COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD HEARS REPORT OF ALGERIA
8 June 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the combined third and fourth periodic report of Algeria on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Boudjemaa Delmi, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the main initiatives in Algeria aimed to gradually bring domestic legislation in conformity with the Convention, and included the reform of the Law on Nationality and the Family Code and setting up a number of central institutions which within their specific competencies were able to contribute to the protection of the rights of women and children. Education was a vital domain that enjoyed the attention of the Government and reforms undertaken since 2000 had improved the quality of health care, particularly maternal and child health. The 2005-2012 Strategy to Combat Violence against Children was focused on preventing different forms of violence in the family, school and public domains. Algeria reiterated its commitment to addressing school drop outs, child labour, juvenile delinquency, and violence against children.
The Committee commended the progress Algeria had made in promoting and protecting the rights of children and women and noted the rapid progress in health and education indicators; however, there was still an absence of a true coordination body that would have legitimacy and authority to implement the Convention, and it was a source of concern for the Committee. Experts welcomed the increase in resources for social services in Algeria and asked how the Government ensured appropriate budgetary management to make it more transparent, result-oriented and visible. The fight against corruption did not seem to be making too much headway and measures to combat discrimination against women met with persistent traditional social attitudes and patriarchal stances; what was the Government doing to combat those phenomena? The Committee Experts further asked what was being done to curb the high infant mortality rate which stood at 18 per thousand and particularly the mortality within the first week of life which was when most deaths occurred.
In concluding remarks, Hadeel Al-Asmar, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Algeria, said that it was important for Algeria to assess the National Action Plan for Childhood and to focus better on vulnerable groups of children and the provision of services without any form of discrimination. The best interest of the child must be respected, especially in kafala, and the working of children in families needed to be revisited.
Also in concluding observations, Mr. Delmi said that Algeria appreciated the commitment of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and thanked its Experts for a frank and open dialogue. This would help Algeria to take remedial measures, evaluate the number of gaps that remained and the areas that required further attention by the authorities.
Jean Zermatten, the Committee Chairperson, in closing remarks hoped that the concluding observations would be taken into account by Algeria for the promotion and protection of the rights of children in this country.
The delegation of Algeria consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Family and Women Issues, the Ministry of Interior and Local Authorities, Surete nationale, the National Advisory Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
When the Committee next meets in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 15 June it will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports which it has reviewed this session and will then close the session.
The combined third and fourth periodic report of Algeria can be read here: (CRC/C/DZA/3-4).
Presentation of the Report
BOUDJEMAA DELMI, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Algeria had ratified the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the sale of children in 2006 and on children in armed conflict in 2009. International instruments ratified by Algeria had primacy over domestic legislation. On the domestic plan, the main initiatives taken by the Government aimed to gradually bring Algerian national legislation in conformity with the Convention, and included the reform of the Law on Nationality, the Family Code, and creation of a number of central institutions which within their specific competencies were able to contribute to the protection of the rights of women and children. The definition of the child in Algeria conformed to the Convention and each child was registered upon birth. The age of marriage had been set at 19 years for both men and women and Algerian women could now pass their nationality on to their children. The institutional framework for the promotion of children and family had been strengthened with the creation of two new mechanisms: the National Council for Family and Women in 2006 and the National Centre for Research, Information and Documentation for Family, Women and Children in 2010. The objectives of the National Action Plan for Children 2008-2015 were the promotion of the right to education, protection against abuse and violence, and the promotion of the rights of the child.
Education was a vital domain that enjoyed the attention of the Government and universal education up to the age of 16 was a constitutional right. More than 98 per cent of children under six were enrolled in primary schools, while 96 per cent of children aged six to 16 attended schools. Reforms undertaken by the Government since 2000 had improved the quality of health care, particularly maternal and child health. The National Strategy to Combat Violence against Children 2005-2012 was focused on preventing different forms of violence against children in different walks of life, such as family, schools and public spaces. Corporal punishment was strictly forbidden in schools and home, and in all other contexts and institutions. Victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking were never treated as criminals but as victims. Algeria had adopted all the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including those that protected children within the family, its environment and society, from all dangers and abuses. The Government would continue to take action to address school drop outs, child labour, juvenile delinquency and violence against children.
