COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONCLUDES FIFTY-NINTH SESSION
Issues Concluding Recommendations on Reports of Azerbaijan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Madagascar, Togo, Thailand and the Cook Islands
6 February 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded its fifty-eighth session on 3 February, adopting its report and issuing its concluding observations and recommendations on 12 country reports from seven countries: six on the main Convention, the initial report of the Cook Islands and the periodic reports of Azerbaijan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Thailand and Togo; three initial reports of Azerbaijan, Thailand and Togo under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and three initial reports of Azerbaijan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Thailand under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on children involved in armed conflict. Niue had been due to present its initial report, but postponed the presentation.
Regarding the initial report of the Cook Islands, the Committee noted with appreciation efforts to combat domestic violence but urged awareness-raising to combat socio-cultural attitudes that tolerated sexual abuse of children, an improvement in childcare options for preschool aged children and measures to tackle the high adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rate, and advised the State party to consider amending the 1915 Cook Islands Act to allow abortion in cases of incest or rape.
After a review of the combined third and fourth periodic report of Madagascar, the Committee welcomed with appreciation new legislation and the National Human Rights Council and noted the current and unfolding political crisis and recurrent natural disasters which had a negative impact on children. The State party was urged to protect children from exploitation, particularly in sex tourism and trafficking, and to combat violence and abuse of children and women, including harmful traditional practices.
Regarding the combined third and fourth periodic report of Myanmar, the Committee welcomed positive reform including the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, ratification of international human rights treaties and the recent release of political prisoners. The Committee’s main areas of concern were about children involved in armed conflicts, reports of children being held as political prisoners or tortured, access to health and primary education, and child poverty in general. The Committee was deeply concerned about human rights violations against children in situations of armed conflict and urged the State party to take protective measures.
Concerning the combined third and fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan, The Committee noted new legislative measures with appreciation, and recommended measures be taken to reduce the high infant mortality rate, improve the rights of children with disabilities and tackle the significant numbers of children working in the tea, tobacco and cotton sectors. The Committee also examined the initial report of Azerbaijan on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and welcomed measures taken to combat trafficking. It recommended action to tackle problems of sex tourism and to improve training on identifying and compensating victims. The Committee also examined the initial report of Azerbaijan on the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict, and highlighted children attending cadets’ military school and identification of former child soldiers among asylum seekers as key areas for improvement.
Having considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Thailand, the Committee welcomed the State party’s many positive developments including new laws, policies and programmes to promote the rights and wellbeing of children. The Committee’s main areas of recommendations were for issues of child labour, juvenile justice, increasing inequality, low breastfeeding rates and early childhood development.
In response to Thailand’s initial report on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Committee appreciated the State party’s wide-ranging efforts to tackle trafficking of persons and sex tourism, and recommended more public awareness-raising campaigns and training of officials. The Committee also examined the initial report of Thailand on the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict, and recommended that the State party take measures to protect children from the impact of ongoing violence in the southern border provinces and improve mechanisms to identify former child soldiers among refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those from Myanmar.
Regarding the combined third and fourth periodic report of Togo, the Committee welcomed new policies and legislation, and the establishment of the child helpline ‘Allo 111’. It made recommendations on tackling harmful traditional practices and the widespread practice of child labour, particularly for girls in the domestic sphere. The Committee also examined the initial report of Togo on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and expressed concern about child prostitution and impunity of offenders, recommending that the State party take active measures to enforce its new legislation to protect children from all forms of sale.
The Committee examined the initial report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict, and welcomed the 2009 Child Protection Code which prohibited the recruitment of children below the age of 18 by armed forces and groups and the police and applied a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment. However the Committee remained alarmed that children continued to be subject to the worst forms of violence, including torture, mutilation, as human shields and sexual slaves, and committing the most serious human rights abuses including massacres and mass rapes. The Committee urged the State party to take concrete measures to ensure that no further killings and maiming of civilians took place and ensure that all cases led to prompt independent investigations and to appropriate sanctions of those found responsible.
Agnes Akosua Aidoo, the Committee Rapporteur, said that Committee members had been very active during the session, attending meetings and briefings and continuing work on General Comments. Important meetings were held with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on treaty body strengthening and the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure; for the latter the Committee was keen to ensure that the best interests of the child and child friendliness were reflected in the rules of procedure. The Committee held its periodic meeting with the NGO Group discussing child participation and other matters. It also decided that the 2012 Day of General Discussion, to be held in September, will be on the rights of all children in the context of international migration.
