21 September 2016
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined third and fourth reports of Saudi Arabia on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Bandar Bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, offered his sincerest gratitude and appreciation for the significant role of the Committee in the protection of the rights of the child under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Through building a strong legal framework and establishing effective implementation, supervision, and control mechanisms, the Government had achieved an integrated system for the protection of the rights of the child. From a legal standpoint, the provisions of the Islamic Sharia complemented the relevant legislations of the Kingdom and together formed the framework that promoted and protected the rights of the child. Recently, a number of legislations had been issued to that effect, including the Child Protection Law. Other initiatives that had been launched included the National Family Safety Programme, the Law of the Family Affairs Council, a 10-year National Childhood Plan, the Law of Civil Associations and Organizations, as well as the Judicial Decision Laws, the draft Law on Juveniles, amendments to the Law of the Human Rights Commission, and the Saudi Lawyers Committee Law.
In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts asked a series of questions, including on the lack of a minimum legal age of marriage, the lack of disaggregated data, the independence of the National Human Rights Commission, male guardianship, the imposition of the death penalty to persons under the age of eighteen, child abuse within the home and blood money, children with disabilities, and a series of questions related to the rights of women as well as to child labour in sports and domestic activities. Experts were particularly concerned that the reservation to the Convention, which referred to Islamic Sharia, opened the possibility of child marriages, including for girls as young as nine.
In concluding remarks, Jorge Cardona, Committee Member and Task-Force Coordinator for Saudi Arabia, stressed that children had to be rights holders rather than protected. The country had a great challenge to ensure that girls were able to exercise their rights on an equal footing with boys.
Mr. Al-Aiban, in concluding remarks, ensured the Committee that political will was in place, thanks to the instructions of his Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia, to promote all human rights, and particularly the rights of children. All the Delegation’s commitments would be regarded seriously and practical achievements would be made.
The delegation of Saudi Arabia consisted of the representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, and the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today, to consider the combined third and fourth periodic report of Suriname (CRC/C/SUR/3-4).
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Saudi Arabia on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be read here: (CRC/C/SAU/3-4).
Presentation of the Report
BANDAR BIN MOHAMMED AL-AIBAN, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, offered his sincerest gratitude and appreciation for the significant role of the Committee in the protection of the rights of the child under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The report of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its answers to the List of Issues had both been prepared in accordance with a methodology based on the integration of roles between concerned government bodies and nation-wide discussions with civil society as well as childhood experts. In January 2015, a standing national committee comprising of a number of government bodies had been established to prepare the reports. Its objectives also included strengthening national capabilities for the further implementation of the human rights conventions and the recommendations of relevant organizations; preparing and submitting reports in a timely manner; and coordinating with others for the collection and analysis of data. The efforts made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in promoting and protecting the rights of the child were based on firm constitutional principles derived from the Islamic Sharia, the national laws and regulations and the relevant agreements, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They were upheld by a strong political will that transformed words on paper to a reality and adopted the best possible practices in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
Through building a strong legal framework and establishing effective implementation, supervision, and control mechanisms, the Government had achieved an integrated system for the protection of the rights of the child. From a legal standpoint, the provisions of the Islamic Sharia complemented the relevant legislations of the Kingdom and together formed the framework that promoted and protected the rights of the child. Recently, a number of laws had been issued to that effect, including the Child Protection Law, and later its implementing regulations, in November 2014. The Law defined a child as any person who had not yet reached the age of 18, and sought to prevent all forms of abuse and neglect that a child might be exposed to. Furthermore, in September 2013, the Law of Protection from Abuse had been issued to provide legal defence for vulnerable groups, particularly children. A specialized centre had been established to receive reports of domestic violence through a toll-free helpline operating around the clock. Other initiatives that had been launched included the National Family Safety Programme, the Law of the Family Affairs Council, a ten-year National Childhood Plan, the Law of Civil Associations and Organizations, as well as the Judicial Decision Laws, the draft Law on Juveniles, amendments to the Law of the Human Rights Commission, and the Saudi Lawyers Committee Law. As a result of measures undertaken, the infant mortality rate had dropped, immunization rates had increased, and enrolment in primary education had reached a record high. The King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity also played a significant role in developing the capacities of children and enriching them with many skills, such as the freedom of expression.
Questions by Experts
JORGE CARDONA, Member of the Committee and Coordinator of the Task Force for Saudi Arabia, welcomed the broad and multi-sectoral delegation and stressed that the Committee would be asking questions in a constructive spirit.
