COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF PARAGUAY ON THE SALE OF CHILDREN AND CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT
25 September 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the initial reports of Paraguay on how the country was implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the Optional Protocol on Children involved in armed conflict.
Presenting the report, Carlos Zarate Fleitas, Minister and Executive Secretary of the National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, said that the President of Paraguay had made childhood and adolescence a priority. The focus was on ensuring the full implementation of the law on adoption, reducing the number of children living in institutions, and strengthening the protection of children and adolescents against violence and abuse. Psychological, social and legal assistance was provided to the victims of trafficking and particular attention was paid to the victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence, as well as to preventing child labour. No Paraguayan citizens under 18 years old could be enlisted in the country’s armed forces as a soldier or as an officer.
In the interactive dialogue that followed, the Committee praised Paraguay’s frank and transparent report and noted that progress had been made in the fight against child crimes. Committee Members raised issues concerning the adoption procedure, the phenomenon of child domestic workers (“criadazco”), the functioning of military schools operating in Paraguay and birth registration. Questions were also asked about extraterritorial jurisdiction, the circulation of erotic images of adolescents, awareness-raising campaigns undertaken to change cultural stereotypes and support and compensation provided to child victims.
The Delegation of Paraguay included representatives from the Ministry and National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence, the Ministry of External Relations, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice and Labour, and the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the Office of the United Nations at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3.00 p.m. on Thursday, 26 September, when the Committee will begin its consideration of the combined third and fourth periodic report of China (CRC/C/CHN/3-4). At 3.00 p.m. on Friday, 27 September, the Committee would examine China’s report under the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/CHN/1).
The initial reports of Paraguay under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict can be read here: CRC/C/OPSC/PRY/1 and CRC/C/OPAC/PRY/1.
Presentation of the Reports under the Optional Protocols on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography; and on Children in Armed Conflict
CARLOS ZARATE FLEITAS, Minister-Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, presenting the report, said that Paraguay had constant interaction with United Nations and Inter-American human rights mechanisms and had been visited by various Special Rapporteurs. There was an Office of the High Commissioner in the country. Paraguay recognized international law in its domestic legislation, which ensured the effective protection of human rights. Paraguay had ratified the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and was currently preparing a bill for its implementation, which would be one more international instrument that could be used to punish serious crimes against humanity.
Paraguay had implemented all the recommendations it had received and the best interests of the child remained at the heart of the Government’s work. Particular attention was paid to the rights of vulnerable persons, and the Government invited not only Government bodies but also civil society organizations and the wider community to participate in public policy-making. Through the human rights network of the executive Paraguay promoted indicators of human rights in the areas of education and health, and had identified children and adolescents as a key focus group. It was also taking steps to ensure that all recommendations issued by treaty bodies would be made more visible, thus facilitating the implementation of those recommendations. Paraguay had taken several public policy measures but also recognized that there were challenges still to be met, such as strengthening policies in general and making amendments to existing legislation. Paraguay counted on the cooperation and guidance of the Committee.
Regarding the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Mr. Fleitas said that the President of Paraguay, who had made childhood and adolescence a priority, had made 20 commitments to improve the quality and efficiency of the investment in childhood and adolescence matters. The focus was on ensuring the full implementation of the law on adoption, reducing the number of children living in institutions, and strengthening the protection of children and adolescents against violence and abuse. Specific activities were being conducted in conjunction with the judiciary in order to tackle issues under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children. Psychological, social and legal assistance was provided to the victims of trafficking, and all measures were taken to protect the identity of the victims and avoid stigmatization. A directorate had been established for the protection of witnesses and victims during court proceedings. Particular attention was paid to the victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. In addition, Paraguay was working within the national framework it had established in order to prevent child labour.
Regarding the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict, Mr. Fleitas said Paraguay guaranteed that no Paraguayan citizens under 18 years old could be enlisted in the country’s armed forces as a soldier or as an officer. The country’s military academies provided training in humanitarian law and human rights, and the principles of the Convention were widely disseminated.
