The discovery of a discarded fetus in February, and the surrounding unconfirmed reports that it has been traced to an under-age girl highlights the need for policy and legislative changes, the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA) said this week.
Joan Burke, BFLA executive director, acknowledged that while there are no reports confirming that the fetus belonged to at the girl, or evidence to confirm whether the abortion was spontaneous or induced, the situation highlights the need for comprehensive sexual education in schools and for upgrades in the Laws of Belize to take account of victims of sexual crime
Burke explained that while schools teach sexual education, not enough is being done to give young Belizeans critical information on the services which are available to them with respect to sexual reproductive health.
The lack of such information, Burke said, creates an enabling environment for young women who become pregnant, to become desperate and resort to abortions, when the situation might not be as dire.
Until a young person who decides that he or she wants to become sexually active can step into any one of the country’s clinics, be they public, private or NGO, and access the relevant information and services they need, this type of situation is likely to continue.
Under the Criminal Code, Chapter 101 of the Laws of Belize ( Revised Edition 2000) Section 112, there are provisions for women and girls to have legal abortions under specific criteria.
Those criteria include: “that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or (b) that there is a substantial risk that if the child when born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”
“When we look at a woman’s health we look at her mental health also. Unfortunately rape and incest are not conditions under which a woman can access an abortion and those are two conditions that grossly impact a woman’s mental health,” Burke said.
She called on the government to make the regulations surrounding adoption (both to adopt or to give a child up for adoption) less complicated. Burke noted that on several instances, visitors to the BFLA have complained about how prohibitively difficult the procedures are.
Dangriga police have reported that on February 25, they got a call just before 3:00 p.m. alerting them to a discarded fetus on the roadside. Police investigations revealed that the fetus was discarded in an overgrown lot on Pen Road in the Bengushe area.
It had been discarded, wrapped in a piece of cloth, reportedly set on fire, only to have stray dogs discover it. lPolice took the fetus to the Dangriga Hospital, where they determined that it was between six and seven months old.
Under the Criminal Code, Chapter 101 of the Laws of Belize ( Revised Edition 2000, Section 111(1): “Every person who intentionally and unlawfully causes abortion or miscarriage shall be liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.”
The law goes further at section 111 (2) to say that any woman who takes a poisonous concoction with intent to induce a miscarriage, or anyone who gives a woman a such concoction with intent to cause an abortion, if convicted, will face life imprisonment.