Was the country planning to ratify the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, he asked.
The Committee had asked Saudi Arabia to withdraw the reservation to the Convention which referred to Islamic Sharia. If, as the replies had indicated, the Convention was not in conflict with Sharia, why would the country not withdraw that reservation? The Committee was particularly concerned that Islamic Sharia allowed adults to marry girls as young as nine, thereby violating the rights of the child. The Committee had repeatedly asked the Kingdom to consider withdrawing the reservation. Did the State party have plans to adopt legislation on the minimum legal age of marriage?
Was the 2013 Childhood Protection Act a comprehensive law covering the protection as well as the promotion of children’s rights?
Would the Government consider identifying the expenditures on the rights of children?
Without disaggregated data, it was difficult to build policies. The Government had stated in the report that data collection continued to be a challenge.
PETER GURAN, Member of the Committee and Task Force for Saudi Arabia, asked a series of questions related to the National Children’s Committee, as well as on the National Human Rights Commission, and its alignment with the Paris Principles. The delegation was asked to provide further information in that regard.
JOSE ANGEL RODRIGUEZ REYES, Member of the Committee and Task Force for Saudi Arabia, raised the issue of discrimination. He acknowledged some improvement in terms of the inclusion of girls in the educational sphere, but was concerned that discrimination prevailed in legislation and in practice. What strategies and measures were being adopted to overcome and address discrimination practices against children of non-Saudi parents, children with disabilities, children born out of wedlock, children belonging to Shiite and other religious minorities, children of migrant workers, and children who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
The Government had been urged to do away with male guardianship, which was a setting that could give rise to multiple forms of discrimination. Had the Government proceeded in that regard, and how?
Had the Government legally prohibited the imposition of the death penalty for all those under the age of 18? Currently a child could be sentenced to a severe punishment for expressing his or her beliefs. What steps were taken to change this and to do away with solitary confinement?
KRISTEN SANDBERG, Member of the Committee and Task Force for Saudi Arabia, asked whether stoning, beheading and other such methods of punishment could be prohibited for children under the age of 18.
What was being done to curb prevalence of child abuse at home?
Questions were asked on whether women were allowed in the court room and allowed to testify.
Was corporal punishment in schools and at home prohibited or not? Was it true that offenders who abused children could escape prosecution due to a practice called blood money?
What was the Government doing about Saudi Arabian tourists abusing girls and using temporary marriages to conduct sexual abuse, asked the Expert.
SUZANNE AHO-ASSOUMA, Member of the Committee and Task Force for Saudi Arabia, asked a series of questions relating to possible cases of discrimination regarding birth registration procedures, including the requirement of fees and the registration for children of nomadic tribes, and statelessness.
Regarding child marriages, how could a male guardian have complete control over the life and death of a child and decide their marriage conditions? The Expert told the story of a girl, Fatima, who had been sold for 7,000 euros because her father needed to buy a car. The groom had given the bride a “Play Station” as a gift, which was a proof that he knew the wife-to-be was a child. Were there provisions to specifically outlaw child marriage, as well as to do away with male guardianship of women and girls? How could child marriages that had already been carried out be annulled? Were there measures possible to prevent the child from being handed over?
Allegedly, the husband had to agree to divorce in cases involving male guardianship, and the woman was asked to pay back the dowry. Was the Government doing something to prevent the reality of women being de facto objects? Why did the girl have to reach puberty to contest the marriage, and was the Government planning to apply the findings of a study which had been conducted to that effect?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stressed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fully cooperated with all international human rights bodies.
In Saudi Arabia, Islamic Sharia was above all laws and treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Those texts, however, did not conflict with Islamic Sharia. The delegation would provide more specific answers to questions related to this further on.
The National Children’s Committee, established in 1997, dealt with all matters related to children in Saudi Arabia. A decree had been issued to regulate the Commission and provide it with a budget. Its competencies were, inter alia, coordinate childhood programmes and follow up policies and strategies. It comprised of members of various line ministries, including the General Directorate for Youth. That body was committed to studying the situation of children in the area of education, health and social welfare. It issued the National Comprehensive Guide to address child abuse in the Kingdom.
Bullying was being addressed through national workshops conducted in 45 districts involving 600 teachers. Childhood-friendly media professionals had also been involved in raising children’s issues. A Network of Professionals had been established to counter abuse in childhood settings and kindergartens. A National Strategy for Childhood was being developed to better protect the children.
