15 January 2016
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second and third periodic report of Haiti on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ariel Henry, Minister of Social Affairs and Work of Haiti, presenting the report, said that since the initial report was considered in 2002, Haiti had not submitted any further reports due to various factors, including political instability and natural catastrophes. Two of the three Optional Protocols to the Convention had been ratified by Haiti. Haiti had also ratified a number of other relevant international conventions and covenants, including those on the rights of persons with disabilities and against the worst forms of child labour. Specialized judges for juvenile justice had been appointed to 17 out of 18 courts of first instance. Training curricula for police officers had been revised to include provisions on children’s rights. A rehabilitation centre for minors in conflict with the law had been created. The Government coordinated national and international efforts within the relevant sectors to fight child labour.
In the interactive discussion which followed, Committee Experts expressed understanding for the difficulties which Haiti had gone through in the previous period. They appreciated the adopted legal framework, but wanted to know more about how exactly it was being implemented in practical terms. The application of the best interests of the child was discussed, as well as child labour, the status of restavecs, and the condition of children living on the streets. Experts wanted to know more about adoption rules, the prosecution of those involved in sexual assaults against children, the registration of children in rural and distant areas, the status of children born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, and the overall condition of adolescents’ health. Data collection, the dissemination of the norms included in the Convention, the economic exploitation of children and the status of children born outside of wedlock were also discussed.
Amal Salman Aldoseri, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Haiti, in concluding remarks, stated that the Committee understood the magnitude of the devastation by the 2010 earthquake. Big challenges lay ahead, and the State party had significant responsibility towards the children of Haiti. It was hoped that Haiti would revise the existing laws to bring them fully in line with the Convention.
Mr. Henry, in his closing remarks, said that the follow-up to the implementation of the Convention was very important to the Government. Everything was being done to ensure that the Convention was fully applied, with a particular emphasis on addressing the shortcomings.
The delegation of Haiti included representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, Institute of Social Wellbeing and Research, and the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 19 January, when Chamber A will consider the second periodic report of Zimbabwe (CRC/C/ZWE/2) and Chamber B will consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Maldives (CRC/C/MDV/4-5).
The combined second and third periodic report of Haiti can be found here: CRC/C/HTI/2-3.
Presentation of the Report
ARIEL HENRY, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour of Haiti, said that Haiti had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, and since then had raised it to the rank of the Constitution. Since the initial report was considered in 2002, Haiti had not submitted any further reports due to various factors, including political instability and natural catastrophes. Haiti was committed to respecting its international commitments. The current report had two aims: to supply information on the implementation of the Convention, taking into consideration the Committee’s recommendations, and to underscore the efforts of the Government to bring the legislation and practice in line with the obligations provided by the Convention.
Haiti had adopted various measures with the view of preventing infractions of children’s rights. Primacy was given to education and equality between sexes was promoted. As recommended by the Committee, considerable progress had been made in bringing Haitian legislation in line with the Convention. While legal discrimination of children had disappeared with the ratification of the Convention, up until 2013 the Civil Code had still contained certain discriminatory provisions, including those affecting children born out of wedlock. Haitian law now considered those children to be on equal footing with all other children. Two of the three Optional Protocols to the Convention had been ratified by Haiti, said Mr. Henry. Haiti had also ratified a number of other relevant international conventions and covenants, including those on the rights of persons with disabilities and against the worst forms of child labour. Haiti had adopted laws on banning all kinds of corporal punishment and provisions on regularizing civil registration of people without birth certificates.
Following specific recommendations by the Committee, a draft Children’s Code had been prepared and put to the Parliament in 2014; the recently constituted Parliament would look at the text. Specialized judges for juvenile justice had been appointed to 17 out of 18 courts of first instance. Training curricula for police officers had been revised to include provisions on children’s rights. A rehabilitation centre for minors in conflict with the law had been created, and a unit for the protection of children’s rights had been created within the Office of Protection of Citizens. An inter-ministerial committee for the rights of persons had been put in place, as well as a committee to combat trafficking in human beings. The Government had made operational a free hotline for children, to which abuses and maltreatment of children could be reported. An inventory of children’s homes had been created, allowing the authorities to control more effectively conditions in such homes.
With regard to information, awareness raising and education measures had been taken by Government entities with responsibilities related to the rights of the child. On 20 November each year, a number of activities were undertaken to spread the values of the Convention. The Government coordinated national and international efforts within relevant sectors to fight child labour. State efforts had been reinforced by civil society initiatives. Regarding children with disabilities, the authorities had organized awareness raising campaigns and training, and had cooperated with associations of persons with disabilities.
