COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF KUWAIT
18 September 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the second periodic report of Kuwait on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Dharar Abdul Razzak Razzooqi, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Kuwait had, in recent years, taken a series of measures focusing on the institutional and legal aspects of promoting the rights of the child. Kuwait attached great importance to education and had made primary and intermediate education free and compulsory. Children under the age of 15 years old were prohibited from working. Progress made included a reduced mortality rate and the provision of health care to all persons. Kuwait was a modern country and was keen to follow modern improvements and developments at regional and international level. Close attention was paid to human rights, especially the rights of the child, in legislation.
During the interactive dialogue, the Committee said that the measures taken by Kuwait for the promotion of children’s rights had been numerous and very positive but only covered children of Kuwaiti nationality. Experts raised issues such as early marriage, the situation of “Bidoun” children and their access to education and healthcare, care for children with disabilities and forms of violence against children. Questions were also asked about measures to protect children of divorced parents and children whose parents had received a prison or death sentence.
In concluding remarks, Gehad Madi, Country Co-Rapporteur for Kuwait, said the Committee hoped that a draft law on the rights of the child would soon be adopted by Kuwait in order to ensure the protection of children’s rights, and encouraged Kuwait to consider ratifying the third Optional Protocol regarding the complaints procedure.
The Delegation of Kuwait included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Central Agency for illegal residents, the Women Affairs Committee, and the Permanent Mission of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 September, when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of the Republic of Moldova under the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/MDA/1).
The second periodic report of Kuwait can be read here: CRC/C/KWT/2.
Presentation of the Report
DHARAR ABDUL RAZZAK RAZZOOQI, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Kuwait had, in recent years, taken a series of measures focusing on the institutional and legal aspects of promoting the rights of the child. Those measures included a national mechanism for the promotion of the rights of the child; a High Commission for Human Rights, which was established in 2008 and included human rights experts and academics; a High Council for the Family, established in 2008 which aimed to review Government plans for children and the family; a Committee for Women’s Affairs, established in 2002; and a central authority to deal with illegal residents, established in 2010.
Several civil society organizations were active in the field of human rights in general and in children’s rights in particular. New mechanisms were constantly being established in human rights, and Kuwait was implementing the Committee’s recommendations it had accepted following review of its first periodic report in 2010. Particular attention was being paid to the social, health and educational aspects of the life of the child. Progress made included a reduced mortality rate; the result of planting the seeds of healthy living in society, and the provision of health care to all persons on the basis of justice and equality. Kuwait attached great importance to education and had made primary and intermediate education compulsory. Several nursery schools had been established in all parts of the country.
Concerning juvenile delinquency, the law considered young offenders victims of their social situation and measures taken in that regard focused on rehabilitating them both socially and psychologically. Young offenders were detained in special institutions operated by the Department of Social and Labour Affairs. Violence, psychological or physical, was criminalized and punished by law. Harsher punishments had been introduced for any person whose actions attacked children, and the laws now covered all forms of abuse against children. The best interests of the child were always taken into account, including when placing children in foster families.
Regarding child labour, the law prohibited children under the age of fifteen from working. Furthermore, children were not allowed to work in professions which posed risks to their health. The needs of children with disabilities were taken care of at the legislative and executive level. Kuwait had dealt with the issue of illegal residents since 1985 and was keen to meet their humanitarian needs in terms of access to health services and education. A comprehensive programme had been put in place to deal with illegal residents. In 2011, the Council of Ministers issued a law which gave illegal residents more rights, such as access to medical treatment, free education and the ability to receive free official documents and certificates, such as a driver’s license.
Kuwait was a modern country and was keen to follow modern improvements and developments at regional and international level. Close attention had been paid to human rights, especially the rights of the child, in legislation, such as in the new draft law on foster families. Kuwait was determined to continue its efforts to promote and protect human rights in all fields. The delegation looked forward to receiving the comments and recommendations of the Committee Experts, and was grateful to the Committee for its hard work to enhance the enjoyment of human rights on the ground.
Questions by Experts
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for Kuwait, said that the size of the Kuwaiti delegation was impressive and demonstrated the importance Kuwait attached to the Committee’s work. Kuwait was a medium-sized country with a prosperous economy in a region that had tense international relations. Numerous and very positive measures had been taken for the promotion of children’s rights. Nevertheless, those measures only affected children of Kuwaiti nationality. There was a marked disparity in Kuwait’s policy, which was sociologically preserved. A considerable number of non-Kuwaiti children lived in Kuwait and their rights were not covered by policies and laws. Those were the children with whom the Committee would primarily concern itself during the interactive dialogue.