Annual budget lines for children were being issued through the Ministries of Education, Health, Social Affairs, Finance, and other agencies. Millions of funds and subsidies had been dispensed to that effect.
The Childhood Protection Act provided all forms of protection for children against abuse or neglect. It aimed at preserving the family – the family being the safe haven of children and defined the child as any person that was of less than 18 years of age. The Act criminalised any form of discrimination against children on racial or other grounds and was given priority over other acts. The Act also provided that any case of abuse be reported to the nearest competent body. Any case of abuse of a child would be followed by an investigator who would investigate the case and start a legal action against the perpetrators. The Act had been translated to French and English and was available online.
Child marriage was not a major issue in Saudi Arabia, said the delegation. The National Human Rights Commission and the courts were aware of individual cases, and adamant in preventing and punishing such cases in every part in the country, ensuring immediate intervention. Marriage had to happen with the full consent of the woman, and the Ministry of Justice had issued many circulars preventing forced marriage. Child marriage was also addressed through seminars, and many measures had been undertaken so as not to register any marriage involving minors. The Childhood Protection Act stipulated that those who were under 18 years of age could not be married. Any marriage that took place for those who were under 18 had to be reviewed by courts. The judge in those cases exercised his or her digressionary powers. There were cases for girls getting married at 16 or 17 years of age, but cases of girls younger than that were rare, and if that did happen, courts usually nullified them. There had been interventions on the part of the authorities to break up such marriages.
The delegation explained that male guardianship of children did not mean domination of men over women. It meant enabling those who had guardianship to take care of minors. Usually guardianship was given to the mother. Male guardianship was the guardianship of the father when his daughter married for the first time. That was an aspect of Sharia, which aimed at protecting the girl who was getting married. However, when the girl was married, she became her own guardian. The woman had full powers over her body, her financial situation, and her personal affairs. When a woman was getting married for the first time, her fiancé would need to talk to her brother or father, and the latter had to ensure that the marriage was in the best interest of the girl. When a woman had been married before, the marriage was concluded without that consent, as it was considered that the woman had experience. There had been cases when the girl had gone to the court to ask for the prevention of the imposition of the guardianship decision. The court would thus consider the best interest of the girl.
The minimum age of marriage had not been legally prescribed, because Saudi Arabia was a very large country, with wide cultural practices, agricultural settings and so forth. The marriage age might be very low in the rural areas; life in villages was very different from the life in urban areas. For those who sought to enter the university the priorities were completely different than the priorities in other areas. The courts had thus been allowed to look into each and every case. The Ministry of Justice was mandated to look into the marriage of any couple under the age of 18, in order to establish the best interest of the child. A study was being conducted on that issue.
Questions by the Delegation
An Expert asked the delegation to address the issue of why a woman would need a permission from her husband to obtain a passport in order to travel abroad. The same was the case for young girls, especially students who could not study abroad without the visa permission of their father.
He also asked a series of questions regarding custody. Could the delegation give more details on the Shura Council decision of October 2015? What was the age of leaving the kefala family, and what happened after the children left such a family? Were children whose father was unknown treated as orphans?
Another Expert asked a series of questions regarding children with disabilities. He had the impression that there was a protective rather than a rights-based approach to children with disabilities. Had the Government considered inclusive education?
On child refugees, the Expert acknowledged the country’s efforts in accepting Syrian and Yemeni refugees. Would the country ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention? What was the number of child refugees and asylum seekers?
Question was asked whether domestic child labour, including the sexual abuse of migrants, was considered an offence,
Alluding to the military coalition supported by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Expert was highly concerned that starvation was being used as a method of warfare against Yemeni schoolchildren, that millions of children were at the risk of malnutrition, and that hundreds of children might have been maimed and killed as a result. Was the Government aware that of the violations of the international humanitarian law in that regard?
An Expert asked a series of questions related to health and social security. What steps were being taken to reduce rates of infant mortality? Allegedly, many health professionals were of foreign origin and did not speak Arabic, leading to negative consequences for children. How was the country planning to address that?
What activities were organised to promote breast-feeding ? Did social security cover the entire population to address the extreme problems of poverty?
What actions were being taken to provide support for HIV-positive mothers and their children? How was support provided in rural areas? On mothers with children in prison, an Expert said that reportedly 224 children had been placed in orphanages in 2014 for that reason. Were measures being taken at the prison-level to tackle stigmatisation?
What programmes were in place to address child beggars?
The Committee understood that there were numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, with a further seventy cases that had not been reported. Had cases of neglect been registered in the health care system, asked the Expert.