Blanket detention of children in conflict with the law had been eliminated. The Government was well aware that certain situations did not meet international standards. The right to a fair trial within a reasonable time period was one of the underpinnings of the rule of law. The National Strategy to Reduce Maternal Mortality had been put in place in 2012 in cooperation with international partners. Progress had also been made with regard to vaccinations and expanding the health coverage of children. The HIV/AIDS epidemic remained a great challenge for the health system; the prevalence of the virus had decreased and significant progress had been made in cutting down mother-to-child transmissions. The Government had also made efforts to ensure that every child had access to quality education, and the net rate of schooling now stood at 90 per cent; four per cent of the GDP was dedicated to education.
Haiti had to further focus on children in poverty, who were vulnerable and were still at risk of exploitation. Haiti was deeply committed to working with international partners to ameliorate the overall conditions of children in the country. Political will was unquestionable both on behalf of the authorities and civil society.
Questions by Experts
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Haiti, noted that the second and third periodic reports had been submitted with a 10 year delay, which could be largely explained by natural disasters and political crises.
Many efforts had been made to ensure that Haitian legislation was in conformity with international standards, but implementation was still considered to be a challenge. The public and children themselves seemed not be aware of the Convention’s provisions.
There was no coordinating body within Haiti to address all children-related issues. Was there a plan to establish such an organ?
There was a degree of ambiguity about the national plan for the implementation of the Convention – could the delegation provide more details?
Human and material resources of the national human rights institution seemed to be lacking. Was it able to take complaints and make suggestions to the authorities?
The Expert asked about the modalities of the Government’s cooperation with civil society and how it had been involved in the drafting of the current report.
Details were asked on how well known the principle of the best interest of the child was. Were courts aware of it and did they apply it in their dealings?
The definition of the child in Haiti was questionable, and the delegation was asked to provide clarifications.
AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Haiti, raised the issue of non-discrimination and asked about children born out of wedlock before the adoption of recent norms on their rights. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children seemed to be still discriminated against. How had ratifications by Haiti of various international conventions been put into practice, asked the Expert.
What training was conducted for those in contact with children to give consideration to the views of a child in all settings? What platforms were in place for children to express themselves? Were a child’s views taken into consideration when it came to adoption?
The Expert also wanted to know about the reportedly high number of children who still lacked birth certificates. Was monitoring conducted to ensure that registrations were done free of charge?
A question was asked on whether mothers could pass their nationality to their children.
What happened to the children of Haitian descent who had been expelled from the Dominican Republic – were they provided with identification documents?
The delegation was asked to provide data on gender-based violence against girls, and to explain what was being done to avoid the re-victimization of such girls. Perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence seemed often to go unpunished. What protection services were provided for the victims?
Corporal punishment was still widely applied. What awareness-raising activities were conducted in that regard, asked the Expert.
The majority of people in rural areas seemed to be married under traditional contractual rules with economic implications. How did that affect the children?
Another Expert inquired about measures taken in rural areas to ensure birth registration. Civil registration documents seemed not to be available in all communes. What was being done to move such services closer to people and improve conditions at civil registries?
A question was asked on whether the national archives were decentralized. If not, how could people from distant areas access them?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation appreciated that the Committee recognized the consolidation of Haiti’s legislation in line with the Convention. A committee had just been set up to combat human trafficking and would be in charge of applying legislation in that regard. The judiciary had been trained so that they could get a better grasp of recent laws. Child protection had also been mainstreamed in police forces.
Data collection was indeed vital for policy development and implementation. A data base on child protection had just been launched. It covered all vulnerabilities that children in Haiti were facing. Children could not leave the territory of Haiti without the authorization of their parents.
There was a platform in place for cooperation with civil society. Generally speaking, the platform enabled coordination on the issue of child protection. The Convention was disseminated with the support of partners, including the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Regarding the best interests of the child, the delegation said that those had been included in Haitian laws. As of the age of eight, a child could give his opinion. The opinion of children was also taken into consideration when it came to adoption.
The legal age for the purpose of defining a child was 18, according to the Constitution.
Child protection was cross-cutting in nature. An intersectoral group existed and involved all departments; that platform was supposed to bring on board all actors involved in child protection, and efforts were underway to further bolster it.
On the question of whether children knew of a complaints mechanism in place, the delegation explained that an emergency hotline was in place, and a large number of calls from children were received. With all the awareness raising activities across the country, it was believed that children knew of available ways to report abuse and complain. A mine protection brigade was also in place.