In closing remarks, Jean Zermatten, the Committee Chairperson, summed up the activities of the Committee, noting that during its fifty-ninth session Committee members had officially adopted 12 reports following dialogue with the State parties. Mr. Zermatten said that the Committee had decided it was unable to receive any more General Comment requests before it had concluded the five General Comments it was currently working on. Concerning the process of the harmonization of the work of the treaty bodies, the Chairperson said the Committee had unanimously decided to support the “Dublin II document.
The Committee’s sixtieth session will be held in Geneva from 29 May to 15 June 2012, during which it will review the reports of Algeria, Australia, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and Viet Nam under the main Convention. The reports of Australia, Greece and Nepal on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, and the reports of Australia and Greece on the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict will also be considered.
Documentation for the fifty-ninth session of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – including the complete concluding observations summarized here – can be found on the Committee’s webpage.
Final Observations and Recommendations on Reports Presented Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Committee welcomed legislative measures in the initial report of the Cook Islands, namely the Social Welfare and Crimes Amendment Acts, and certain institutional and policy reforms. The Committee noted with appreciation efforts to combat domestic violence but urged the development of public campaigns to combat socio-cultural attitudes that tolerated sexual abuse of children, and to effectively investigate cases of sexual abuse of children within the family. The Committee also urged the Cook Islands to revise its definition of the child in accordance with the Convention, to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 years and to take special measures to improve health services for children living in the Outer Islands.
The Committee expressed concern at the short maternity leave of six weeks, the increasing rate of single parent families and the lack of day care facilities for children aged 0-2 years old, which often obliged the biological parents to send their young children to live with their grandparents, sometimes on a different island. The Committee recommended that maternity leave be increased, awareness-raising programmes on parents' equal responsibilities in child rearing be held and day care facilities for children aged 0-2 years old be established to ensure that very young children were not separated from their biological parents. The Committee was deeply concerned about the high rate of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy among adolescents, that access to contraceptives for adolescents below the age of 16 was illegal and that abortion was prohibited in cases of incest or rape. It recommended the development of a national policy to combat child and early pregnancy and improve sex education, provision of reproductive health services for adolescents and consideration of allowing adolescents to access contraceptives. The State party was advised to consider amending the 1915 Cook Islands Act to allow abortion in cases of incest or rape.
The Committee welcomed new legislation referred to in Madagascar’s combined third and fourth periodic report on trafficking in persons, sex tourism, marriage, adoption and the involvement of children in armed conflict, as well as establishment of a National Human Rights Council and a National Plan of Action on Violence against Children. The Committee noted the current and unfolding political crisis and the negative impact of recurrent natural disasters, including hurricanes and typhoons, on the children in the State party, but urged Madagascar to improve coordination of the implementation of its laws, policies and programmes relating to children’s rights. The Committee expressed concern that exploitation of natural resources, including the mining and tourism sectors, had a harmful effect on children and families and recommended regulations were put in place to ensure that the business sector complied with international standards on corporate social responsibility.
The State party was urged to take all necessary measures to combat violence and abuse of women and children, and to increase measures to combat discrimination, in particular against girls, twins, children with disabilities and children living with HIV/AIDS. The State party was specifically advised to take all necessary measures to end the ill-treatment and abandonment of twins which often led to their deaths, because of traditional beliefs that twins brought bad luck, and in general to tackle all harmful traditional practices, including forced marriage. The Committee recommended a focus on impunity for abusers of children with disabilities and improved access to healthcare and education for those children. The State party was urged to improve programmes on child malnutrition and HIV/AIDS infection and treatment, and access to adequate maternity health-care services, to promote exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months and ensure enforcement of the National Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes. The Committee raised serious concerns about high child labour rates, including children as young as five years old, the increase in sex tourism and child prostitution, and the high level of trafficking in persons, including children, from Madagascar to neighbouring countries and the Middle East for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. The State party was urged to take action through legislation, awareness-raising, training of officials, data collection and rehabilitation of child victims.