Sale and trafficking of children seemed to be prevalent in the border area close to Yemen. What was being done in terms of prevention?
Children from Pakistan used as camel jockeys were another serious concern. Were there any plans to counter trafficking from those countries, and were children compensated by their exploiters?
There were reports about Mauritanians who were exploited as slaves. Could the delegation address that, as well as the issue of girls being sold as sex slaves?
An Expert asked a series of questions regarding education. Was basic compulsory education required under the law or not? Why did girls still need their fathers’ authorisation to go to school, and how could the State Party justify that female students could only study certain subjects?
Were there any plans to change negative gender or religious stereotypes in textbooks, asked the Expert.
Questions were also raised on juvenile justice. What mechanisms had been put in place to prevent children from being subjected to ill-treatment and torture at the time of their arrest? Did children have the capability to challenge court decisions, and what steps were being taken to ensure that children could remain in contact with their families when they were in detention? The Expert wanted to know what rights children in detention had.
Replies by the Delegation
Referring to the comments made by the Committee Experts throughout the first part of the dialogue, the head of the Saudi delegation wondered whether they were speaking of his country. Certainly no nation was perfect, but accusations had to be based on facts, he said.
Regarding the bombing in Yemen, the delegation informed that the intervention had taken place following a request by the legitimate head of State and to preserve peace and security in the region. The coalition in Yemen was operating carefully in order to target military objects. Civilians, religious buildings, and non-governmental organisations were spared. A list of such civilian organisations was provided to ensure that they were not targeted, thus ensuring respect of the basic principles of the international humanitarian law. They also carried out leaflet drops in order to warn civilians when they would be bombing, and in order to enable them to move away from those places. The United Nations Secretary-General had removed Saudi Arabia from the list of rogue countries on the protection of children involved in armed conflict. There was a humanitarian assistance unit, responsible for health care in order to mitigate the suffering and address the medical needs of the Yemenites.
With regard to humanitarian assistance for women and children, the delegation said that the recently established King Salman Humanitarian Centre testified that Saudi Arabia was striving to provide food, healthcare, education, and psychological rehabilitation for some four million children. Approximately USD 29,6 million had been allocated to the United Nations Children’s Fund, including for vaccinations and drinking water, as well as assistance to expectant mothers. The Centre had provided over USD 45 million to the World Food Programme, with two million beneficiaries in Yemen, of which over one million were children. There was no discrimination between beneficiaries between legitimate Government-controlled areas and the rebel-controlled areas. Some 3.8 million women and 3.4 million children benefited from health care assistance. The King Salman Humanitarian Centre had also donated USD 5.8 million to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. A number of other funds were provided for various other humanitarian causes.
The delegation categorically denied the existence of the 900 slavery cases mentioned by an Expert. Trafficking in persons, including slavery, was prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishable with up to 15 years of prison, and a fine of one million riyals. Saudi Arabia had ratified all relevant international instruments to that effect.
Other Experts had said that women in domestic service had been ill-treated. Instructions had been sent to all Embassies not to grant visas to women under the age of 21. Stringent requirements were in place in terms of salaries, and safeguards were in place to prevent human trafficking and provide the necessary care with appropriate assistance. In cases of abuse, medical assistance was made available until the victim was able to leave the country or find a different employer.
Regarding non-accession of Saudi Arabia to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the delegation said that all human rights instruments were subject to an internal review. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was ranked third in terms of humanitarian and development aid worldwide; some 95 countries benefited from that aid. That amounted to a total USD 139 billion over the decades, which exceeded the requirement of the United Nations. Another USD 75 million had been recently pledged. Saudi Arabia was one of the largest donors to the United Nations Children’s Fund, and also provided assistance to the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among others.
In recent meetings in Abu Dhabi and London, Saudi Arabia had committed to combatting child sexual exploitation online, and funds would be launched to that effect.
Commitments had also been made on the issue of stateless persons. Nationals of Myanmar had been provided residence permits free of charge in order to be able to access health, education and other facilities. The number of beneficiaries was approximately 200,000 persons. The Kingdom had received, since the eruption of the Syrian crisis, more than 2.5 million refugees, who had crossed the border and stayed voluntarily, or had chosen to be relocated. The relocation process was facilitated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They were granted freedom of mobility and right to work, including residency and work permits, education and work opportunities. More than 140,000 Syrian students received education at various levels.
