COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF LIBERIA
18 September 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Liberia on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Juliette Duncan Cassel, Minister of Gender and Development said today was only the second time Liberia had met with the Committee on the Rights of the Child since the cessation of the war and the democratic election of the Government. The war years were a grim time for Liberia, and especially for its women and children, many of whom were recruited as fighters, and abused and exploited. Since the end of the war much progress had been made, and there had been significant advances for children’s rights thanks to the adoption of new legislation and policies, including the Children’s Law and a Bill of Rights for children. However, building a protective system for children and connecting its sub-systems in the fields of health, education, justice, water sanitation etcetera would require coordination and planning, while lack of financial resources constituted a significant obstacle.
During the discussion, Experts particularly praised the adoption of the Children’s Law in 2011. They asked questions about child soldiers, the juvenile judicial system in Liberia, the death penalty and corporal punishment, access to healthcare and education, discrimination against young girls, traditional harmful practices, abortion rates and other types of gender violence, child labour, human trafficking and the situation of refugees. The Committee experts praised Liberia for the ratification of the main international human rights instruments, and asked whether steps had been taken for the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention.
In preliminary concluding observations, Agnes Aidoo, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Liberia, said that she was impressed by the commitment of the delegation to the improvement of the rights of the child, and to serve the interests of children in an objective and concrete manner. The situation remained challenging but much progress had been made. More resources for children were needed, and Ms Aidoo hoped that Liberia would ensure that budgeting gave children what they deserved.
Juliette Duncan Cassel, Minister of gender and development and Head of the Delegation of Liberia, speaking in concluding remarks, reiterated the commitment of Liberia to children’s rights and in implementing the recommendations of the Committee. She noted the particular need for reforms in the elaboration of a National Action Plan, the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention, the implementation of the new Children’s Law, and the need to address legal inconsistencies in domestic legislation.
The delegation of Liberia consisted of the Ministers of Gender and Development, of Education, and of Justice and a representative of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Liberia towards the end of its session, which concludes on 5 October.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 September, when it will consider the combined second to fourth periodic reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CRC/C/BIH/2-4).
Report of Liberia
The combined 2nd to 4th periodic reports of Liberia can be read via the following link: CRC/C/LBR/2-4.
Presentation of the Report
JULIETTE DUNCAN CASSEL, Minister of Gender and Development, said that her delegation was excited to show progress made by Liberia in the field of children’s rights. Today was only the second time Liberia had met with the Committee on the Rights of the Child since the cessation of the war and the democratic election of the Government. The war years were a grim time for Liberia, and especially for its women and children, many of whom were recruited as fighters, and abused and exploited. Since the end of the war much progress had been made, and since 2006 there had been significant advances for children’s rights as Liberia passed key legislation and policies and adopted a new approach to children’s issues. The progress was illustrated by a new Poverty Reduction Strategy called ‘Agenda for Transformation’, devoted an entire section to human development with a strong focus on education, health, water and sanitation, and social protection, as well as youth empowerment. Key laws and policies had also been adopted, such as the National Gender Policy, the National Social Welfare Policy, the National Youth Policy, the Education Reform Act and the National Social Protection Policy and Plan.
The most important development was the adoption of the Children’s Law, which established that the best interest of the child should guide all decisions impacting children, and included a Bill of Rights for children. The Children’s Law mandated the establishment of a National Child Well-Being Council to exercise oversight over children’s issues. The Government had opened ‘safe houses’ for child survivors of violence, new orphanages, and rehabilitation services for child rape victims. Across the country there were youth programmes aimed at empowering young people and opening employment opportunities for them.
The sustainability of those programmes relied on their regular and uninterrupted budgeting, vigilant monitoring and accurate data collection, and much work needed to be done in those areas. In addition, Liberia was still struggling with human resources capacities and needed to invest in increasing the capacities of the relevant services. Building a protective system for children and connecting its sub-systems in the fields of health, education, justice, water sanitation etcetera would require coordination and planning. Lack of financial resources constituted a significant obstacle. Despite those challenges, Liberia was committed to ensuring children’s rights and developing a clear Agenda for Transformation. Liberia would implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Children's Fund to ensure birth registration of all children.