Questions by Experts on the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Paraguay, said Paraguay had made major progress in recent years as a democratic country, which was also acknowledged by other countries. He congratulated Paraguay on the judicial and administrative measures it had taken to ensure that its legislation was in line with international instruments, and said that Paraguay needed the critical capacity to be in a position to report on its own situation with complete transparency.
Mr. Nogueira Neto asked whether people in general, and children and adolescents in particular, knew what domestic bodies were responsible for the implementation of the two Optional Protocols in Paraguay. He asked where the population could turn to if the Optional Protocols or the Convention were violated, such as a non-governmental organization. He also asked what governmental policies were in place to ensure the full implementation of Optional Protocol on Children involved in armed conflict, and what awareness-raising measures Paraguay was taking to promote the Optional Protocols among police officers, psychologists, health workers and social workers.
JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, requested additional information on secondary schools and centers which were associated with the Ministry of Defence, such as what discipline methods were used in those schools, and whether pupils used weapons or received weapons training, as well as details on who attended the schools and how the schools operated in practice. He also asked whether human rights training was incorporated into school curricula.
Paraguay was congratulated for prohibiting the recruitment into the armed forces of anyone under the age of 18 years old. He asked whether the act of recruiting a minor appeared as a clear criminal offence in the Criminal Code. What legal consequences were there for a person who broke the law? Mr. Cardona Llorens also asked whether there was still a militaristic mindset in Paraguayan society given Paraguay’s past conflicts with its neighbours.
Several Committee Experts commended the many efforts and achievements of Paraguay in the field of child rights. An Expert asked further questions about the military secondary schools, such as whether they were private institutions, or were they run under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. Were children asked whether they were sure about entering that kind of school and beginning a military career so early in life? The delegation was asked whether specific measures were taken to ensure the birth certificates of children and adolescents who entered the military service were not falsified. Was there a system to deal with child soldiers from other countries who came to Paraguay, an Expert asked. Another Expert wondered whether any children worked for members of the armed forces or military officers, and if so, how Paraguay protected the rights of child domestic employees.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to the question about measures taken to promote awareness of the Convention and the Optional Protocols and to enable citizens to lodge complaints concerning human rights violations, a member of the delegation said that Paraguay had a de-centralized system for the promotion and protection of human rights. There were many offices across the country and there was also a unit which worked specifically with children and adolescents to ensure that they were aware of issues that affected them. All major Government institutions in Paraguay, such as the Ministry for Children and Adolescents and the Ministry of Health, had human rights departments which could also receive complaints about human rights violations. Past complaints had inspired new measures, such as the recent establishment of a monitoring body.
Response by the Delegation regarding the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict
Administrative measures had been taken to ensure that children could not be enlisted in the army, a delegate said. Non-compliance with that rule was sanctioned and military personnel could be punished and stripped of their rank, although it was not regarded as a crime. Paraguay was considering amending its legislation in that regard.
Out of the eleven military training institutions operating in Paraguay only one enrolled students under the age of 18 years old, a delegate confirmed. That one institution had to follow the national curriculum established by the national Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education was very influential when it came to making decisions about the curriculum, and issued specific guidelines strictly prohibiting children under the age of 18 years old from handling weapons. Children attending the military secondary school could receive theoretical training but were not allowed to handle weapons before they had reached the age of 18 years old. The advantage of attending that secondary school was that its graduates were deemed as having fulfilled their military training obligations, so they could go on and study at University as soon as they graduated from secondary school.
The right of the child to be heard was an obligation which the State fully respected, so the opinions of children on their future career and the type of school they wanted to attend were taken into account.
Human rights and humanitarian law were part of the curriculum of all schools in Paraguay. The Ministry of Education and Culture was responsible for approving school curricula, including the curriculum of the military secondary school mentioned earlier, and would supervise the teaching of important subjects, such as human rights. Corporal punishment was banned in schools and in society in general.
