with the young workforce to build a long-lasting, more-trusting culture in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In return, a reduction in emigration, the ongoing gang turmoil and behind-the-scenes narco relations can help lead to a more sustainable Northern Triangle. Increased focus on the source of NTCA emigration and continued assistance might alleviate the inquisitive question, “Where is the Northern Triangle?”

– Caroline Bell
Photo: Flickr