Addressing the question on poverty, the delegation stated that the State Party had launched social development with a view of combatting combating poverty across the entire country. All ten development plans and national strategies had always included the basic themes of human rights and development. Central to all of them was the 2030 Vision of the Kingdom, placing the focus on the future for the next generations of Saudi Arabia, namely children who constituted 66 percent of the population. A development plan was in place to reach out to all who needed assistance, with a view to providing dignified living for Saudi Arabians.
Efforts to bridge the income gaps had been launched, including through an increase to the charitable fund, marriage and custody subsidies, as well as funds for persons with disabilities. A minimum wage had also been adopted.
With regard to the questions on health, ait was explained that a programme had been launched to decrease infant mortality. Vaccination was a right for all children, and polio had been eradicated. Recent World Health Organisation figures showed Saudi Arabia having the least incidence of HIV-AIDS. A programme had been launched with all services to prevent the transmission of the virus, as well as to provide medical and psychological care. It also included awareness raising, voluntary screening and guidance.
Any cases of ill-treatment of children in medical centres were recorded and looked into.
Regarding birth registrations, the delegation said that the Saudi law provided for registering births immediately after birth, at no cost. Regarding births of Saudi nationals born outside of the Kingdom, the law stipulated a deadline of 15 days after the birth, or longer if the place was far from the birth registry. A fine was imposed if the requirement was not met.
Breast feeding was encouraged through numerous initiatives, including a national campaign. Additionally, 29 child hospitals had been created. The promotion of substitute milk formulas in all public institutions was prohibited.
On the issue of discrimination against children with disabilities, the delegation reiterated that the legislation prohibited all forms of discrimination and was in accordance with the International Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities. There were no special provisions for persons with disabilities, thereby encouraging the treatment of those on an equal footing. Additionally, stipends were provided in order to promote their inclusive education. Equipment was provided to help persons with disabilities function normally. A 50-percent reduction of air and road transportation fees was applicable to all persons with disabilities; a waiver for the fees had been introduced for drivers and domestic help. Various plans had been launched to address children with autism, children with attention deficit disorder, and other specific cases.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert asked what proportion of the overall number of hospitals were the 29 hospitals certified as excellent when it came to preventive care, or rather child-friendly.
Another Expert, regarding the time limit for birth registration, asked how the birth registration was promoted after the time limit had passed.
What were the challenges on the ground with regard to inclusive education?
An Expert said that, according to the law, there was no age limit for domestic workers. Was there a sanction if girls were found in domestic service? Could women who came to work return to their country to see their families of origin?
Question was asked on what the Kingdom did with regard to child camel jockeys, and what was being done to address the owners of stables?
Were pregnant women able to go to the doctor only when accompanied by their male guardian? What about pregnancies as a result of rape or incest? Was abortion allowed in those cases, and was support provided to those girls or women?
Were the Bedouin deemed to be stateless or without nationality, an Expert inquired.
Regarding obesity, question was asked on the existence of nutritional programmes to assist girls and women who might be obese, having in mind that they were not allowed to participate in sports activities.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stressed that it was mother’s right to go to the doctor.
Regarding the certification of child-friendly hospitals, that was a part of an international programme which had certain requirements, including training. A survey was being conducted to ensure the criteria for that certification.
The delegation said that centres had been established to prevent obesity, which was a worldwide challenge.
The State was also providing children out of wedlock with every type of care. That category was supported through monetary and in-kind assistance. If the father submitted a proof that it was his child, the nationality was granted.
Much care was given to pregnant women in prison in terms of nutrition, social rehabilitation. The child was always with its mother in certain areas of prison, separate from men, taking into account the best interest of the child.
Regarding discrimination against street children, the delegation informed that initiatives had been undertaken to address the issue. Exploitation of children was a crime, publishable by 50 years in prison and one million Saudi riyals. That included parents who subjected their children to begging in the street. Programmes were in place to rehabilitate those children.
On the question of foreign mothers working in Saudi Arabia and whether they were allowed to go back to their country of origin to see their children, the delegation stipulated that those labour contracts were regulated by memoranda of understanding between Saudi Arabia and the countries of origin. Employees were allowed one month of leave, and if employers did not allow them to do so, employees could file a complaint.
Regarding criminal justice, many regulations were in place to ensure due process. Several phases of court had to be passed in order for the ruling to go through. In addition, there were three judges in the first instance court, and the possibility of an appeal that was considered by five appeal court judges. Juvenile offenders were confined to a juvenile centre upon arrest.
