COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF ANDORRA
21 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Andorra on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Joan Carles Villaverde, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare and Head of Delegation, said that Andorra was one of the smallest countries in the world, with a population of 80,000 people, which allowed it to confront the problems facing children with efficiency. It ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and despite the negative impact of the economic crisis on children, it had taken measures to implement the Convention such as increasing by 120 per cent the number of personnel working with ‘at risk’ or vulnerable children, including social workers, social educators and psychiatrists. The Ministry of Health and Welfare was also working on the development of a draft law on social services, the main objective of which was to reorganize the social and health services. The Government was also in the process of amending the Penal Code in order to bring national legislation into conformity with the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Andorran Government would sign the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the creation of a communications procedure during the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
During the discussion, Experts praised Andorra for its plans to sign the third Optional Protocol to the Convention. They raised questions about access to contraception, the prohibition of abortion, the marriageable age, child labour in the tourism industry, juvenile justice mechanisms and the protection of child witnesses. Committee Members also discussed the functioning of the Ombudsman, the empowerment of civil society and the legal definition of childhood. The Delegation was also asked about the dissemination of the Convention, human rights education in schools, legislation on adoption and foster families as well as inclusive education for children with disabilities.
In preliminary concluding observations, Jorge Cardona, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Andorra, said Andorra had a clear will to improve the situation of its children and to overcome the challenges set by the economic crisis. Strengthening civil society and social dialogue within the State would be an important step to promoting the rights of the child.
Joan Carles Villaverde, in concluding remarks, expressed his gratitude to the Committee for the dialogue and for the questions raised by the Experts. Andorra would continue its efforts to enhance the rights of its children.
The delegation of Andorra consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Andorra to the United Nations Office at Geneva. A Judge of Instruction and a Social Worker from Andorra also joined the delegation.
Today's public meeting was webcast live: the broadcast (both live and archived) can be watched via the following link http://www.treatybodywebcast.org. The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Andorra towards the end of its session, which concludes on 5 October.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 September, when it will consider the combined third and fourth periodic report of Austria (CRC/C/AUT/3-4).
Report of Andorra
The second periodic report of Andorra can be read via the following link: CRC/C/AND/2
Presentation of the Report
JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare, said that Andorra ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 1 February 1996. Andorra was one of the smallest States in the world with a population of 80,000 people. Security, respect of human rights and access to social services were essential values of the Andorran society. Current challenges were a period of political instability, which resulted in the lack of implementation of the policies decided by previous Governments, and the economic crisis, which had had a negative impact on the most vulnerable groups, particularly children. In response the Government had taken a number of measures, such as increasing by 120 per cent the number of personnel working with ‘at risk’ or vulnerable children, including social workers, social educators and psychiatrists, increasing the numbers from five in 2009 to 11 in 2012. Another challenge caused by the political instability was that the National Commission on Childhood, which was created in 2005, was never fully functional. The current Government had decided to reactivate and to consolidate that Commission so that it could fulfil its role to support centralization and coordination of all policies related to childhood.
The Committee had recommended that Andorra set up a database of children in order to be able to identify dangerous situations and social risks minors faced, so in April 2012 the Ministry of Health and Welfare signed a cooperation agreement with a foundation to develop a study on childhood and adolescence in Andorra. The results of that study would further advance the formulation of preventive policies. The Ministry of Health and Welfare was also working on the development of a draft law on social services, the main objective of which was to reorganize the social and health services. Andorra did not have a law specifically devoted to childhood and adolescence, but the Ministry of Childhood felt it had sufficient legal basis to meet the needs of children through the Convention itself and its Optional Protocols, and legislation such as the Adoption Act. The size of the country allowed it to confront the problems facing children efficiently.
In July 2012, the Government submitted a Bill to Parliament amending the Penal Code, in order to bring national legislation into conformity with the Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation, and with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Two days ago, the Andorran Government decided to renew its commitment to children by approving the signing of the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the creation of a communications procedure. That signature would be conducted by the Prime Minister during his participation in the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. Finally, Mr. Villaverde confirmed that Andorra would submit its combined third to fifth periodic reports in one consolidated report, and no later than January 31, 2018.
Questions from the Experts
JORGE CARDONA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Andorra, thanked the Head of Delegation for its report and its introductory remarks and said today’s dialogue aimed to assist Andorra in implementing the Convention. Andorra was committed to human rights in general, and to children’s rights in particular. The Committee was pleased to learn that Andorra had signed the third Optional Protocol on a Communication Procedure. The Committee was also pleased to hear that efforts had been made for the collection of data on the situation of children, and welcomed the creation of the National Commission on Childhood. The Committee held it important that States parties develop comprehensive strategies to coordinate policies in the field of children’s rights. An action plan was necessary even in a small country like Andorra, and particularly in times of financial crisis that could have a negative impact on children.