Questions from the Experts
AGNES AIDOO, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Liberia, said the very existence of Liberia had been threatened by continued war, which caused massive destruction of infrastructure and displacement of people. Since the war Liberia had seen a period of rapid reconstruction. However, challenges remained, such as security concerns and regional instability, geographical disparities such as inequalities between rural and urban areas, high levels of illiteracy, severe human resources constraints in the areas of health, education and security, gender disparities and pervasive gender-based violence against girls and women, and persistent negative customary practices. However, the report of Liberia showed that despite those challenges, immense progress had been made, through the adoption of new laws and reform of the criminal law. Key legislative reforms included the adoption of the Children’s Law in 2011, which constituted a comprehensive Bill Of Rights for children, the 2011 Education Reform Act, the 2006 Rape Law and the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Liberia had ratified most of the core international human rights instruments, including, in July 2012, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However Liberia had not ratified most of the Optional Protocols to those instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Would Liberia ratify the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?
The Rapporteur asked the delegation to clarify the schedule for legislative reform that would make Liberia’s laws consistent with the Children’s Law and the Convention. She asked whether the Division for Children’s Protection under the Ministry of Gender and Development had sufficient funding and authority to coordinate child rights. The Children’s Law allowed for the establishment of a National Council on Child Well-Being. When would that body be set up? Which civil society organizations were participating in the drafting of the National Plan of Action to implement the Convention and the Children’s Law? In the absence of a mechanism to tackle the allocation of resources for children, how did Liberia know that it was investing enough money to meet their specific needs?
Concerning the dissemination of the Convention and training of professionals to work with children, the Rapporteur asked whether adequate measures had been implemented to ensure that the Convention was becoming better known by the population – and by children? Did a child-friendly version of the Convention exist, and had the Convention been translated into local languages?
Committee Experts warmly welcomed the high level delegation, which consisted of four Government Ministers, and thanked the Minister of Gender and Development for her presentation of the report. Experts congratulated Liberia on its crucial transition process and for the great improvement and efforts in the field of children’s rights, particularly the adoption of the Children’s Law and legislative reform. What capacity did civil society have in Liberia, to what extend had it been consulted in the drafting of the periodic report, and was registration of civil society organizations restricted in any way?
Several Experts raised concerns about the role and status of the National Human Rights Institution of Liberia, which seemed to remain non-functional, and about its credibility and impartiality. An Expert expressed concerns that the country had not yet made a thorough review of its legislation in the light of the Convention. Some legislation remained in contradiction with the Convention, such as provisions on the minimum age for marriage or juvenile justice. An Expert said that the minimum legal age for marriage of girls should be brought to 18 years old.
Girls were particularly discriminated against, Experts said. What progress had been made in combating all forms of discrimination against girls? They had poor access to education and were often subjected to early marriage and female genital mutilation. Those traditional practices were very harmful to girls: the Expert asked whether the Government was conducting awareness raising campaigns on that issue. What was the Government doing to promote access to tests and treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases?
Regarding nationality, an Expert said that the referral to ‘African descent’ in nationality legislation could be considered discriminatory for non-Africans. Could women married to non-Africans transmit their Liberian nationality to their children? Several Experts expressed concerns about the lack of registration of children. Had birth registration in hospitals or mobile registration been considered, to ensure that all children were registered?
An Expert congratulated the State party on the fact that the freedom of expression of children was now recognized in law, and asked what concrete measures were taken to ensure that children enjoyed their rights to freedom of expression, and what actions were possible when that right was violated? How was the right to privacy for children protected, particularly in the fields of healthcare and education? An Expert expressed concern about the low rate of immunization of children with disabilities, particularly that parents did not immunize their disabled children.