Concerning access to health care, the delegation said that the Ministry of Public Health tried to work at a community level to ensure that everyone had access to adequate health care. Through mobile units health services were brought out to remote areas where there was need for medical care.
In response to the question about the falsification of birth certificates, the delegation said that the Ministry of Justice had carried out a big 18-month campaign to raise awareness about the importance of birth registration. The falsification of the identity documents of a child in order to enlist them in the army was severely punished by law.
Paraguay had signed all relevant International Labour Organization conventions to prevent the worst forms of child labour, which included children under 18 years old working as domestic workers. The delegation also said that a national prevention of torture mechanism had been created to prevent the cruel and inhuman treatment of all persons, including children.
Concerning the availability of statistical data, the delegation said that there were no specific figures on the number of persons who had been convicted of trying to enlist children in the armed forces. However, figures were available on those who had been convicted of using falsifying documents with a view to enlisting children as soldiers.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office had a hotline which received complaints from individuals or groups. Teaching staff and other professionals with responsibilities in society had an obligation to report human rights violations as soon as they become aware of them.
Questions by Experts on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Member acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, praised the frankness and analytical clarity of Paraguay’s report and congratulated Paraguay for adopting specific programmes, such as the National Plan for the Eradication of Sexual Exploitation of Children and the National Plan on Child Labour, and for introducing a new law on trafficking in persons. However, he said so many national plans and strategies required a high degree of coordination, especially since they were all sectoral in nature and asked how effective coordination was achieved and what resources underpinned the plans and strategies.
Mr. Cardona Llorens said that there did not seem to be systematic data collection on complaints received or compensation for victims. Had the Government held a dialogue with the Ombudsman’s Office and with civil society on ways to improve data collection, and furthermore, was there any ongoing dialogue to help the Government detect gaps and problems in the implementation of the Protocol?
Concerning the socio-cultural causes of the phenomenon of child pornography and prostitution, the report clearly stated that there were cultural practices in Paraguay which were deemed to be pornographic, such as beauty contests for adolescents and children; while erotic photos of teenage girls were widely circulated in the mass media. There was also a general macho mentality in the country, which was rather problematic. What awareness-raising efforts had Paraguay undertaken to change the mentality of the population and combat socio-cultural stereotypes?
Poverty made children especially vulnerable, he commented. Paraguay’s adoption law was quite good but only five per cent of adoptions were carried out in the way they were supposed to. The current legal framework meant that the risk of child sale was very high. There also seemed to be a backlog in the investigation of abduction cases due to a lack of resources. What was Paraguay doing about those matters?
Paraguay had a problem with its triple border, through which girls and boys could be easily trafficked. With the 2016 Olympic Games in neighbouring Brazil approaching, there would be increased movement in the area and there would also be an increased demand for child prostitution. What specific measures would Paraguay take to keep the situation under control?
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Paraguay, said that he was very pleased with progress made by Paraguay in what was a difficult matter, especially when taking into account the border situation with Brazil. Mr. Nogueira Neto welcomed Paraguay’s awareness-raising campaigns on the Convention and asked whether similar campaigns had been undertaken for the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, and what training was provided to staff working with vulnerable children. An Expert wondered how many of the initiatives discussed had been implemented in reality, especially taking into account Paraguay’s low budget.
The Committee’s primary concern under the Optional Protocol was to prevent trafficking, an Expert said, asking whether Paraguay would introduce provisions to its Criminal Code to punish those involved in the sale of children and illegal adoption. What measures was Paraguay taking to prevent trafficking in children?
In addition to the issue of the adoption intermediaries, in recent years 540 children had been placed in foster care and only 39 of those were adopted, an Expert noted, asking what criteria judges employed in such cases. In 90 per cent of cases the judicial system favoured the alternative route, which was meant to be reserved for exceptional circumstances only.
Were there any rehabilitation programmes for child victims of pornography, sexual abuse and prostitution, an Expert wondered, also asking how many staff worked on the helpline and what its budget was, as the Committee had received reports saying the hotline did not work as well as it ought to.