Concerning the standing of the Convention in the legislative context, Mr. Gastaud recalled that Kuwait had placed a reservation on Articles 7 and 21 of the Convention at the time of ratification. The Committee urged Kuwait to lift those reservations. Mr. Gastaud asked whether any training courses in human rights law were offered to professionals and Government officials. It appeared that children were not familiar with the provisions of the Convention. Had Kuwait’s periodic report been drafted following consultations with the civil society, with children or with associations representing the interests of children?
Mr. Gastaud noted that the country report stated only the Islamic religion could be practiced and that other religions were not authorized by the State of Kuwait. Could the delegation comment on that matter?
GEHAD MADI, Committee Member acting as Co-Country Rapporteur for Kuwait, said that Kuwait had no specific, comprehensive national strategy for the implementation of the rights of the child. A concern of the Committee was that the establishment of a body responsible for ensuring better coordination among competent authorities had been explicitly mentioned in 1999 but had not been implemented yet. Could the delegation explain exactly when that law would be fully implemented and whether there would be a national strategy for the promotion of the rights of the child?
Concerning the definition of the term “child” in Kuwait, the Committee expected that Kuwait would have reviewed all laws pre-dating ratification of the Convention in order to bring them in line with the Convention. That girls were sometimes married at ages younger than fifteen years old were a major concern to the Committee, Mr. Madi said. Would Kuwait consider raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to above fifteen years old?
The situation of those living in Kuwait without citizenship (known as the “Bidoun”) was also a major concern. Persons who had been refused birth certificates were denied access to education and health services and the opportunity to apply for the Kuwaiti nationality, so they found themselves in a situation of statelessness. The Committee found that the measures taken by Kuwait to deal with the problems facing stateless children were insufficient, and Kuwaiti laws were not in compliance with the Convention. Mr. Madi asked whether Kuwait was going to review the granting of citizenship to Bidoun children to prevent them from becoming permanently stateless.
A Committee Expert asked the delegation whether it had a particular budget set aside for the implementation of the Convention; and said a breakdown should be provided explaining the budgetary resources allocated to children. Had consultations taken place with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders before the budget was finalized?
Regarding data collection, an Expert said one of its previous recommendations made to Kuwait was to strengthen its system. Today there were multiple databases available in Kuwait but data was still insufficient, particularly on incidents of domestic violence, child abuse and school violence. Kuwait should consider establishing separate database systems on different issues, which would be more effective than the existing system. Kuwait should also allocate all necessary resources to data collection, especially data concerning vulnerable children.
Requiring all doctors to report cases of physical and psychological abuse to which children may have been subjected was certainly a positive development, an Expert commented. Nevertheless, he noted than another law provided that an act of physical and psychological abuse was not criminal if it was committed in the context of disciplining a child by the person authorized to do so by law and if the intention was strictly to discipline the child in question. Therefore, only extreme cases of violence were reported to the police.
The absence of appropriate rehabilitation measures for children victims of physical and psychological abuse was another major concern, an Expert said. No hotlines were available for the victims of abuse to contact. After its last review, Kuwait had received a recommendation to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and in society in general, and to raise awareness through appropriate initiatives. Nevertheless, no lawsuits were filed against guardians who abused their right to discipline children, nor did there seem to be any mechanisms in place to deal with physical and verbal abuse at home. In fact, there was a widespread belief in Kuwait that parents had the right to beat their children, said the Expert. Had Kuwait set up any programmes to sensitize police officers, parents and guardians? What measures did Kuwait take to prohibit corporal punishment? Was the State party ready to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment in all settings?
Violence against children also came in the form of death threats and bullying, an Expert said, recommending that Kuwait conduct a study in those areas of violence. What steps had the police taken in order to reduce such violence at school? Was a psychological assessment of the victims carried out? What kind of support did victims receive?
Sexual harassment in schools was not properly dealt with, as the harasser was transferred to another school, which did not really resolve the problem. Moreover, parents were reluctant to file a complaint for fear of damaging the reputation of their child. What efforts were made to address that issue?