Turning to juvenile justice, an Expert raised the issue of the death penalty and children. Could the Government ensure that children under 18 would definitely not be sentenced to death or sentenced to life in prison? Furthermore, did children have the right to be heard in judicial proceedings affecting them? The lack of data collection in the field of children’s rights remained an issue. Had progress been made, and were there special indicators relevant to children’s rights set by the State?
An Expert congratulated the inclusion of the principle of the best interest of the child in the Children’s Law adopted by Liberia. Was that principle developed into clear criteria in the national legislation? The principle also needed to be taken into consideration during the adoption of collective decisions, such as the adoption of budget. How far did the Government collaborate with the United Nations Children’s Fund and other United Nations agencies when taking into account the best interests of the child in collective decisions?
Response by the Delegation
The Liberian delegation began their response by saying that now that the war was over, it was necessary for Liberia to move forward. The future of Liberia was her children, the Head of Delegation said, deploring the generation that had been lost due to the war and emphasizing the importance in that context to ensure the education of children and youth. Liberia had already begun the process of the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention.
Concerning justice, the Government intended to set up a specific unit for children in conflict with the law within the Ministry of Justice. Historically, no child had been executed in Liberia, a delegate confirmed. However, it was clear that that was not enough, which was why the President of the Republic had implemented an institutional committee for that issue to be resolved. There had been one or two death sentences but they had been commuted by the Supreme Court. The death penalty was a highly sensitive issue in Liberia, and some people wished to keep it on the statute books in order to deter criminals, but perhaps in a few years it would be possible to abolish it entirely. In any event, the courts were reluctant to use the death penalty, and no child would be executed in Liberia. The principle of the best interest of the child would be clearly stated in the criminal law.
The National Human Rights Institution of Liberia was new and was currently operating slowly and more effort was needed to make it fully operational. Children’s rights would be dealt with independently rather than generally as part of Liberia’s human rights policies. A special unit would be established to address the specific issue of juvenile justice. Laws had been adopted to extend the jurisdiction of magistrate to encourage them to use probation as a form of alternative sentencing.
On the issue of the compatibility between domestic laws and the Convention, the delegation said that dispositions of the Convention, as well as of other relevant international instruments, were included in the Children’s Law.
Concerning traditional harmful practices for children, a delegate said that there were universal crimes – such as murder and rape - but harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation were not considered a crime because they were rooted in Liberian culture. Therefore in order to fight against such traditional cultural practices the Government sought to adopt an appropriate approach, in particularly targeting traditional leaders. Education programmes and awareness raising campaigns were being developed, in an effort to explain to the population – particularly those living in remote areas – that female genital mutilation and forced or early marriages violated the rights and well-being of girls. A national consultation was currently being held on how to harmonize customary and national law.
Regarding child marriage, there were many inconsistencies between statutory law and customary law. With regard to the acquisition of nationality, the citizenship law was totally obsolete and the authorities were working on a complete overhaul of the law. Liberians often preferred to use forms of traditional justice, so when told a rule of law was being established their first reaction was resistance or opposition. The Government then had to explain the need to develop policies and laws that complied with the Convention to which the country had subscribed. In cases of conflict between the Children’s Act and the common law, it was the child who prevailed. For example, if customary law cited that a child could marry at a certain age, but the State law said the marriageable age was different, then State law would prevail.
A delegate said that the Government was aware that the nationality law was not in line with international standards, and that it would be changed. The Government was also working on eradicating corruption and lawyers had been specifically trained to prosecute corruption cases. The administration of justice in Liberia faced immense challenges due to the high numbers of cases that needed to be reviewed and the poor human and financial resources available.
Birth registration was carried out in hospitals and clinics, and there had been an attempt to create mobile registration units. The main challenge was in registering births that took place at home, or elsewhere outside of public facilities. Birth registration was free, as was healthcare and public facilities.
