COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF CANADA ON THE SALE AND EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN
27 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon considered the initial report of Canada 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. The meeting followed the consideration by the Committee this morning of Canada’s report under the Convention itself.
Led by the Judith Bossé, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian delegation answered questions including on the definition of the child in relation to the offences covered by the Protocol, on measures to prevent sex tourism, trafficking and forced labour of children, legislation on adoption, and the disturbing number of Aboriginal women and girls abducted and killed. The delegation spoke about Canada’s substantial aid to international programmes providing support to children and youth who had been exploited and trafficked, and legislative reform that ensured that persons convicted of sexual crimes both within and outside of Canada were automatically placed on the sex offenders’ registry. A National database had been set up to record instances of aboriginal girls and women which had gone missing.
In initial concluding remarks, Marta Maurás, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Canada, commended the country on its tremendous efforts in introducing new legislation and on the colossal resources which the Government had committed to a variety of programmes, and said that the Committee expected Canada to raise the bar in terms of implementing the Convention. The delegation had provided excellent examples of the way in which the different levels – federal, provincial and territorial – worked together. She noted, however, that a lot of work remained to be done in that area to ensure that the Canadian system was even more effective, fair and inclusive.
In concluding remarks Judith Bossé thanked Committee Members for their thoughtful questions and civil society for its input. Canada had always seen its diversity as one of its biggest strengths and stressed that the Government had made coordinated and comprehensive efforts to improve the situation of all children in the country. Federal, provincial and territorial governments worked within their area of jurisdiction but also tried to find solutions to problems cooperatively. The Convention had been a guiding tool for developing innovative programmes that advanced the interests of the child, but there was always room for improvement.
The Delegation of Canada included representatives from the Canadian Public Health Agency, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Government of Quebec, and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the Office of the United Nations at Geneva.
The Committee’s concluding observations on the reports submitted by Canada, as well as other countries reviewed during the session will be made available to the public following the close of the session on Friday, October 5th.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. tomorrow Friday, 28 September in Room XIX of the Palais des Nations, when the Committee will hold its general discussion on the rights of children in the context of international migration.
Consideration of the Report on the Sale of Children
The initial report of Canada on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography can be read via the following link: (CRC/C/OPSC/CAN/1).
Questions by Experts
HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Canada under the Optional Protocol, said that Canada was a country of origin, transit and destination for a number of offences which could be in violation of the Optional Protocol under discussion. Information had been received by the delegation in response to the issues which Committee Members had raised but there were still questions which required clarification. One such issue was the definition of the term “child”, which was often limited to 16 years, particularly regarding the offence of pornography where according to the Protocol the age was 18 years. Concerning extraterritorial jurisdiction, Canadian law accepted jurisdiction for offences committed outside Canada in terms of sexual tourism but did that also apply to crimes such as sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?
Regarding the sale and prostitution of children, the Committee thought that the Criminal Law in Canada tended to focus more on cases involving trafficking in persons for purposes of sexual exploitation than the sale of children. If a child was sold and forced to engage in forced labour, was the sale of children punished in that regard? Did the sentence given deprive the perpetrator of their freedom? Did Canadian law make benefiting from the adoption of a child illegal and punishable – for example, was the illegal act of being an intermediary for an adoption punishable?
An Expert asked who would safeguard the welfare of a child victim while the child was involved in legal proceedings, and who had the duty to inform a child of the consequences after the verdict and assist with repatriation? Access to legal services was difficult for children whose rights had been violated. Was Canada considering offering legal aid to children who were in need of it but could not afford it? The Committee had received civil society reports alleging that Canada had only made weak efforts to reduce the vulnerability of certain groups of children likely to be the victims of sexual exploitation. Furthermore, many sex offenders were not listed on the national sex offenders’ registry. Clarification was also requested on the recruitment of child soldiers in Canada.
Canada deserved to be commended on its efforts to deal with sex tourism, an Expert said. However, concerns remained that the implementation of the new bill on sex tourism was weak despite several awareness-raising campaigns. Could companies and enterprises which promoted sex tourism be prosecuted in the same way as individuals? What resources were being deployed in Canadian missions abroad and at home to strengthen implementation of the law? What was Canada doing in terms of international co-operation to assist victims of sex tourism recover from their psychological and physical trauma?
The application of the Optional Protocol on Children involved in armed conflict was also queried by an Expert, who asked whether there was a clear provision for children to be fully informed before signing a contract to join the Canadian army.
Another Expert said that, even though the Committee had received information and figures about incidents of child pornography, nevertheless there was no information on further investigation or judicial action taken in relation to those incidents. How were those cases followed up on?
Response by the Delegation
Services provided to support victims of crime, including children who had been sexually exploited, were in the jurisdiction of provinces and territories. The federal Government provided support in the form of funding to the provinces and also to non-governmental organizations. For example, funding had been allocated to Child Advocacy Centres which provided psychological support and trauma counselling to children who had been subjected to sexual abuse. Specific programmes were devoted to child victims of trafficking. Financial compensation for the child victim could be obtained through legal procedures.
A delegate said that the definition of “victims of criminal activity” was consistent with the definition adopted by the United Nations and no discrimination was made in terms of age. In Quebec there were centres which provided help and support to young victims of sexual exploitation as well as information on the right to appeals. Technical assistance was also offered to victims so that children could understand the formalities involved in the procedure. Victims could also be referred to specialized services, for example in cases where further medical assistance was required.