Questions by the Experts
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the Report of Algeria, noted with satisfaction that the state of emergency had been lifted in February 2011 and said that the natural resources of Algeria had enabled it to pay off its debts and set up the Sovereign Fund. The Committee further noted the progress Algeria had made in promoting and protecting the rights of children and women and the rapid progress in the health and education indicators. Despite its wealth, the budget for children and women had not changed much and represented only 4 per cent of the Government budget as opposed to 17 per cent allocated to the military. Family benefits were rather meagre and it was not possible to see redistribution of the national wealth. There were also regional disparities between the south and the north plateau and employment was still a major challenge for all. The Chairperson asked if Algeria envisaged a change in its position regarding her reservations and what was the status of the 2005 project of a law to protect children. Legislation concerning family still did not sufficiently protect mothers and children born out of wedlock. There was still an absence of a true coordination body that would have legitimacy and authority to implement the Convention, and it was a source of concern for the Committee. What was the role of the new National Council for Women? Mr. Zermatten further asked questions concerning the National Action Plan 2008-2015 for children: who was responsible for its management, whether strategic plans for education, health and other vital sectors integrated into this plan, and who was aware of this plan. Mr. Zermatten noted that very little progress had been made since 2008 in terms of data collection and asked how national plans, strategies and policies were designed in the absence of reliable data.
HADEEL AL-ASMAR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Report of Algeria, noted that the Government had improved living standards and maternal mortality rates had gone down. There was a clear political will to create space for young people to express themselves and participate in the development of policies. In spite of this a study indicated that a great percentage of parents and children were not aware of children’s right to be heard. Significant numbers of children born in provinces were not registered at birth, did not attend public school and learned writing and reading in Koranic school. Corporal punishment was still tolerated socially and people exercising this punishment were not punished. Ms. Al-Asmar asked the delegation to provide further information about training and dissemination of the provisions of the Convention and its translation into local languages? Was there an express law that criminalized corporal punishment in care centres and at home?
Committee Experts recognized the increase in resources for social services in Algeria and asked how the Government ensured appropriate budgetary management of those increased resources and to make it more transparent, result-oriented and visible. The fight against corruption seemed not to make too much headway, which was also a concern expressed by the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; what was the Government doing to combat this phenomenon? Progress had been made in combating discrimination against women, but the Committee was concerned about persistent attitudes and patriarchal stances and traditional roles of women and men in the society. Of particular concern was the inheritance law and practices which disproportionately affected women and girls. What measures was the Government taking to do away with discrimination against women?
Some reports indicated that non-governmental organizations had little space and capacity to engage with the Government and Experts wondered what could be done to address this. What was being done to curb the high infant mortality rate which stood at 18 per thousand, particularly mortality within the first week of life which was when most deaths occurred: 14 per one thousand? How was the right to privacy of children protected and implemented in practice? Was the Convention directly applicable in domestic legislation? The Committee was concerned about the reservations of Algeria which related to the fundamental freedoms of children and asked what the reasons were to enter those reservations. Families registering their children with Berber names experienced difficulties and had to choose from a list of pre-approved names. The Committee had expressed its concerns in 1997 and again in 2005 about the use of corporal punishment in Algeria; in 2010 the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reiterated those concerns too. What were the objective parameters to decide whether any action of state officials was in the best interest of the child? Most data that was available was police data, noted the Committee, and asked where the child protection data was.
Response by the Delegation
The Family Code had been amended in 2005 and there were sections directly connected to the best interests of the child. Divorce was now subject to conditions which curtailed the man’s specific intentions in divorce and the unilateral desire of the husband to divorce; in other words, it was much harder to get a divorce. There must be agreement of spouses for divorce - not only the first wife, but also the second. Women now could use a hala, a vow for divorce, and the judge had no discretional power to grant or prevent divorce. The conditions for polygamy had become stricter; both the first and second wives had to provide consent. The care of children was guided with the principle of the best interest of the child and mothers came first and fathers came second in terms of being granted custody of children; previously if mothers worked judges hesitated to give custody to mothers, but now employment did not prevent mothers from being granted custody of their children. The decision about custody of the child was not set in stone and could change depending on the circumstances and age of the child.
Algeria was trying to gradually remove polygamy from law and practice and it was harder to contract subsequent marriages. There was polygamy in Algeria and the efforts of the Government were directed to managing and limiting it. The Family Code still upheld the prohibition for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim; such marriages were not annulled however and the children born in such marriages were granted the nationality of the mother; they could also take nationality of the father. There were many mixed couples in Algeria and in Europe as well among Algerian emigrants.