Radio programmes that explained human rights in simple terms had been broadcast, in order to broaden the knowledge of international standards, including the Convention. Radio stations broadcasted special programmes for children that examined issues that affected them in schools, every Saturday at 10 a.m. Children were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and their place into society.
The Ministry of Gender’s division for children did not have enough financial support to be able to fully carry out its work. The Government planned to change the name of that Ministry to include protection of children in its title, and to allocate more funds to allow it to intensify its work in that field.
Questions from the Experts
AGNES AIDOO, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Liberia, said that the notion of child protection was too narrow and advised the State party to include the concept of children’s rights in the title of the Ministry for Gender. The Rapporteur noted with satisfaction that an Adoption Bill would be adopted, and asked what steps had been undertaken to ratify international conventions in the field of adoption. Were human rights, including the rights of the child, as well as the concept of tolerance, were being taught at school?
Child soldiers were a serious problem of in Liberia. Could the delegation give information on measures to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers? What was being done to prevent the new recruitment of children? Could more details be provided about the Juvenile Justice Programme, and the activities undertaken for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers through education? What measures were being taken to prevent the recruitment of children in border areas, in particular with regard to the situation in Côte d'Ivoire?
The situation of child labour was also very serious in Liberia. Did any legislation define dangerous work and the most dangerous forms of child labour? Did the Government plan to become party to the International Labour Organization’s Convention on the most dangerous forms of child labour? What efforts had been undertaken to address the issue of child labour? An expert asked for clarifications on the age limits for working in Liberia.
What actions were being carried out to combat human and sexual trafficking of children? What about gender training for teachers, in order to prevent child abuse?
Teenage pregnancy was increasing in Liberia. Were there some programmes or plans to deal with the issue? What access did teenage mothers have to medical services, and what was being done to address the high rates of abortion in Liberia? How far was the National Youth Policy tackling the issue of the use of drugs? What special efforts were Liberia making to tackle mother-to-child transmission of AIDS? How did Liberia include child’s rights aspects in its Poverty Reduction Strategy? On the issue of access to healthcare, an Expert said that the maternity death rate was still high in Liberia, and asked whether the Government was undertaking efforts to ensure access to affordable healthcare for women and children.
Were there any specific training for judicial officials on juvenile justice, and whether children enrolled in the judicial system were separated from adults? Some provisions of the Children’s Law did go beyond the provisions of the Convention, an Expert recognized, but challenges remained and other dispositions in the State party’s laws were in contradiction with the Convention. Were children separated from adults in prisons?
Had the Government taken any action to end corporal punishment?
Experts praised the efforts and money allocated to improve education. Some outlined difficulties to address the issue of gender equality in the field of education, and asked what efforts were being made to address that. The fact that 68 per cent of children were not attending school was alarming. What was being done to improve the enrolment of children in schools? Did Liberia have a childhood investment strategy? An Expert welcomed the fact that the Children’s Law included provisions to integrate children with disabilities in education, and asked what concrete steps had been undertaken on this topic. Was education compulsory for disabled children? Were there awareness-raising campaigns for parents on the rights of children with disabilities, including on vaccination?
Turning to refugees, an Expert observed that many were children and sometimes unaccompanied. How did the authorities deal with them? Were they separated from adults in refugee camps? Were there any asylum seekers in Liberia? If so, what measures were taken to protect the children of asylum seekers? Another Expert asked about the phenomena of children fleeing from orphanages and other institutions, and how the Government dealt with that.
Response by the Delegation
On the subject of juvenile justice, training would be carried out with police officers, prosecutors and the judiciary so that they learnt how to deal with children involved in the judicial system and about the particular risks they faced. The Government would train peer counsellors, in order to enable young people to work with children in the judicial system.
With respect to refugees, the State conducted investigations on unaccompanied children and contacted the third country from where those children originated. Liberia worked together with various international organizations to find the families of unaccompanied children. In the meantime, the Government took care of those children and provided them with education and healthcare.