Children born out of wedlock and within marriage had been on the same footing since 2014, stressed a delegate. Those born prior to the promulgation of the law were not covered, as laws in Haiti could not be retroactive, but the principle of non-discrimination was now a reality. The delegation said that a suggestion by an Expert that the law be made retroactive to the benefit of children born before 2014 could be considered.
Children under 18 could marry only with parental authorization, said a delegate.
If the mother of a child believed that there was a problem with the father, and believed that he was not in a position to look after the child, the judge was compelled to help the mother obtain a birth certificate for the child. A presidential order from 2014 provided that anyone without a birth certificate had five years to regulate their civil status. Those living in remote areas of Haiti sometimes realized that they needed birth certificates for their children only when children reached school age. Ways should be looked into to spread awareness on the need to register children at birth, including through matrons. The State had taken measures to foster birth registration; there were civil registrar offices in hospitals, whose work was monitored by inspection services. The Ministry of Justice had taken stock of the problem and was committed to resolving it.
For people who had lived in the Dominican Republic and were returning to Haiti, there was a programme in place to give them a birth certificate, an identity card and a passport. Civil registration programmes were in place for such people. Any adult could go to a civil registration office to register their birth or the birth of their child.
On statelessness, it was explained that those children born to a Haitian parent in the Dominican Republic were Haitian by birth; their birth could be registered upon the return of the family to Haiti. Efforts were made to ensure that all children and adults who returned to Haiti would be issued documents; there was no additional cost for that procedure.
DNA evidence was considered as having legal validity. The applicant had to pay for DNA testing.
The delegation explained that in cases of sexually assaulted children appearing in court, mechanisms and procedures were in place to protect the anonymity of the victims. Efforts were also made to avoid the possibility of the victim meeting the perpetrator in court.
When there was a rape, the first concern was health; standard operating procedures, including confidentiality, had to be respected by all.
Regarding the question of corporal punishment, a delegate said that the cultural mind-set of the Haitian population had to be taken into consideration. Corporal punishment was still widely accepted, but people’s awareness was being raised that physical chastisement could lead to prosecution.
The free emergency hotline was one of the ways to deal with that; phones were answered by psychologists who helped children with their complaints. Authorities could go to the site of complaint to find out whether it was well founded.
The term restavec was no longer used in documents as it was pejorative. A reliable study had been conducted with the United Nations Children’s Fund, which estimated the number of child domestic workers to be around 207,000. Sometimes those were children living in rural areas who moved to urban areas and were helping host families with domestic work. Ways were being looked into on how awareness could be raised about such exploitation. Some 3,000 children had been reintegrated with their families.
Regarding the climate of fear, the delegation said that there were still areas in Haiti where the rule of law was not present.
The authorities were trying to re-establish links between children in orphanages and their parents.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked whether parental responsibility included non-married couples. For example, how were fathers compelled to pay alimony?
A question was asked about the existence of private orphanages and the number of children in such institutions. Were there any follow-ups once children had been returned to their families? Were any subsidies provided to orphanages by the relevant Ministries?
What measures had been taken to help children whose parents were in prison, asked the Expert?
The Expert wanted to know more about the adoption criteria and monitoring.
Details were sought about the State budget for health. It seemed that Haiti was a very difficult country for children with disabilities. What was the percentage of such children and their living conditions? Information was asked about social norms in that regard.
An explanation was sought on the reasons for the drop in vaccinations and what the Government could do in that regard.
Only 40 per cent of mothers in Haiti practiced exclusive breast feeding until their infants were six months old. What was the State policy in that regard?
How were the high rates of infant and maternal mortality explained?
The Expert wished to hear more about anti-HIV programmes and the availability of antiretroviral drugs.
She also raised the question of adolescent health, particularly reproductive health for teenage girls. Abortion was prohibited in Haiti, which meant that girls would go for clandestine abortions, which increased their death rates. What was being done in that regard, and were there plans to decriminalize abortion?
A question was asked on the Government’s actions to combat drug abuse and smoking among children.
What programmes were in place to monitor the situation regarding cholera, measles and other infectious diseases?
Another Expert raised a number of questions related to children with disabilities, and wanted to know about inclusive education, transportation and the treatment of such children in society. How many children with disabilities were institutionalized?
What measures were taken to help children in street situations, asked an Expert, who also wanted to hear about school dropouts. State schools were insufficient in nature and private schools were too expensive for many families.
The economic exploitation of children was also raised by the Expert. Was there precise data on the number of employers who had been convicted for such offences? Had there been any prosecutions? Fourteen was the minimum age to enter the workforce, but there were no further specificities, such as the list of hazardous occupations.
