Legal reform in Belize


Challenges Worldwide volunteer Raheel Khan, worked with the Women’s Department of the Ministry of Human Development in Belize drafting domestic abuse legislation.

I decided on voluntary work after many years of increasing disillusionment as a corporate lawyer where the only impact I made through successful cases was on the balance sheet of my client bank or company. I had a desire to make a positive difference and use the skills that I had for what I perceived to be the greater good. I was even considering leaving the professional altogether. It was at this juncture in my life that I came across Challenges Worldwide. Challenges offered me an opportunity not only to expand my existing skill set but also to discover new skills and gain experience working in a completely different setting and with a completely different agenda whilst still working as a lawyer.

Being a somewhat bolshy city lawyer I specifically asked for a demanding placement which was commensurate to my years of post qualification experience. I was placed with the Women’s Department of the Ministry of Human Development in Belize City. My principal objectives whilst working as a volunteer lawyer with the Women’s Department in Belize was on the implementation of the new law concerning domestic violence. This was at a time when the Domestic Violence Bill 2007 was about to come into force, the first substantive legalisation in this area in 13 years. I had no prior experience of working on gender issues or law and undertook my placement with a certain amount of trepidation. Nevertheless I set my mind to seeing all the challenges as part of the adventure, something that became a bit of a mantra for me in my time there.

I had an ongoing duty to train the judiciary, Police and officers of Government Departments and NGOs on the new law and procedure. This together with my other objectives all required me, in a relatively short time, to fully grasp an area of law, practice and national policy in which I have had no prior experience.

I was also tasked with working on a national policy document, the National Plan of Action for Gender Based Violence 2007 -2009. I had to finalise the policy document for publication by the expiry of my three month placement. In order to do this I had to liaise directly with the heads of each of the 21 stakeholder organisations to the National Plan with regard to their respective stated commitments. I had quickly acquire a full grasp of the Policy and the role of each stakeholder organisation within a very short space of time. The organisations in question were as diverse as NGOs and government departments and as there was a degree of overlap between their respective commitments it was a delicate exercise.

I was also asked to write and publish a Men’s Handbook on Domestic Violence as a counterpart to the existing Women’s Handbook. This Handbook was to inform readers about the problem of domestic violence in it various forms as well as encompass the relevant law in an accessible form. This was both enjoyable and challenging. I found I had a lot of control over the format and the content of the handbook and undertook research by interviewing a broad cross section of men from all parts of Belizean society ranging from prisoners at Belize Central Prison through to the Chief of Police and a former Brigadier General of the Belizean Defence Force.

I publicised all of the above work through interviews on national television and radio. One of my most rewarding experiences was hearing my summary of the new legislation being read out on national television by the Attorney General as part of one of his speeches. I wonder what the chances are for this ever happening in the UK?

My time in Belize has been rewarding in so many ways but I really think I got the most out of it by living as a Belizean so far as I could. My host family was wonderful and supportive and not only provided me with a stable home life but also knew how to have a good time! My weekends alternated between spending time with them and exploring Belize and its beautiful Cayes with my fellow Challenges volunteers.

Although I had traveled independently in the past I have never worked in a foreign country and aside from a few pro bono session as a trainee I had never experienced such rewarding work. I would never have dreamt that being a lawyer could in fact make such a positive difference to the lives of so many people. By the end of my placement I wished I had committed myself for a longer spell, I had genuinely fallen in love with the people and the country.

Professionally and personally for me the placement offered everything that I was looking for. I have to say it delivered, although hard work and a dedicated commitment to the goals that were set to me were absolutely necessary to get the most out of it.In terms of my career I had come to Belize unsure about what I wanted to do after over 6 years as an insolvency solicitor. I now know that international development law is the way forward for me. It is a competitive route but I can say with conviction my placement through Challenges Worldwide has given me vital experience and confidence to take the first big steps in what I now know to be the right direction.