This project assessed the health, education, and livelihoods needs of adolescent girls in Belize compared to the services available to them, which helped raise awareness of the need to strengthen youth programs.
Nearly a third of Belize’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24. Rates of unintended pregnancy, school dropout, and HIV infection are rising among youth and adolescents, yet the country lacks robust programs and policies to meet the needs of young people.
In response, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called on the Population Council to assess the status of young girls in Belize. The Council undertook efforts to assess and articulate girls’ vulnerabilities and needs as well as their access to health, education, and livelihood services; resources; and opportunities.
The first-ever youth and adolescent girls’ project to be undertaken in Belize, the Population Council’s Belize United Nations Point Programme on Adolescent Girls conducted a coverage exercise—a study to obtain data on the demographic, educational, work, and other characteristics of the users and beneficiaries of youth services and programs. Researchers interviewed 3,550 young men and women in three districts to measure access to and use of services and educational opportunities.
The Council’s researchers also analyzed results from Belize’s recent national Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS4) to assess adolescent vulnerabilities—particularly related to school dropout, early marriage, and pregnancy.
Two reports were produced: “The Adolescent Girls Coverage Study” and “The Status of Adolescent Girls in Belize.” From there, the team conducted national training workshops attended by 400 adolescents, adolescent program managers, educators, policymakers, civil society members, and others involved in adolescent programs to sensitize them to the particular needs of the country’s youth and adolescents.
The study’s key findings include:
- Rural girls’ school attendance drops steadily starting at age 12, while urban girls tend to stay in school until at least 16
- Mayan and Mestizo girls have the fewest educational opportunities, with only 55% of Mayan and 65% of Mestizo girls enrolled in school
- One-third of both Mayan and Mestizo girls are in child marriages, and one in five gives birth to a child before age 18.
Formally presented to Belize’s national government cabinet, the results of the study have helped to increase awareness of the status of young girls in Belize and the lack of programs and policies to address their unique vulnerabilities. The Population Council continues to advocate for a stronger adolescent policies and programs in Belize by educating policymakers and other stakeholders about the current gap between girls’ needs and their access to health, education, and livelihood services; resources; and opportunities.