Was the age of criminal responsibility 13? There did not seem to be any alternative to pre-trial detention for minors in Haiti.
A question was asked about children saved from trafficking in persons and what was done about the perpetrators.
Another Expert inquired about measures to support domestic over international adoptions.
Replies by the Delegation
On the question on why there were so many orphanages in Haiti, the delegation said that their number had multiplied after the earthquake as many people had lost their homes. Significant sums of foreign aid money had been put into private institutions, which currently numbered 716. Standards in those institutions were not always at the satisfactory level. Around 80 per cent of those children had godparents, which could help in the process of deinstitutionalization. Godparents could be trained to take proper care of children.
There were 12 orphanages which could receive children with special needs. Income-generating activities ought to be secured for relatives and foster families who accepted child victims of the 2010 earthquake. Private homes were not subsidized by the State.
After 40 years of general malpractice in the field of adoption, it had been decided that all agencies had to be certified by the Government, so that any abuse could be prevented. Biological parents were now informed that their children were up for adoption. If children had relatives, they were told what was at stake and only if they said that they did not want to adopt these children would they be put up for adoption.
The authorities were trying to promote access to children with disabilities, partly by ensuring that all newly built schools would be accessible. Efforts were also underway to improve the access of persons with disabilities to public buildings. Schooling for children with disabilities could be free of charge, depending on the disability.
It was difficult to provide specific figures on the numbers of street children as they moved quite a lot. There were two specialized centres for taking care of such children, in addition to a number of private centres, supervised by the Institute for Social Wellbeing and Research.
Regarding trafficking and the sale of children, measures were being taken by the authorities on regulating permission to leave the country. If an official border crossing was used, authorization from the parents of the child to leave the territory ought to be presented. Great efforts were being made to stop trafficking, including by raising awareness.
On children in conflict with the law, the delegation explained that there were two juvenile courts in the country, plus specialized judges in other court circuits. Haitian law did not allow for children to be locked up if they had committed an offence, unless the judge ignored the mitigating circumstance of them being minors. If a child was under the age of 13, he or she was not held criminally responsible for any act; after that age, the child was considered to be aware of his or her act. After the age of 16, children could be tried as adults. There were currently close to 300 child offenders in juvenile and adult detention centres.
Perpetrators of rape were prosecuted. If a non-consensual sexual encounter took place, there was ground for prosecution.
National school attendance rates had increased to 98 per cent for the first year of schooling, largely thanks to a governmental programme. The population at large had to bear some sundry costs for education: for example, levies were placed on international phone calls and remittances to pay for the programme. Hot meals were provided in schools at no cost. The Ministry of Education regularly inspected both state and private schools to ensure that minimum standards were applied and that the governmental programme was not being misused.
With regard to the list of hazardous occupations, a document had been prepared by the tripartite child labour commission and was still under consideration. The list was thus yet to be endorsed by the Government.
When it came to health, improvements had been recorded in vaccination coverage in the period 2012-2014. A new study was expected to be undertaken this year. Vaccines were provided by UNICEF, GAVI and other international partners.
The delegation informed that the trend towards the decrease of child and neo-natal mortality had been observed. Acute malnutrition rates had also fallen in recent years. Efforts were underway to promote the intake of vitamins in child nutrition. The maternal mortality rate had also fallen. There were now 80 centres with staff trained in neonatal care.
A mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention programme had been rolled out in rural areas, informed the delegation.
Awareness campaigns had been conducted on the risks of teenage pregnancies. Abortion was legally prohibited, but clandestine abortions were carried out in Haiti by doctors and other health professionals. The decriminalization of abortion was a complex political issue closely linked to religious beliefs. Abortion was legal when the woman’s life was in danger.
Sex education was provided in schools and the use of contraceptives was promoted as a way to avoid teenage pregnancies, said a delegate.
With regard to mental health, the delegation responded that it was the Achilles’ heel of Haiti. The Government fell well short of what it should be doing to provide support to children, particularly those affected by the earthquake.
On sanitation facilities, it was explained that, working with UNICEF, the Government had pinpointed 16 local communities most in need of improvement.
The delegation said that there was a law in place prohibiting the sale of alcohol to children, but it was not fully applied. The Government was seeking to clamp down on that practice and asking people to be watchful.
The authorities were trying to eliminate child prostitution and had recently liberated several children found in brothels.
On how violence against children could be settled, it was explained that when a prosecutor had been informed of a criminal offence against a minor or an adult, he had two ways of initiating legal proceedings. Sometimes, cases of violence were settled through a payment between families of the perpetrator and the victim. Legal proceedings were nonetheless automatically triggered against the perpetrator as soon as the authorities found out about the case.