Committee Experts noted that children born out of wedlock must be given two surnames, which contributed to their stigmatization and meant that they were not on an equal legal footing with children born in wedlock. Did those children enjoy the same rights under the law?
Responding, the delegation said that any child born on Algerian territory had the right to bear the name of their parents, whether born in or out of wedlock. Paternity was established by marriage and also by paternal recognition, which was new in the Family Code, although a judge might request scientific proof for the recognition. It was true that there were rights that stemmed from the recognition of paternity, such as the right to inheritance. The children born out of wedlock did have the same rights, but those rights such as the right to the father’s name or inheritance must be conferred by a judge. In 2009 there had been 2,600 births out of wedlock and 1,900 in 2010.
The reservations of Algeria to the Convention were still in place in the national legislation, but the country would be reviewing many legal texts in the country including the Constitution. The examination of other international instruments to which Algeria was not yet a party was ongoing. The Code on the Protection of Children was in the course of being adopted; currently Algeria was preparing judges and magistrates to properly implement child protection issues contained in the Code, including new trends in juvenile justice such as mediation or reparatory redemptive juvenile justice.
The creation of the National Council for Family and Women in 2006 meant that the State really wanted to improve the situation of women, children and the elderly. There was an intention to create a high-level mechanism to ensure coordination between the various bodies and stakeholders. The budgets were prepared on the expert level and then submitted to ministries and were adopted by the Cabinet and then the Parliament. Two Ministries were in charge of children’s affairs and their budgets were drawn on the basis of their expectations and the needs.
Committee Experts asked what budget was granted to the National Action Plan for Children and how the time for its implementation in practice was allocated within the responsible ministries.
Responding, the delegation said that many ministries had within their budgets allocations for activities contained in this National Action Plan. Information about the implementation of the National Action Plan would be provided at a later stage.
Questions by Experts
In a second round of questions and comments, Experts said that the right to housing should cover all citizens, but interpretation of this right for single mothers was different. There was a tendency to institutionalize children born out of wedlock, said a Committee Expert, and asked what measures were taken to ensure that women were appropriately able to provide for children. There was a limited enjoyment of the rights of children with disabilities and the Committee noted that there was a need to step up action for those children, particularly in school, family and health care. Further problems persisted with refugee children or children who were illegally present in the territory of Algeria. International organizations provided assistance to refugees in the area of access to basic services, such as in Tindouf camp, but the situation for illegal refugees was difficult.
Access to education for girls was an issue of concern for the Committee, as were school drop out rates and lower levels of enrolment in secondary schools. The principle of non-refoulement sometimes was not observed in cases of unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers and refugee children. Around 300,000 children under the age of 16 were working and this was one of the elements affecting the standard of living. Of particular concern were children working in dangerous industries such as construction. What measures was Algeria taking to address this issue?
There had been significant changes in the levels of poverty in Algeria and the country had accumulated wealth, but the disparity and inequality were obvious. The State budget was essentially used for short term grants and did not tackle structural and root causes of poverty and inequality. How did the Government tackle issues of poverty and inequality in the country?
The delegation was asked to comment on the different rights to inherit between boys and girls, and men and women; regional disparity in access and quality of education, health services and access to housing; the high number of abductions of children born in mixed marriages; the enjoyment of the right to play by girls as a group; and the legislation on non-State actors and their recruitment of children for use in hostilities.
Questions by Experts
The Labour Code of Algeria had set the minimum age of employment at the age of 16 and prohibited the participation of minors in dangerous and hazardous work; as such, this Code was much more advanced than in many other countries. Definition of minor and hazardous work were however lacking from this Code. Child labour was more prevalent in families due to the lack of control mechanisms that could prevent it. The Ministry of Justice had announced in 2007 that it had drafted a Child Protection Law, but this draft law had not yet been adopted by Parliament. What was the status of this law and what was the mechanism in place to monitor and sanction employment of children under the age of 16?
The Committee noted with satisfaction that the regime of kafala meant that the kafil could give his name to the kaful which was a sign that it was possible to provide better protection to the child under this system. The kafala stated that there was no smooth transition of the child to another family if that was necessary. How was a stable situation for a child ensured? What was the proportion of children taken by their mothers and how were they supported to maintain family units?