The Committee welcomed positive reforms listed in the consolidated third and fourth periodic report of Myanmar, which included the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, ratification of three international human rights treaties, the National Plan of Action for Children and the State party’s invitations to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The Committee’s main areas of concern were for children involved in armed conflicts, discrimination, juvenile justice and access to health and education. It expressed deep concern about the extremely low level of resources allocated to the social sectors, in particular education, health and nutrition, and urged the State party to allocate adequate budgetary resources for the implementation of the rights of children, particularly those in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations, to ensure transparency and take measures to combat corruption and misuse of public resources. The State party was urged to improve the situation of children with disabilities, and access to healthcare including reproductive healthcare and safe drinking water and sanitation, in order to reduce the child mortality rate, and in general to study and address the root causes of child poverty.
While welcoming the recent release of political prisoners, the Committee was concerned about reports that children were kept as political prisoners and it urged the State party to ensure that no child was made a political prisoner, and to improve children’s access to information and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Committee was deeply concerned about reported cases of torture of children and urged the State party to take all necessary measures to protect children from all forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in all settings. The State party was also urged to ensure that primary education was free for all without secondary costs, to increase the number of schools, particularly in remote areas and to improve teaching by paying teachers reasonable salaries. The Committee was deeply concerned about human rights violations against children in situations of armed conflict, trafficking of persons and migration, such as girls being sold into brothels and boys being forcibly conscripted, in addition to child labour. The Committee recommended that the State party take measures to address the problems, including the specific needs of the Rohingya people. Myanmar was also urged to prevent the use of child soldiers and protect children affected by armed conflict, landmines and related destruction of homes, schools, and in some cases, entire villages.
Concerning the combined third and fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan, the Committee welcomed as positive the adoption of a number of legislative measures, the ratification of or signature of a number of Conventions and the establishment of the State Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs to help coordinate activities for the implementation of the Convention and the State programme on “De-Institutionalisation and Alternative Care (2006 – 2015). The Committee was concerned that previous recommendations had not been followed up. Those included the lack of a national plan of action, non-use of the international definition of a live birth, the absence of family-like alternative care for children deprived of a family environment, children with disabilities and the administration of juvenile justice. The State party was urged to follow-up those recommendations, and also to tackle its very high infant mortality rate. It was also urged to organize campaigns to prevent violence, abuse and neglect of children, in addition to providing mandatory training on dealing with child abuse for all professionals working with children.
The Committee noted the income supplement provided to families with children with disabilities, but was seriously concerned at the prevalent discrimination and stigmatisation that children with disabilities were subject to, and urged the State party to undertake awareness-raising campaigns for eliminating discrimination against children with disabilities, to establish a clear legislative definition of disability including for learning, cognitive and mental disabilities, make it illegal for parents to put their newly-born infants and/or children into State care on the sole basis of them having a disability and to strengthen support for parents to care for their children with disabilities. The Committee noted with concern that exclusive breastfeeding rates were very low and recommended specific measures to improve the situation, as well as to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism to regulate the marketing, sale and distribution of breastmilk substitutes. The Committee was deeply concerned about the situation of street children and the significant numbers of children, including young children, involved in informal employment in the tea, tobacco and cotton agricultural sectors of the State party, including in hazardous situations and recommended the establishment of mechanisms to prevent that.
The Committee welcomed a number of positive developments in the period during which Thailand’s third and fourth periodic reports were compiled, including laws on adoption, juvenile justice, anti-trafficking in persons, domestic violence and persons with disabilities. It noted with appreciation Thailand’s accession to a number of human rights instruments and commended the adoption of several policies and programmes that promote the rights and wellbeing of children. The Committee’s main areas of concern were child labour and juvenile justice issues, the rights of children of migrant workers, adolescent health, corporal punishment in the home, non-discrimination, nationality and data collection. The Committee was concerned that reportedly 10 per cent of families in urban areas lived in slums and that income inequality was increasing and recommended that the State party develop poverty reduction strategies at the local and community levels and consider introduction of a universal child allowance scheme to redress disparities and give each child an equal chance of a good start in life. The Committee was concerned that the breastfeeding rate at six months was extremely low (5 per cent), while early initiation of breastfeeding was also at a low 50 per cent rate and urged the State party to take measures including training of healthcare professionals and adoption of legal regulations on marketing breastmilk substitutes, while ensuring effective compliance.