The Committee would like to know whether Kuwait would make marital rape a crime, said an Expert. Speaking about rape in general, the Expert asked whether any statistical data was available that showed the number of rapes of non-citizens, especially domestic workers? How effective were rape laws in the case of the rape of non-Kuwaiti citizens by their employers? If the victim conceived a child after being raped what happened to the child?
Regarding domestic violence, an Expert said that most cases were not reported due to the strong social stigma attached to such incidents. Sometimes police officers were bribed to ignore domestic violence complaints. Was appropriate training provided to judges, police officers and social workers on issues of domestic violence?
Marriage with abductors was another source of concern. Some girls were forced into marrying the person who had abducted them. The relevant laws should be reviewed and abolished, said an Expert.
Concerning child marriage, an Expert said that in some tribal groups, the marriage of young girls continued. What efforts had the State undertaken to stop underage marriages?
The ‘best interest of the child’ was seen as a basic principle and a procedural rule by the Committee, an Expert stated, before asking a series of questions. Did Kuwait provide for the evaluation and assessment of the best interest of the child? Were there any procedural guarantees? How was the best interest of the child applied in the case of divorce or separation of the parents? In terms of custody being granted, what criteria were used by the decision-maker? Were there specific rules applied across the board? In the case of single mothers or adolescent fathers, how was the best interest of the child guaranteed?
Were there children’s books which were used in schools to educate children on the Convention? How many hours were devoted to the teaching of human rights on a weekly basis? Did the State conduct an evaluation of the knowledge of the Convention among those who had to apply it in practice, whether working in Ministries or in other Government bodies?
An Expert said that Kuwait was one of the few countries in the Arab world which had a general reservation to two articles of the Convention which might run counter to the provisions of Sharia law. However such reservations ran the risk of blocking the effectiveness of the Convention as a whole. Egypt had withdrawn its reservations in 2003. Would Kuwait consider following suit?
Response by Delegation
Responding to the questions posed by Committee Experts, the delegation said that the situation of the Bidoun did not apply to the Convention on Stateless Persons itself, because that convention had emerged following the two World Wars and had been drafted against a very different background.
Concerning the definition of a “child” and whether it was compatible with Article 1 of the Convention, the delegation said that Kuwait’s national laws were fully in conformity with the spirit of the Convention. In Kuwait, any person under the age of eighteen years old was considered a child. That was stated both in the old law of 1964 and the new law of 2010.
The family law allowed the registration and certification of marriage contracts above the age of fifteen for girls and above the age of seventeen for boys, but the law aimed to put in place provisions to protect certain categories of adolescents and children. It did not mean that childhood ended at the age of fifteen years for girls or seventeen years for boys.
Kuwait was an Islamic country which followed Islamic rules; therefore Sharia law was regarded as a legitimate source of legislation in the country. According to Sharia law, those who had reached puberty were allowed to marry, which is why national laws authorized marriage for children from the age of fifteen years. However, the legal age of adulthood in Kuwait was 21 years old.
The Convention was disseminated in various sectors throughout the Ministry of Education, and human rights were taught as part of the school syllabus. The rights of the child were also taught in schools. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had drawn up a project on human rights and was going to publish a book which referred to the various provisions of the Convention and their implementation. Non-governmental organizations concerned with children’s rights also had their own publications on the Convention.
Regarding Kuwaiti nationality, the delegation said that Kuwait had its own customs and its people considered nationality to be a matter of sovereignty. Therefore, very strict rules applied to who was allowed to be granted the Kuwaiti nationality, because nationality had a direct impact on the security of the State. As a welfare State, Kuwait offered a large number of services to its citizens for free, such as high-quality healthcare, housing and education. As there was no tax system in Kuwait, the State wanted its wealth to be used for its own citizens.
Kuwait had never stopped issuing birth certificates to non-Kuwaiti children living on its soil and nor had it ever refused to issue official documents. However, the birth certificates of Bidoun children stated “non-Kuwaiti” as their nationality. If they fulfilled the necessary requirements non-Kuwaitis had the opportunity to apply for Kuwaiti nationality. Last week, 504 such applications had been approved. Moreover, 1,000 jobs in the civil service were given to non-Kuwaiti nationals, even though Government jobs were usually reserved for Kuwaitis.
