Belize is teeming with children; over a third of the population is younger than 15. Dressed up in spotless school uniforms, with glowing smiles to spare, Belizean children are very good-humored and genuine people, despite the fact that many of them face issues of poverty, domestic violence and child labor.
Growing up in this small Central American country is different from the developed world and adapting can be tough for children as well as adults. Living in the jungle or near the ocean poses some unique challenges for raising children and safety is always something to consider. Without the widespread technology that some kids might be used to, spending time with playmates usually means swimming in a stream, playing tag or kicking a ball around. Luckily, young Belizeans are quick to welcome visitors and new residents with energy and warmth, which can be comforting to foreign children as they begin a new life in a new country.
Entering and Leaving
Anyone over 16 years old can enter Belize with just a passport, though there may be special requirements for citizens of certain countries. As Belize is a member of the Hague Convention, children under 16 will also require permission from both parents or guardians to enter the country. If both parents are present, there shouldn't be any issues, but if one or both parents are absent, officials will need proof of permission. A notarized letter of consent, a custody certificate or a death certificate will usually suffice, though regulations can change frequently and without notice, so be sure to check with the Belize Tourism Board before you leave.
Regulations and procedures when flying with a child can vary from airline to airline and depend on the child's age. Some airlines will allow infants on board free of charge if they will be carried, however many recommend bringing some sort of child restraint device. Discounted rates are often available for children, though proof of the child's age may be required. You may also need to show your airline proof of permission to take the child out of the country. To save yourself from stress at the airport, check with your airline before booking tickets.
When leaving Belize with a child, single parents or guardians will need to show proof of their relationship with the child, along with the child's passport. If you're traveling by plane, a departure tax of USD$39.25 per person is due - USD$17.50 for permanent residents or Belizean citizens - payable in U.S. dollars or by credit card. Children under 12 are exempt from the tax.
In many Belizean families, child rearing and housekeeping is seen as the mother's duty. Men frequently have multiple partners or leave their families in search of work, so single parent households are common. As child care is too expensive or unavailable to most Belizeans, children are often left alone or with relatives while their parents work. Sometimes, older children have no choice but to drop out of school to help take care of younger siblings or find their own jobs to support the family.
In rural communities, proper sanitation is often lacking and many children face poverty and malnutrition. In urban areas, conditions are generally better, though safety can be a concern on busy roads and crowded streets. Not all children are faced with these issues, but it's important to recognize these challenges exist for families throughout the country.
Corporal punishment is commonplace in Belize, with parents often using instruments like broomsticks and belts for discipline. Children are also known to receive corporal punishment from strangers, teachers and police officers, though it's illegal in day care centers. Child abuse isn't seen as a major problem, though some people are becoming increasingly concerned about it.
While texting and social networking dominate children's lives in the developed world, socializing in Belize is much different. Video games and movie theaters are rare and there aren't any shopping malls at which to hang out. Kids are often left to their own devices, usually playing outside with family and friends. Sports are popular among Belizeans, so if your children like football (soccer), basketball and water sports, they'll have no problems making friends.
There are roughly a dozen official day care centers around Belize, though almost all of them are in Belize City. Though subsidized by the government, most centers are underfunded and too expensive for most Belizean families, usually costing around USD$10 per child per week. As a result, Belizean children are often left at home alone or with other family members for care while the parents are away.
Some people living in Belize hire nannies or domestic workers to cook, clean and take care of the kids during the day. Most nannies don't live-in and usually work six to eight hours a day with paid overtime. The minimum wage for domestic workers is USD$1.50 an hour, though you'd be hard pressed to find someone with any experience willing to work for that amount. Skilled nannies can cost anywhere from USD$60 to over USD$150 per week, sometimes with extra fees for more children.
While children often go play without adult supervision, Belize does have some safety issues that both parents and children should note. Roads can be dangerous, even for adults, as Belizeans drive fast and rarely stop for pedestrians. Kids are generally pretty safe in small villages and towns, though they should learn to recognize danger and avoid it. Drug and gang violence can sometimes be a problem, especially in Belize City. Children should always keep their distance from strangers, steer clear of dark alleys and quiet side streets, travel with a friend or family member and keep their parents updated on their whereabouts.
Curfews come and go around Belize. In early 2010, San Pedro reinstated a curfew for children 16 years old and younger. It begins at 9:00 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and at 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Living in the jungle also poses some unique challenges for children. With such a variety of wildlife around, it's tough not to let your curiosity get the best of you, so kids should be taught early what's safe to touch and what they should stay away from. They should avoid contact with stray dogs, poisonous snakes, bugs and other wildlife and be careful of what they eat and drink - some delicious looking plants can be unsafe and much of Belize's water is contaminated. For more safety tips, check out our Health & Safety article.
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