An Expert asked the delegation to provide the number of children who were sexually abused and to inform the Committee about the measures taken to prevent sexual exploitation and raise awareness about this taboo phenomenon. Did the law distinguish between human trafficking and illegal immigration? What was the status of human trafficking combating brigades allegedly set by the police?
A Committee Expert commended Algeria for advances made in providing access to maternal and child health and noted that the death of infants in the first week of life needed to be looked into. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months was extremely low at just over six per cent and could be contributing to increasing under-nourishment of children under five. The infant code and breastfeeding practices, as well as maternity leave, were some of the issues to look into.
Response by Delegation
Algeria acknowledged regional disparities and disparities between some groups of the population. In the new five-year plan, $ 286 million were dedicated to human development and the improvement of living standards. The Law on National Education explicitly prohibited the use of corporal punishment in schools and there were follow up mechanisms to monitor its implementation such as the anti-violence commission in schools. A series of measures had been undertaken to prevent sexual violence against children, such as the establishment of specialised police brigades, awareness days by the police force, and others. Algeria had participated in Interpol work on sexual exploitation and abuse and had had a training programme financed by the European Union from which 100 police officers had benefitted.
Algeria would be taking action in 2012 to ensure that children enjoyed childhood, which would include combating child mortality, improving access to information and communication technology, providing each family with a computer, and establishing child communal centres on local levels.
The Government placed an emphasis on coordination between the State and non-governmental institutions which played an active role and worked in close cooperation with various ministries on issues of the rights of the child, including sport, health, youth, and others. This coordination had existed for about 10 years now and a number of agreements had been signed with institutions on a whole range of issues.
Turning to the theme of children with disabilities, particularly in the context of schooling, the delegation said that a number of agreements on this subject had been established with various organizations. There were 57 classes distributed throughout “ordinary” schools which enrolled 1,150 children with disabilities. Some 186 establishments were specialized in providing schooling for 16,000 children with various types of disabilities, such as visual impairment, motor disabilities, and other. The Government was trying to develop policies to ensure that children with disabilities had full access to education.
The Committee noted the number of children enrolled in “ordinary” and special education centres, and said that there were many more children with disabilities in the country and Experts asked where those children were. Was there sufficient specialisation for teaching children with disabilities in teachers’ training colleges?
Responding, the delegation said teacher training was based on international standards and Algeria was cooperating with the United Nations Children Fund and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation in this regard. The education system in Algeria was still under development and there were experimental classes for children with dyslexia and such efforts were showing some success. Schools were also becoming more open to the general environment and there were efforts to provide assistance to children in need inside and outside of classrooms. The head of delegation clarified that there were 16,000 children with disabilities in the school system in specialised schools. The figure of 1,150 disabled students in inclusive education referred to only one academic year.
A Committee Expert noted that the action plan for the integration of children with disabilities into the school system had affected only 40 classes. In response, the delegation said that no child was turned away from registering for schooling and if children with disabilities were to be taken into mainstream schools, some rehabilitation of schools was needed to ensure that schools were accessible. Between 10 to 14 years of schooling were obligatory in Algeria, which was in line with international standards. There was a commission that every year undertook a survey about all types of violence in schools, including sexual violence and corporal punishment.
Turning to the situation of child refugees in Algeria, the delegation said that Algeria had for a long time been a country of destination for neighbouring countries from the region. It did not harm the fundamental rights of foreigners, be they refugees or asylum seekers; those rights were protected by the Constitution and international and regional treaties to which Algeria was a party. In terms of the infrastructure profile, the Sahara refugees everywhere and not only in Tinduf benefitted from many services. The rights of the child migrants were protected like those of Algerian children.
The Committee asked for further clarification about the Algerian Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons and the treatment of non-accompanied minors in Algerian territory, particularly in terms of their identification, age determination, care, legal assistance, and guardianship. The delegation was also asked to comment on the possibility of Algeria being a country of destination or a country of transit for trafficked children.
The delegation said that the Algerian Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons was a permanent structure that formed a bridge between a refugee and the Government and set refugee law in Algeria; in other words, they were a guarantee that Algeria was living up to its international obligations relative to refugees and asylum-seekers.
Algeria had ratified the principal international instruments concerning child labour, whose provisions had found their way into domestic legislation. Less than one per cent of children under the age of 16 were employed and the delegation was perplexed at the figure of 300,000 children at work quoted by the Committee this morning. Algeria considered that children between 16 and 18 years of age, who were authorised to work, were protected by law in terms of their health and morals.