The Rapporteur asked questions about the process of drafting the report, and whether civil society organizations were included. He also asked how the Convention was promoted in Andorra. Mr. Cardona asked a number of questions, beginning with the marriageable age, which in Andorra was set at a minimum of 14 years old, which was not in line with the Convention, and was directly related the definition of childhood. Why had the Government not increased that age to 18 years old? Furthermore, was the principle of the best interest of the child directly enforced in domestic law? Was there any regulation of the media to protect the right of a child to privacy, and what remedies were available for children whose right to privacy had been violated? Was corporal punishment prohibited into domestic law, and had any cases referring directly to the Convention come before the courts?
Abortion was illegal in Andorra, an Expert noted, asking what remedies girls who became pregnant as a consequence of being raped had access to. Furthermore, what how did the government plan to address the lack of data collection in the field of sexual violence against girls?
Turning to education, was there any issue in Andorra regarding the right of a child to freedom of religion, and did schools teach religion as a compulsory subject? The Expert enquired about the right to privacy of a child regarding having their religion respected, particularly on school certificates.
Had the Government conducted any awareness-raising campaigns on the harmful effect of physical punishment of children, and did national law define the concept of ‘at risk children’, an Expert asked. Was there any provision to safeguard child victims of domestic violence, and which relevant body or person was responsible for dealing with those children? Furthermore, what measures had been taken to reduce the number of deaths of children due to car accidents or suicide.
An Expert took the floor to highlight that Andorra, as a small country, had only 14,000 children. What measures had been taken to ensure that foreign children coming to Andorra temporarily had access to the same services as children who lived there permanently? Was there legislation on family reunion? Was there a national awareness to avoid discrimination between the different communities in Andorra?
Andorra did not have a National Human Rights Institution, but had established an Ombudsman’s office with a clear mandate on children’s rights. However, an Expert noted that no child had visited the Ombudsman, which perhaps indicated that children did not know about the Convention. Could the delegation give more information on complaints received, and any campaigns carried out to inform the public about how to make a complaint to the Ombudsman? Was there any other channel through which children could make a complaint when their rights were violated?
An Expert asked whether an Observatory for collecting data on children had been created, and also what the competences of the General Council for Young People were. Had the National Equality Commission had been established, and how was it working to progressively reduce the problems of inequality affecting children.
Response by the Delegation
A delegate said that the Ministry of Health and Welfare tried to make the drafting of the report as participative as possible for all relevant stakeholders, including civil society organizations. It was difficult to involve civil society as a whole because of the lack of mechanisms. The fact that Andorra was a small country meant that sometimes the Government felt that it had knowledge of all issues and problems, which was a mistake, said the delegate. In the future the Government aimed to consult more with non-governmental organizations.
The fact that the National Commission for Childhood was not functioning was already an existing problem when the Government was elected into power. The Government was committed to reactivating the Commission, which would be effective by the end of the year. That Commission was a key tool to respond to all issues related to childhood and to coordinate State policies related to childhood. It would be composed of experts working in the fields of health, justice, work or education as well as representatives of Communes, relevant Ministries and young people. By 2013 the Commission would have a specific budget dedicated to the area of childhood. Furthermore a National Statistics Institute had been established and would compile statistics on children and their well-being.
The specialist child protection team sought to react in cases of ‘at risk’ children. Now that the number of social workers had been increased, the situation of vulnerable children could be monitored at any time, and not only when there was a specific risk. The specialist team worked 24 hours per day to monitor and react to urgent situations, and could also react, in coordination with the police and the judiciary, to situations involving a child at risk of domestic violence.
Regarding the legal age for marriage, there was indeed an inconsistency in the law because marriages for minors were forbidden in practice. The law would be modified in the future to bring the Andorran legislation in line with the Convention. There were laws and a national plan to address the issue of discrimination against and stigmatization of women and girls. The participation of women in the labour force, and more generally the empowerment of women and girls, was considered a priority.
There was no explicit prohibition of corporal punishment but, under Andorran criminal law, no person should be subjected to violence, a delegate confirmed. The legislation also included psychological violence against children. Furthermore, Andorra had no armed forces, and no cases of violence against children by the police forces had been reported, which was why that issue was not really covered in the legislation, a delegate commented.
Andorra was a member of the Council of Europe, and had signed many of its conventions, but was too small, and did not have the personnel capacity to be a member of the International Labour Organization. However it followed closely the standards set in International Labour Organization conventions and was implementing them without becoming a State party.
Regarding the question about foreign children coming to Andorra temporarily, there was no direct health coverage provided for them. The children of seasonal workers did not have rights under the family laws, but were protected under the Constitution which guaranteed the rights of the child. Asking citizens to support the access to services for those children would be an unfair burden. ¨
Questions by Experts
The delegation was asked about juvenile justice, and whether a centre been set up for minors deprived of their liberty. Were there any alternative forms of punishment for children, she asked, and were punishments set by law for children the same than punishments for adults? Finally, what specific provisions existed to protect child witnesses or child victims who testified in the judicial system?