Regarding the prostitution of children, Committee Experts asked how the Government ensured that victims were properly compensated for the crimes committed against them. What was the punishment for the perpetrators of child domestic work (“criadazco”)? Did the Criminal Code hold criminal responsibility for legal entities such as companies, which were often behind child pornography? Were cases of child prostitution treated differently to cases of adult prostitution? What were the penalties for prostituting children?
Response by the Delegation regarding the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
The delegation said that a new policy for childhood and adolescence was currently being prepared. The Ministry for Childhood and Adolescence acted as a coordinating body which oversaw the effective implementation of the policy and ensured that efforts at the local, regional and national level were properly coordinated. The budget of the Ministry had increased ten-fold and the President of the Republic had made a commitment to gradually increase the budget.
The emphasis was on decentralizing the services of the National Secretariat for Childhood and Adolescence, which was part of the Ministry for Childhood and Adolescence, as a means of strengthening local authorities.
Responding to the comments about poverty being a cause of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation said that further awareness-raising activities and training were needed to change the mentality of the population. Paraguay had conducted several sensitization campaigns, such as the National Campaign for the Eradication of Child Labour. There had also been workshops, seminars and other training events for teachers, with a special focus on the phenomenon of child domestic work (“criadazco”).
Nine per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty, said the delegation, which made children extremely vulnerable. A new Government programme called “Creating Opportunities” aimed to reduce poverty levels in the following years. The programme was mainly funded by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Publishing erotic images of adolescents had not yet been criminalized, but the legislation would be amended in that respect, a delegate confirmed, adding that in the meantime, the new policies which had been recently put in place would tackle the issue.
Concerning data collection, the delegation said that there was national strategy for statistical development to coordinate the work of local authorities and ensure the collection of reliable information. An initial workshop had taken place on the evaluation of statistical information, and further similar workshops had been scheduled to strengthen the data collection system, with a specific focus on human rights indicators.
Indicators were important tools with which short and long-term progress could be measured, and were taken into account whenever the State adopted new policies. The legislative content of human rights was another factor which was taken into account, as were the comments and recommendations of the treaty bodies. Particular attention was paid to ensuring that Government institutions had fully incorporated into their work human rights principles and that all regions of the country and all groups of the population were fully covered by national human rights policies.
In addition to adopting specific health, education and human rights indicators, each State body had its own human rights department responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights. The country’s Supreme Court had recently spoken about establishing indicators for a fair trial. Aiming at greater professionalism and credibility, the goal was to achieve greater transparency in its work.
Concerning the methodology used in reporting, the delegation said that local community representatives had been consulted in the process and thanked civil society for their help. Non-governmental organizations were important because they had been working on human rights issues for a long time. Methodology would be improved further in Paraguay’s next report.
Turning to the questions asked about adoption, the delegation said that the current law on adoption was structured in such a way as to take into account the right of the child to live with its own family. Every effort was made not to separate the child from its family. For example, as soon as parents made it known that they wanted to put their child up for adoption, they were given a 45-day period for reconsideration, during which time authorities also investigated the real reasons behind the parents’ decision. Adoption went ahead only when all efforts to keep the child in its family environment had failed. While the psychology of the prospective adoptive parents was taken into account, nevertheless it was deemed inappropriate for them to have direct contact with a child before the situation of the child had been fully analyzed, which was why the legislation did not provide for pre-adoption guardianship.
The Criminal Code criminalized the violation of adoption rules and trafficking was sanctioned. All international adoptions went through the adoption authority in Paraguay, and adoption agencies no longer intervened in the process. Specific follow-up mechanisms needed to be established for children adopted abroad. At the moment, the rules and regulations governing international adoption were established bilaterally between the competent authorities of the countries involved.
Turning to the role of the police, the delegation said that in police stations there were groups of six people on duty 24 hours a day to provided support to all persons with complaints. Staff made sure that complaints about child crimes were properly recorded and also provided support to the victim. 68 per cent of victims of domestic violence were female. Three per cent were under the age of 18 years old.