Concerning children who had entered Algerian territory with their parents and children who lost their parents in the course of migration, the delegation said that border police were very sensitive and child protection brigades became involved together with the United Nations Children’s Fund and other international organizations. After consultations were carried out with the Government of the child, steps would be taken to repatriate the child. Algeria worked with a number of institutions to identify unaccompanied children arriving to Algeria. Mali and Niger had consulates in Algerian provinces, which were in charge of establishing the identity of those children and determining their age. If that failed, then the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would assist with their repatriation to their country of origin and until that happened children would remain in specialized centres.
Abandonment in kafala was taken with agreement of the court that had approved the kafala. In case of death, there were measures in place to ensure continuity of care for the child, such as care of the child being taken by competent institutions, placing of child in care of biological parents if they existed, or paid foster care.
The age of criminal responsibility in Algeria was 18 and not 13 years of age at date of offence. An offending minor aged below 13 could be sent back to his parents or guardian, might be supervised or placed in an institution for vocational training which was authorised to carry out such activities, or was placed in a boarding school appropriate for juvenile offenders of school age. A minor aged over 13 could also be placed in public institution but in no case whatsoever could a minor be placed in prison with adults. Algeria was in a process of instituting protection, re-education and rehabilitation centres for minors, built to international standards and in consultation with international experts.
There were 1,555 cases of sexual abuse of children in 2010. The Algerian Criminal Code sanctioned sexual abuse and awareness raising activities were taking place in schools so that children knew what precautionary measures to use. Legal mechanisms against violence had been revised to provide for more severe sanctions. Specific provisions on violence against women and children were currently being considered in the draft revision of the criminal code. The Committee Chairperson noted a lacuna in the law concerning marital rape and the delegation said that it indeed was not defined in the legislation and was a taboo issue in the society. But if a case of this kind went to a judge, rape provisions would be applied regardless of who committed the crime. Algeria was also currently discussing the definition of rape to include in its legislation.
There were 47 establishments that provided care for children. The Ministry of Solidarity was responsible for a part of this portfolio. The Government provided sufficient assistance to foster parents to enable them to properly care for children. Assistance was also provided to single mothers to care adequately for their children.
In the area of health and child health in particular, a great deal of progress had been made. Under five and infant mortality rates were reduced and Algeria was moving steadily towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Despite the human and material resources dedicated to the reduction in mortality, there were still some gaps in neonatal period. Some 70 to 80 per cent of infant deaths occurred between 0 and 28 days of life. The Government tried to address this with vaccination programmes and had taken measures and had established programmes to combat maternal mortality rates. This programme had been extended in 2011 and efforts had been stepped up to improve the infrastructure for child health. Neonatal units had been established to treat children with low birth weight and a number of technical steps had been undertaken to improve the technical side of those programmes. The health care system had been restructured to provide better services to newborns and better follow up services. Specialised programmes targeting children and adolescents were also in place while breastfeeding was being promoted in order to improve low breastfeeding rates.
Algeria was experiencing economic and societal difficulties and as a result children often existed in informal sectors, either working or living in the streets and were in difficult situations. The Ministry of Solidarity and the Ministry for Women and Children were responsible to identify solutions to those issues and provide care to street children. There were mobile care centres, shelters and other measures available to children working or living in the streets.
HADEEL AL-ASMAR, Committee Rapporteur for the Report of Algeria, said that it was important for Algeria to reconsider its reservations, to bring legislation in conformity with international instruments and to assess the National Action Plan for Childhood and follow up on it. More focus on vulnerable groups of children and provision of services without any form of discrimination were needed. The best interest of the child must be respected, especially in kafala, while the working of children in families needed to be revisited and monitored. Also, Algeria should expedite establishment of centres for youth in conflict with the law.
BOUDJEMAA DELMI, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Algeria appreciated the commitment of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and thanked its Experts for a frank and open dialogue. This would help Algeria to take remedial measures, and to evaluate the number of gaps that remained and the areas that required further attention by the authorities. The development in the legislative, institutional and political spheres would make it possible for Algeria to honour its commitments. Algeria had already made significant efforts to respect the rights of the child but more efforts needed to be done.
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee hoped that the concluding observations would be taken into account by Algeria for the promotion and protection of the rights of children in this country.
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