The Committee welcomed the establishment of juvenile and family courts throughout the country but remained concerned that the minimum age of criminal responsibility which had been raised from seven to 10 years still remained below internationally acceptable standards. It recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be raised, and be no lower than 12, that the State party ensure that children deprived of liberty were held in detention only as a last resort and for as short a time as possible and that the State party promote alternative measures to detention such as diversion, probation, counselling, community service or suspended sentences. The Committee commended the State party for already achieving the Millennium Development Goals on education and adoption of the 15 year free compulsory education for all programme. However it recommended improvement in provision of early childhood development education, especially for children of non-Thai speaking or poor households, and urgent measures to provide educational opportunities for the large number of primary school age children (6-11 years) currently out of school.
The Committee welcomed submission of the consolidated third and fourth periodic report of Togo and welcomed new policies and legislation that included establishment of the child helpline ‘Allo 111’, new legislation to protect children against child labour and abolish the death penalty, and ratification of several international human rights instruments. However the Committee had concerns about issues of coordination, data-collection, birth registration and discriminatory practices against girls and children with disabilities, corporal punishment, harmful traditional practices, economic exploitation and administration of juvenile justice. While welcoming the abolition in 2008 of school tuition fees for early childhood education and primary schools and the progress towards the achievement of gender parity in basic education, the State party was recommended to implement, as a priority, all the necessary measures to ensure that girls, children from remote areas and children with disabilities effectively enjoyed their right to education.
The Committee was seriously concerned about the thousands of child labourers in the State party, including girls as young as 9 years working as domestics who were regularly subjected to verbal, physical and sexual violence, and recommended that the State party guarantee that the performance of hazardous types of work be unauthorized for children under 18 years old. The Committee welcomed the efforts made by the State party in cooperation with civil society to combat female genital mutilation which prevalence had significantly decreased, but remained seriously concerned about the ongoing practice of harmful practices affecting children and in particular girls, such as dowry disputes, early and forced marriage, initiation rites such as scarification, and rites regarding girls training in voodoo priesthood. The State party was urged to strengthen its efforts to raise awareness within the extended family and among traditional and religious leaders of the harmful impact of female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices on the psychological and physical health and welfare of the girl child as well as her future family.
Final Observations and Recommendations on Reports Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
Azerbaijan’s initial report detailed its 2005 Law on Combating Human Trafficking, which was welcomed by the Committee. The Committee also welcomed various administrative measures in areas relevant to the implementation of the Optional Protocol, such as the training of police and other officials in how to identify victims of trafficking. The Committee also appreciated the ratification of two international human rights instruments on trafficking. The Committee recommended further dissemination and awareness-raising of the Optional Protocol among professionals working with or for children, and also legislative reform to specifically criminalize all aspects that could amount to the sale of children, child pornography and offering, obtaining, procuring or providing a child for child prostitution. The Committee noted with appreciation that the State party established the Human Trafficking Victims Support Centre, but was concerned at the lack of information on compensation for victims of offences and recommended measures to ensure that child victims of all offences under the Optional Protocol were provided with appropriate assistance, including specifically for their full social reintegration and physical and psychological recovery. The Committee also urged the State party to take all necessary legislative, administrative and social measures to eliminate child sex tourism.
The Committee welcomed various positive measures referred to in Thailand’s initial report, in particular the Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2008 and the creation of institutions and adoption of national plans and programmes that facilitated implementation of the Optional Protocol. The Committee noted with appreciation the ratification of the two international human rights instruments on trafficking and child labour. However the Committee expressed concern at the large child sex tourism industry in the country, exacerbated by the increase of trafficking of foreign children from neighbouring countries into Thailand for sexual exploitation, while Thai children were often trafficked to foreign countries for sexual exploitation. The Committee urged the State party to continue efforts to raise public awareness and strengthen early detection and prevention mechanisms and ensure full protection for all children victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. It recommended reducing the duration of investigations in criminal cases regarding sexual abuse of children, ensuring that alleged perpetrators were prosecuted and duly sanctioned, and ensuring appropriate protection of child victims from perpetrators. The Committee welcomed the measures taken by the State party to prevent child sex tourism, such as restricting entry into the country for persons with suspicious behaviours or motives and providing training for provincial tourism agencies and members of the private tourism sector, and encouraged the State party to strengthen its international cooperation by multilateral, regional and bilateral arrangements for the prevention and elimination of child sex tourism.