Children whose families could not receive social benefits directly received a social benefit themselves and the budget allocated to such cases from 2008-2012 was 225 million Kuwaiti dinars. Moreover, 557 million Kuwaiti dinars were spent on the provision of training, workshops, cultural, entertainment and environmental activities, seminars on the protection of the child, and parenting courses.
A considerable budget was allocated to health care and five new hospitals with specialized children’s departments were currently under construction. A specialized paediatric hospital was also under construction. Over six thousand additional beds would be added to those already available when the above projects were completed.
Questions by Experts
An Expert said that Kuwait deserved praise for the well-designed, inclusive policies it had recently adopted for children with disabilities. Were those policies applied in practice? He asked whether Kuwait had any plans to address the problems facing children who suffered from mental illnesses. Furthermore, what measures was Kuwait taking to improve the social stereotyping of children with disabilities?
Turning to education of children with disabilities, an Expert asked what specific teacher training programmes Kuwait had adopted for inclusive education and to what extent Kuwait would adapt its school curricula to ensure that its education programmes were appropriate for children with disabilities? To what extent did non-Kuwaiti children living in Kuwait, including Bidoun children, have access to all the services introduced by the State?
Regarding education, an Expert said the fact that education was both free and compulsory in Kuwait was praiseworthy. However he said the school curricula included a certain number of courses which were not entirely in line with international standards. Did Kuwait hold human rights training events and did it assess in any way the familiarity of the population with the Convention? To what extent was diversity in education promoted and what did Kuwait do to ensure that schools were truly inclusive?
Concerning school drop-out, an Expert said the drop-out rate was high, and girls who were married were not authorized to attend school. Were married girls who wished to attend day schools allowed to do so or was it obligatory for them to attend evening schools? Were there any specific anti-bullying programmes in schools to deal with children who were being bullied or harassed by other children?
Regarding the right to play, was that only organized collectively in Kuwait or was the right to play also observed within the family, both individually and between siblings?
An Expert expressed concern about information received from the delegation that the parents were the ones who made important decisions about whether or not their children should go to secondary school and what type of school they should attend. Decisions made by the parents were not necessarily in the best interest of the child, said the Expert, and asked the delegation to comment on that point.
The Committee had received reports that Bidoun children not being admitted to State schools, only to private schools. It was noted that private school fees were extremely high, and an Expert asked whether any financial assistance was offered to poorer families. If their families lacked the necessary funds to pay for private education, how did Kuwait guarantee the right of those children to education?
Turning to the issue of child pornography, an Expert asked whether Kuwait’s criminal code had been reformed to criminalize the possession of child pornography.
Kuwaiti legislation did not appear to distinguish between children who had broken the law and children who were at risk of breaking the law, and asked under what court conditions children were tried in. Was it correct that child offenders between the ages of seven and fifteen years old did not receive prison sentences?
How many children had a parent in prison or had had a parent executed, an Expert asked, further enquiring whether Kuwait took any special measures for children whose parent was imprisoned, had been sentenced to death, or been executed.
In the case of divorce, the mother or the grandmother immediately got custody of the child, regardless of whether or not that was in the best interest of the child and without taking into account the situation or the personality of the mother or the father. According to the law, if the father was Muslim and the mother was not, then the father would have custody of the child, regardless of whether that was in the best interest of the child. Was it the case that the law distinguished between custody and guardianship, with guardianship always being held by the father or a male relative?
An Expert wanted to know whether children had free access to internet and free sources of information appropriate for their age. Were children allowed to associate with children of other age groups?
Response by Delegation
Concerning juvenile delinquency, the delegation said that Law 3 of 1983 included a number of measures for those juvenile offenders under 15 years old and children who were at risk of delinquency or deviancy. Such measures ranged from reprimanding the child in question to handing the young offender over to a probation officer or placing him/her in an institution under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Those measures were aimed at protecting and rehabilitating the young offender, who was treated as the victim of the crime they had committed. Relevant laws were designed to protect child offenders not to punish them, and tackled the very conditions which had caused the offence in the first place. Juvenile offenders would also undergo psychological counselling to facilitate rehabilitation.
Children found to be at risk of offending were not brought before a judge or tried in court and assigned corrective and rehabilitative measures to be taken, but were dealt with the Department of Juvenile Care, which was a social institution. Although criminal responsibility began at the age of seven years old, nevertheless the law did not automatically hold children criminally responsible but, rather, the aim of legislation was to care for the child. Delinquents had access to a guardian, lawyers and a probation officer. Those detained were held separately depending on their gender and non-delinquents were never mixed with delinquents.