Canada worked closely with the international community so that persons who sexually abused children were held fully accountable. The Canadian Criminal Code was amended in 1997 so the country had assumed extraterritorial jurisdiction over sexual crimes committed by Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada outside its borders. Human trafficking offences had also been added to the Criminal Code. In certain cases a corporate body could be held responsible for promoting sex tourism under the Canadian Criminal Code. There were a number of working groups involved in a national action plan to combat trafficking. The primary responsibility for the implementation of the plan rested with the Department of Public Safety, which also liaised with all other relevant bodies and engaged all Provinces and Territories.
Canada was committed to ensuring that a significant proportion of the international aid it offered went to children and youth, especially those who had been exploited and trafficked, and that was one of the four areas which were prioritized by the Government. In Colombia and Sudan programmes had been developed in collaboration with organizations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Acting as an intermediary in the adoption of a child fell under the jurisdiction of provincial and territorial governments, so sentences varied. In any case, the offence was punishable and in certain cases it was regarded as a crime if sexual exploitation was involved.
Extensive amendments had been made in 2011 to strengthen the sex offenders’ registry and new legislation ensured that Canadians convicted abroad would be included in the registry as soon as they returned to Canada to serve their sentence. Person convicted of sexual crimes in Canada were automatically placed on the sex offenders’ registry.
Aboriginal women continued to experience much higher rates of violence than non-Aboriginal Canadians. Canada was committed to combating that phenomenon and to making communities safer. The Government had committed substantial funds - 25 million dollars in five years – in that respect. In addition, a national database had been set up to record cases of missing Aboriginal girls and women and community safety plans were being developed in collaboration with Aboriginal communities.
Consideration of the Report under the Convention
Questions by the Experts
Returning to the main Convention, which was discussed by the Committee and the Delegation yesterday, an Expert said that 62 per cent of children with disabilities were educated in a partial special needs education system, while 38 per cent were put in separate classrooms. The situation varied significantly from region to region in Canada. For example, in Ontario a high level of segregation existed. What measures was Canada taking to ensure that the education provided for children with disabilities was truly inclusive throughout the country and not only in certain regions? Also, according to the 2005 Children Ombudsman’s Report the parents of children with disabilities often opted for special needs schools for their children because that was the only way they could gain access to additional resources.
Response by the Delegation
Addressing issues that were not answered yesterday as part of the consideration of Canada’s report under the main Convention, the delegation stated that provinces and territories were at different stages in implementing an inclusive education strategy, based on a number of factors specific to each region. Despite that, there was a firm commitment throughout the country to move towards a more inclusive education. At the federal level, data collection was very important because that was the best way of promoting inclusive education based on accurate information. The Government supported actively non-governmental organizations, which intervened regularly at the local level.
Addressing the issue of federalism, a delegate said that the federal system in Canada was working well and contributed significantly to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. While the delegation appreciated the Committee’s request for more detailed data organized by province and territory, a delegate said that specific data for provinces and territories was not always readily available.
Regarding the challenges facing some of the children in foster care, it was an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction but nevertheless the federal Government had a very strong commitment to tackling those issues and to that end there was active cooperation between the federal State and the provinces and territories.
Concerning the detention of boys and girls in mixed facilities, a delegate clarified that unaccompanied minors were separated by gender. The preferred option was always to avoid detaining minors wherever possible, who would report to immigration authorities as required. Regarding regular detention outside the immigration context, minors were generally allowed to stay with their parents. In cases where detention of persons with children was unavoidable, every effort was made to keep families together.
All provinces and territories offered a free kindergarten service to children from the age of four years for a limited number of hours per week. The Government’s goal was the implementation of a full-day of kindergarten service offered across the country by 2014. Early childhood education was provided in certain parts of the country free of charge for children who met certain criteria, for example those who were considered to be at high risk. Family resource programmes were offered in certain regions with the aim of educating parents.
Efforts were being made to provide parents and children throughout their lives with all the necessary tools and information so they could make the right decisions with respect to a health nutrition and life style. In all the policies at the local, provincial and federal level Canada looked at how it could facilitate healthy eating and living. In the education sector, initiatives had been taken to examine what children were exposed to and the Government strove to give all children access to healthier food. Action had been taken not by one but by several governments as part of coordinated and concerted action.
The freedom of conscience and religion were given special attention by the Government both at the domestic level and in terms of Canada’s foreign policy. All children and students enjoyed the right to hold, express and manifest religious beliefs and also the right not to do so.
MARTA MAURÁS, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Canada, said she was pleased to see that the Canadian delegation consisted of highly competent women. The Committee saw Canada as a State that could raise the bar in terms of the implementation of the Convention. Ms. Maurás said that Canada had made tremendous efforts in introducing new legislation and that the Committee had an enormous amount of respect for the colossal resources which the Government had committed to a variety of programmes. The Convention was the one that envisaged children as stakeholders and emphasized the role of the State as guarantor in implementing and safeguarding those rights. The delegation had provided excellent examples of the way in which the different levels – federal, provincial and territorial – worked together. However, a lot of work remained to be done in that area to ensure that the Canadian system was even more effective, fair and inclusive.
JUDITH BOSSÉ, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Health Agency of Canada, acknowledged the hard work of Committee Members, whom she thanked for the thoughtful questions they had raised, and the input of civil society in the process. Canada, she said, was an extremely diverse country in all respects and had always seen diversity as one of its biggest strengths. That was reflected in coordinated and comprehensive efforts to improve the situation of all children in Canada. The country took its international obligations seriously, while its constitution, which divided powers between the federal and provincial and territorial governments, encouraged provinces to work both within their area of jurisdiction and also to find solutions to problems cooperatively. The Convention had been a guiding tool for developing innovative programmes that advanced the interests of the child and promoted healthy lives, although the delegation acknowledged that there was always room for improvement.
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