The delegation clarified that both parents were under an obligation to pay maintenance for their children. A judge could be called upon to decide on custody. Some women, for the reason of pride, were reluctant to ask the fathers of their children to pay maintenance.
Budgetary allocations for health had not reached 15 per cent yet, but efforts were underway in that regard.
Schools, orphanages and other public institutions had to have drinking water in order to function. Not all orphanages had been checked. In some remote areas, the water network still did not go far enough. Used water management plants existed in Haiti.
Post-adoption follow-up was now provided, assured the delegation. Following the reform, adopted parents were now reassured that there would be no more contact with biological parents. Foster families that took children in had the option of adopting those children after a year had passed and close links had been formed. The essential idea was to ensure that children could remain in a family setting.
There was no precise information on street children as it was a periodic problem, but the estimated number stood at two to three thousand.
A programme to combat poverty was in place, which included benefit payments. Support was provided to students to enable them to attend universities. People’s canteens also existed across all departments, so the poor could eat there. Through the various reforms undertaken, more would be done, but it had to be borne in mind that Haiti was a poor country.
Asked whether Haiti had deposited the instrument of ratification of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation assured the Committee that it had indeed been ratified.
One case of sexual abuse by peacekeepers had been recorded, and the child had been provided all the necessary support. Given that the peacekeepers were covered by immunity, it was up to the United Nations and the troop contributing countries to sanction the personnel. The identity of child victims was protected in line with the Haitian legislation and the provisions of the Convention.
The delegation said that, following the earthquake, camps for internally displaced people had been established. Most of them had been resettled by the Government. New conglomerations had surfaced since then, including squatting settlements; there were seven camps for returnees to Haiti. In some camps, people had received cash payments from the Government or international aid agencies to return to their homes. Sometimes, those people returned to the camps in order to receive any additional aid being distributed there, which the authorities were trying to stop.
When it came to orphanages, there were 12 such institutions which could receive even severely disabled children, said a delegate.
Asked what was done to prevent children from accessing inappropriate Internet content, the delegation said that it was difficult to control such access. In schools, there was appropriate supervision, but in families, parents’ awareness ought to be raised. There were no adequately equipped police officers to intercept inappropriate messages.
Labour inspectors’ training had been improved in cooperation with the International Labour Office. Their awareness regarding child protection had been raised. There were currently no court proceedings regarding child labour.
Haiti needed more humanitarian and development aid, but in today’s world it was increasingly difficult to receive donors’ assistance. Rather than receiving handouts, the focus should be on increasing jobs at home.
On the question of whether raped or pregnant girls had to leave school, it was explained that in Haiti girls were encouraged to leave school when pregnant. It was not because teachers wanted them to leave, but rather because of other students and the stigma which went along it. When parents found out that their daughter was pregnant, they sometimes no longer wanted to pay the school fees. Sometimes girls themselves chose to leave school and preferred to study at home.
International organizations which wanted to undertake projects on the territory of Haiti needed to receive clearance from the Ministry of Development.
The delegation said that, pursuant to the Constitution, the State was charged with ensuring that all children went to school. Thus, basic education, including the seven first years, was obligatory.
With regard to armed gangs operating in certain cities, it was explained that such gangs had for a number of years become a chronic security problem in Haiti. There had been a period of significant violence in Haiti, where large swathes of the territory had been lawless. That scourge had not been fully eradicated yet, and kidnappings and street violence were still facts of life. Efforts were underway to eliminate those phenomena.
AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Haiti, thanked the delegation for the open and interactive dialogue. The delegation’s openness and frankness were appreciated. The Committee understood the magnitude of the devastation by the 2010 earthquake. Big challenges lay ahead, and the State party had a significant responsibility towards the children of Haiti. It was hoped that Haiti would revise the existing laws to bring them fully in line with the Convention. Implementation of the laws and disaggregated data collection were very important. Various forms of violence in all settings had to be combatted.
ARIEL HENRY, Minister of Social Affairs and Work of Haiti, said that it had been important for the delegation to come to Geneva and engage in the dialogue with the Committee. The follow-up to the implementation of the Convention was very important to the Government. Everything was being done to ensure that the Convention was fully applied, with a particular emphasis on addressing the shortcomings. Judges would be further trained to make sure that justice was applied fairly to children and that police forces were aware of the specific situation related to children. The issue of children in domestic service would be addressed so that this practice would be done away with. In the course of the dialogue, the delegation had tried to be frank and provide all the information it possessed. The Haitian State attached great importance to child health, including neonatal and maternal health.
For use of the information media; not an official record