In consideration of the initial report of Togo the Committee welcomed the adoption of the Children’s Code, Labour Code and a law on the suppression of child trafficking in Togo, as well as establishment of the Child Helpline ‘Allo 111’ and the 2007 National Plan of Action against trafficking in persons. However the Committee was concerned that date collection in the State party was ad hoc, fragmented and seriously limited and recommended adoption of a new comprehensive and coordinated system of data collection and analysis. The Committee expressed concern that prostitution of children above 15 years was not considered as a crime, and that the burden of proof fell on the victim. The State party was urged to define and criminalize the sale of children in accordance with the Optional Protocol, and in particular the sale of children for the purpose of illegal adoption, forced labour and the transfer of organs of the child for profit. The Committee also urged the State party to take more active measures to enforce prohibition of child prostitution and to combat the impunity that perpetrators of offences under the Optional Protocol enjoy. In particular, the Committee urged the State party to promptly establish an effective system to detect and dismantle brothels and other places where child prostitution took place, or that advertised child prostitution.
Final Observations and Recommendations on Reports Presented Under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Following examination of Azerbaijan’s initial report the Committee noted with appreciation the declaration that the minimum age for conscription into its armed forces was 18 years and the adoption of two new laws which incorporated numerous elements of the Optional Protocol into national legislation. The Committee was concerned that children aged 17 could voluntarily join the active military service of the cadets military school, and urged the State party to enact legislation which expressly prohibited the involvement of persons under the age of 18, who were enrolled in a military school, in military service, and also prohibit the use of firearms, as a mandatory part of the curricula, by those underage cadets. The Committee regretted the lack of information in the report on refugees and asylum-seeking children who had fled armed conflict, including former child soldiers, and recommended that the State party pay special attention to identifying such children who have suffered conflict-related trauma and displacement, and provide them with special support, including psychological treatment.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Committee regretted that little observable progress had been made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerning children involved in armed conflict, as recently highlighted by the United Nations Secretary-General. The Committee did, however, welcome the 2009 Child Protection Code which prohibited the recruitment or use of children below the age of 18 by armed forces, groups and the police, and punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years; and its endorsement of the Paris Principles on children in armed conflict. The Committee was deeply alarmed that all parties to the conflict continued to kill and to subject children to the worst forms of violence, including torture and mutilation, use as sexual slaves, human shields and bodyguards for army commanders, and for committing the most serious human rights abuses including massacres and mass rapes. The State party was urged to end the impunity that perpetrators of recruitment and use of children continued to enjoy and apply its new zero tolerance policy. The Committee expressed serious concern about the presence of children within almost all brigades of the national military forces (FARDC - Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo), in the Republican Guard which was directly answerable to the President, and in the national police: all of which constituted a grave breach of the State party’s obligations under the Optional Protocol. The Committee urged the State party to show greater political commitment at the highest levels to end the recruitment and use of children within the FARDC, and by the community-based militias known as the Local Defence Force. The Committee made further recommendations which included implementation of a national plan of action; better allocation of resources; strengthening of efforts to register all births and verification of children’s ages; provision of training programmes on the Optional Protocol for relevant professional groups working with children, and an effective and adequately funded national reintegration strategy for child soldiers which provided assistance for their physical and psychological recovery.
Concerning the initial report of Thailand, the Committee noted with appreciation the establishment of the minimum age of 18 years for active and inactive military personnel under the Military Service Act of 1954 and Defence Ministerial Regulation of 2000. It expressed concern about a lack of protection for former child soldiers, who lived in official and unofficial camps in Thailand as well as the lack of mechanisms for identifying former child soldiers among refugees and asylum seekers, particularly child soldiers who had escaped from Myanmar but could be forcibly returned, where they faced re-recruitment. While welcoming the Ministerial regulation which prohibited persons below the age of 18 from taking part in village defence trainings, the Committee was concerned about reports of the informal association of children with the village defence militia, and more widely by the impact on children of ongoing violence in the southern border provinces of Thailand. The Committee noted that children had been victims of bombings, unlawful killings and other violent attacks by non-state armed groups and on occasion, by the Thai security forces. It recommended that the State party take immediate measures to ensure that schools were not used as bases for State military and paramilitary units and were protected from attacks by non-state armed groups and provide as a matter of priority psychosocial support and services to children affected by the armed violence.
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