The Government was furthering its efforts to combat child trafficking. Prosecutions had been carried out recently, and the delegation hoped that that would set an example and show persons involved in human trafficking that they would be held accountable, whether they were Liberian citizens or not.
The Government cared about child labour, and would support the ratification of any instrument that could help it improve the employment conditions in Liberia. Under Liberian law, any person under 18 was considered a child, but there were some inconsistencies with other laws that related to criminal justice. Indeed, the criminal law gave judges the choice to decide whether criminals between the age of 16 and 18 should be tried as adults or not. That inconsistency would be discussed and debated.
The Government was making efforts to end child marriage in practice. Challenges remained, and lack of resources was still a considerable obstacle. Building capacity had been a priority for the current Government, and continued to improve in all sectors.
Much progress had been made in the area of school attendance since the submission of the report, especially for girls. The Government planned to build schools in remote areas where there was a lack of education services.
On the issue of girls dropping out of school, a delegate said that efforts were being made to ensure that any teacher caught harassing girls was identified and made to attend training programmes. Efforts were also undertaken to increase the number of female teachers, as unfortunately there were very few currently.
The Government had carried peace training in local communities, called ‘peace clubs’, as forums where discussions about peace and reconciliation could take place. There were no specific education programmes on the teaching of child rights at school, but gender training would soon be on the curriculum. Training programmes for teachers were in place to teach them about children’s rights or child abuse. An Early Childhood Programme was currently being implemented.
There was a need to address issues faced by young and teenage girls, which were different to the ones faced by boys. Job training, literacy, social protection and other programmes had been implemented to empower women and prevent them from going onto the streets and using drugs. Furthermore, as gender was a horizontal issue, gender training was taking place in different sectors, for example for law enforcement officers and teachers.
The Government had undertaken activities to improve access to healthcare for children, and to combat child mortality, for example by improving the quality of water and sanitation. The lack of human resources and facilities remained a challenge. The salaries of clinical staff had been increased, in order to dissuade them from working abroad or leaving their jobs. More HIV/AIDS testing centres were being opened. Unfortunately, abortion was illegal in Liberia, but a lot of abortions took place clandestinely. There was no problem in vaccinating children with disabilities, since the authorities went from door by door to perform vaccinations on all children.
Children fleeing from orphanages was not an issue in Liberia, the delegation said. Instead the authorities had to convince non-orphans to leave orphanages. Liberia worked closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund on the implementation of the United Nations guidelines on alternative care in those cases.
On the question of corporal punishment, a delegate said that a recent survey showed that people continued to secretly use corporal punishment and harmful practices in the framework of old traditional and tribal justice systems, even though they had been abolished for a long time. Corporal punishment was no longer practiced in schools. The law provided disposition to ensure that teachers who used corporal punishment were suspended.
AGNES AIDOO, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Liberia, speaking in preliminary concluding observations, said that she was impressed by the commitment of the delegation to the improvement of the rights of the child, and to serve the interests of children in an objective and concrete manner. The situation remained challenging but much progress had been made. The newly adopted Children’s Law created a true bill of rights for children, and the Committee was full supportive of Liberia continuing in that direction. The harmonization of the laws and their consistency with the Convention would be tackled in the recommendations by the Committee. More resources for children were needed, and Ms Aidoo hoped that Liberia would ensure that budgeting gave children what they deserved. The Committee would also make further recommendations on corporal punishment and more generally on the field of juvenile justice.
JULIETTE DUNCAN CASSEL, Minister of Gender and Development, thanked the Committee and said that the discussions had been very fruitful. She reiterated the commitment of Liberia to children’s rights and in implementing the recommendations of the Committee. She noted the particular need for reforms in the elaboration of a National Action Plan, the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention, the implementation of the new Children’s Law, and the need to address legal inconsistencies in domestic legislation.
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Chairperson of the Committee, called on Liberia to also ratify the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which established a Communication Procedure, and thanked the Delegation for their commitment and cooperation.
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