The Ombudsman’s Office made sure that appropriate assistance was given to child victims and, at the request of the child, it would also represent victims without a guardian in a trial, report infringements to the Supreme Court of Justice, and, with the authorization of the courts, request information from private sector bodies. The Children’s Ombudsman Office consisted of a multidisciplinary team of specialized staff. It provided written or oral reports required by courts or magistrates, issued technical reports, and made recommendations so that appropriate measures could be taken. It also provided appropriate assistance and support to the victims of violence or sexual exploitation, and worked to ensure the reintegration of victims in society. Paraguay had also established a specific witness protection programme for persons acting as witnesses in criminal proceedings.
The delegation said that there were not enough resources to provide comprehensive support to victims after the trial, but Paraguay was committed to fighting for the allocation of more resources to post-trial support. Concerning the helpline available, the delegation said that it was a free line manned 24 hours a day. Limited resources meant that it was becoming increasingly difficult to cover demand, and there was an increased need for the provision of enhanced training to staff.
Concerning compensation, the criminal code did provide for compensation paid to the victims by the perpetrator of the crime, but very often the judicial authorities did not ask for such compensation during the criminal or civil proceedings. Further efforts would be made to ensure that compensation was paid so that victims had the necessary resources to carry on with their lives.
The production, distribution, import, marketing and reproduction of pornographic material was criminalized in Paraguay, as were spectacles which involved minors taking part in sexual acts. There were specific aggravating factors taken into account for crimes against children below the age of 14 years old, including the use of force or remuneration. Prison sentences of up to ten years were applied in such cases. Severe prison sentences were also handed down for crimes such as the extraction of organs without consent and child labour.
Concerning the questions on extraterritorial jurisdiction, the delegation said that Paraguayan law was applied when criminal acts involving Paraguayans or affecting the property belonging to Paraguayans were committed abroad. That law covered crimes against children, such as the sale of children, but was not specific to such cases. Criminal responsibility of legal entities such as companies was not classified as a crime in the Criminal Code.
“Criadazco” - the phenomenon of child domestic work - was itself not a stand-alone crime in Paraguayan legislation, but “criadazco” usually involved violation of other related laws and those violations were punishable by law. Paraguay would review its legislation on “criadazco”.
Article 139 of the Criminal Code, on child prostitution, provided for prison sentences of up to eight years for the crime of prostituting children under the age of 14 years old, while prostitutes under the age of 18 years old were treated as victims, not as criminals. There was currently no disaggregated data on such cases.
Concerning early marriage, the delegation said that there were no indications that early marriage was used as a cover for child sale or child prostitution. It should be borne in mind that within the country’s indigenous communities early marriages did occur, but there was no information that those were used for the sale of children.
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Country Rapporteur for Paraguay, said that the answers of the delegation had been frank and demonstrated the efforts undertaken by Paraguay, especially in relation to age verification procedures, data collection, military schools, human rights training, international cooperation, and various measures adopted to protect the rights of children victims. The Committee was sure that the concluding observations on Paraguay’s initial report, which had been submitted recently, would also be taken into account.
JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Country Co-Rapporteur for Paraguay, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and said that its report was sincere and transparent. Fundamental issues concerning the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children had been addressed. Paraguay was aware of the challenges it needed to overcome, and the Committee would help by issuing its recommendations so that the State party could strengthen efforts to eradicate crimes against children. Mr. Cardona Llorens encouraged Paraguay to ratify the third Optional Protocol to the Convention, which only needed two more ratifications to enter into force.
CARLOS ZARATE FLEITAS, Minister and Executive Secretary of the National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, thanked the Committee for their input, dialogue and cooperation, and said that what had emerged during the meeting would be used in national policy-making. Paraguay was committed to making its national policies on children even more visible in the country. Paraguay had already made its first step towards ratifying the third Optional Protocol.
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