In the case of child abuse, Article 10 of the Criminal Code laid down that there could be a sanction which should not be below a certain time period. Fines could be to the tune of 50,000 Saudi riyals, including a prison sentence.
In cases of recidivism or repeated offence, the punishment could be doubled, and the court could resort to a prison sentence. There had been 600 cases of abuse of minors from January 2008 to October 2016.
Custody was given to the mother until the child reached the age of seven, the delegation informed.
In response to a follow-up question on persons with disabilities, the Government aimed to treat them on an equal footing. Since 1980, the authorities had established a Committee to that effect, which included all relevant line Ministries, associations representing persons with disabilities, the private sector, civil society, and persons with disabilities themselves.
Children with disabilities were given a monthly stipend amounting to 300 to 450 Saudi Riyals. Psychological assessment, medical services and other services were provided to children from one to 18 years old. The Sultan Centre for assisting devices provided assistance to all children, including those from outside the country.
The delegation stated that the death penalty was not applied to children. The Court ensured that the offender was not a child when the offence was committed.
Article 16 of the Childhood Protection Act prohibited the involvement of children in sports activities that could be dangerous to their health; that also applied to the camel jockeys.
The support hotline dedicated for children was free of charge and available around the clock. Persons who called were assisted by social workers and their case was followed through. In 2011, another line had been created, receiving over 200,000 calls, of which 21 percent were related to sexual abuse.
Free education was provided in over 35,000 schools. Medication was also provided in schools. Legislation provided that education was mandatory, and punished abuse.
Regarding sexual abuse of children and incest, and the punishments in place used to deter such crimes, the Islamic Sharia had provided for the severest punishments. That was a crime against a person’s honour, which was highly protected by Islamic Sharia.
Saudi Arabia did not impose a dress code. Women were allowed to be in public without a decent dress. This had been underlined by international organisations years ago. Regarding the imposition of a dress code to non-Muslims, the law applied only to the government schools.
Freedom of expression was provided to all.
The delegation also informed that there were no stateless cases in Saudi Arabia. Non-Saudi children had access to free education and health services, as well as social services. Article 149 prohibited dangerous work being undertaken by pregnant women.
In response to the allegations that stoning, repudiation and flogging could be used on children of the age of 15, as well as torture reportedly being used on children under 18 in order to confess to the crimes that they had not committed, the delegation stated that high penalties were in place for those who committed torture. A special treatment was provided for juveniles, in accordance with the law on juveniles. As soon as arrested, minors had to be transmitted to the institutions concerned.
The National Human Rights Commission was independent and reported to the King and not the Government. The Commission worked in accordance with the Paris Principles.
JORGE CARDONA, Committee Member and Task-Force Coordinator for Saudi Arabia, reminded the delegation that the Committee was not a political body, and that its role was to ensure that all children’s rights were promoted and protected. Due to the short amount of time for the dialogue, the Committee did not dwell on what the State Party was doing well, which often made the dialogue difficult. He asked the delegation to give priority, within 48 hours, to providing answers to the questions of death penalty, as well as on juvenile detention, cases of torture, and the elimination of the rights of girls because of excessive protection. Children had to be rights holders rather than protected, he reminded. The country had a great challenge to ensure that girls were able to exercise their rights on an equal footing with boys. They were citizens not only of the future but of the present and had to be able to enjoy their rights now.
Bandar Mohammed Al-Aiban, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia, said that the delegation had listened carefully to the Committee and had attempted to engage in a constructive dialogue and provide answers. The goal was to promote and protect all children. The information provided to the Committee was not always substantiated. Protecting human rights was not something that could be subscribed to a certain time and place. He ensured that political will was in place, thanks to the instructions of the King. The Government had fostered the participation of all partners, including international organizations and civil society, inspired by the principles of Islamic Sharia and those values that underpinned society, and guided by human rights instruments which they were party to. The report and answers testified to the progress of the country. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was committed to bringing further progress to human rights in general and human rights to children in particular. That was part of the 2020 Vision, which underpinned human rights. The Government was committed to be guided by all principles of human rights. He assured the Committee that all of its commitments would be regarded seriously, and that practical achievements would be made.
Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Chairperson, stated that whatever additional replies that could be provided within the 48 hours would be helpful. In that respect, one could not overemphasize the allegations regarding the death penalty, discrimination issues, and violation against children. He had taken note that Saudi Arabia was a key player in international cooperation and the work it was doing with regard to children’s rights internationally was very much appreciated. However, there was also work to be done at home.
For use of the information media; not an official record