An Expert commended the fact that Andorra was at the forefront in supporting the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and asked the delegation to share best practices on its promotion of that Protocol. Was human rights education, and specifically the teaching of the Rights of the Child, included in the education system, and were teachers also trained on human rights?
Children seemed to be allowed to work in the tourism industry, an Expert said, asking how the State effectively monitored children’s activities in order to avoid child labour? Turning to access to health, an Expert enquired what access children and young people had to confidential advice and to contraception. She also requested more information on abortion, which was prohibited under Andorran law.
Response by the Delegation
The Ombudsman informed and advised minors on their rights and on how to make a complaint. Programmes had been broadcast on national television by the Ombudsman on its activities and procedures. The fact that no complaints had been received from children showed that Andorra was responding to their needs.
An open centre for juvenile offenders had been created: it was not guarded and children staying there were not deprived of their liberty. Should a child try to run away, there were procedures in place, such as calling the police.
Regarding vulnerable children, another centre to host minors who had had to be removed from their family environment could host around twenty children. A system of foster families was also in place, and in November, a campaign on emergency fostering would be launched. Foster families always went through assessment procedures, and some families who had been assessed for adoption purposed had gone on to be foster families. There were currently 11 foster families in Andorra, seven minors were in fosters families, and four families would soon receive a minor.
Turning to adoption, the assessment process for prospective international adoptive families did take too long, a delegate said, although none had been rejected so far. The professionals who carried out the assessments were those who conducted social work with families. The administration was therefore very close to the families and able to really respond to their needs.
The prohibition of child labour was defined in article 21 of the Labour Code, which stated that children between 14 and 18 years old could only undertake light work, meaning work that had no impact on the health or education of the child. During school holiday periods, a child could only be employed if a doctor established that a child could undertake light work. Labour inspection controls were in place to prevent abuses and child labour, including in the area of tourism.
In Andorra, the age of criminal responsibility was 18 years old. If a minor under the age of 12 committed a crime he or she could not be subjected to a criminal procedure or considered criminally responsible before the courts, and alternative measures were taken in collaboration with social services. If a minor between the ages of 12 and 18 committed a crime, then they would face criminal procedures. The maximum penalty for minors could not exceed one third of the penalty that was set for adults for the same crime. Pre-trial detention could not exceed 24 hours.
There were two judges for minors in Andorra, and the cases of juvenile offenders were heard in a separate court from adult cases. There were alternative sentences and educational measures for juvenile defenders: in 2012 only one minor had been deprived of his liberty and sent to a detention centre. He was fully separated from adults, and he took part in educational and other activities outside of the centre in collaboration with teachers and the Red Cross.
Concerning child victims of violence or other crimes, a psychologist was employed to accompany such children and provide mental support. Children never had to confront their aggressors. Regarding child witnesses in a court case, Andorra ensured that such children could also have access to a psychologist and never had to enter in contact with anyone involved in the case.
Regarding children in armed conflict, Andorra participated in several programmes and had increased the money that it allocated to its fund for work on preventing children in armed conflict. Andorra also had an agreement with the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF). Donations for child welfare by non-governmental organizations were not counted on prior to the elaboration of the budget, but were considered as extra money to allocate to that area if received.
In relation to health, the Ministry of Education ran a Youth Advice Service, as well as other programmes, which could give young people advice on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmissible diseases. Anti-smoking and anti-alcohol strategies were also in place, and the Government would soon pass a smoking ban for public places.
Abortion was not allowed, and there were no data on whether minors had travelled abroad to undertake abortions. Minors and young people could freely access contraception through care points, and schools ran campaigns on contraception use, although there had been some difficulties in getting Catholic schools to run those campaigns.
Turning to inclusive education, a delegate said that children with disabilities could attend mainstream schools where teachers had been specially trained to work with them. Many programmes for children with disabilities had been organized. Furthermore, a schooling support programme had been conducted, as well as an integration programme, and a new centre for children with disabilities had recently been opened.
Parliament was currently working on a draft law to amend the Penal Code in order to strengthen Andorra’s legislation on child pornography. Once it had been passed, that law would include dispositions to the Criminal Law that would even go further than the dispositions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
To date, there was no mechanism to monitor media activities or prevent violations of children’s right to privacy by the media. The National Commission for Equality had been created in 2010, and was followed by the drafting of a National Action Plan for Equality, which the Government hoped to launch soon.
JORGE CARDONA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Andorra, thanked the Delegation of Andorra for the rich dialogue held today, and expressed gratitude for their sincerity. Andorra had a clear will to improve the situation of its children and to overcome the challenges set by the economic crisis. Mr. Cardona said he was certain that the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations would be taken into due consideration. Strengthening civil society and social dialogue within the State would be an important step to promoting the rights of the child.
JOAN CARLES VILLAVERDE, Head of the Attention and Social Intervention Service at the Ministry for Health and Welfare and Head of the Delegation of Andorra, expressed his gratitude to the Committee for the dialogue and for the questions raised by the Experts. Andorra would continue its efforts to enhance the rights of its children.
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