The delegation said that there was no contradiction in national laws with regard to determining the age of a child and stressed that none of the existing laws set the end of childhood at the age of 15 years old.
Violence against children in Kuwaiti schools was not widespread at all, mainly because the Ministry of Education had been taking effective measures to deal with such issues. Children received guidance and counselling at school, were directed towards extracurricular activities, and were taught discipline and respect for others. Children in Kuwait were taught to reject violence from an early age, because violence, whether physical or psychological, was simply not tolerated in society. That was especially true for violence against children.
The right to play was fundamental and children freely exercised that right at home and in the kindergarten or school in accordance with their age. Children played either individually or collectively. A satellite channel with educational programmes, including programmes on the rights of the child in line with the Convention, was also available.
Concerning the questions about married girls, the delegation said that education had to take into account the characteristics of the students. In Kuwait it was not common for girls under the age of 18 years old to marry. Nevertheless, the few girls that did marry before the age of 18 years old were automatically transferred to evening schools to ensure that they had time to deal with responsibilities such as pregnancy and other family duties during the day. This was also done to protect the welfare of the girls in question. Unlike primary and intermediate education, secondary education was not compulsory.
Day school students had a different mindset and psychology from a married student, which is why the Ministry of Education believed that it was better for a married child to attend an evening school. The matter had been re-evaluated and the Ministry of Education had found that married girls preferred to attend evening school.
Another delegate emphasized that early marriages were an uncommon phenomenon in Kuwait. Married women were the ones who made decisions about pregnancy. Concerning reproductive and sexual health, there had been a recent publication in Arabic for nine-year old children, describing the physical, health and sociological aspects of the matter.
There were also specialized departments which provided information to persons who intended to get married. The primary health care sector was based on the fairness of distribution of all health services to persons living across the country. There were 34 maternity centres which provided health care and offered awareness programmes in reproductive health. Contraception was available to those who wanted it. Psychological care was also offered as part of primary health care to everyone.
Specialized centres had been established for HIV/AIDS tests and other sexually transmitted diseases for those who were about to get married. The spread of HIV/AIDS was very limited in Kuwait because of effective Government programmes.
School curricula in Kuwait were in conformity with international standards and were prepared by teams of experts. There were many training workshops and other programmes carried out in cooperation with the World Bank, with the aim of training people in the preparation of school curricula. Curricula included universal values such as respect for peace and for other cultures, which were consistently promoted by educational programmes.
There was no prohibition on girls attending school concerts or other cultural events, as long as those events did not run counter to public morality. There were many festivities in schools and girls were allowed to participate in artistic, poetry and other competitions without any limitations whatsoever.
Concerning young persons with disabilities, pupils who had severe disabilities and were unable to integrate in society attended special schools. For other pupils with disabilities, emphasis was placed upon helping them to integrate in society, which was also provided for in national legislation. There was no prejudice or negative stereotyping of pupils with disabilities in Kuwait.
The delegation said that the information which the Committee had received on sexual harassment in schools was not accurate. There were specific regulations to deal with such incidents, and psychological help was offered to the victims to help their rehabilitation.
Concerning the children of divorced parents, a delegate confirmed that guardianship of a child was held by the father, who was financially responsible for the child. In exceptional circumstances the courts gave the guardianship to the mother, if the judge felt that the mother was more capable of providing for the child financially. The law provided housing for women divorcees with children. If there was no guardian, the court could set up an independent mechanism to look after the welfare of minors until they reached adulthood.
Custody and guardianship could be transferred from a parent to a next of kin, so if a parent received a prison or death sentence, the guardianship of the child would be transferred to another family member. In the absence of relatives, the State could care for the child in question. Orphans of unknown parentage and orphans whose parents had been executed received a welfare benefit. Orphans without a family were placed in foster care. The 1,704 children whose parents were in prison were also supported financially by the State. Death sentences handed down by courts could not be reconsidered in cases where a child would be left without parents. Courts, however, may take the circumstances of the child into account in cases where a mother was sentenced to death.
The delegation stressed that Kuwait firmly believed in freedom of religion and said that, even though its official religion was Islam, there were also Christians living in the country and their religious beliefs were fully respected. There were currently over 190 different nationalities living in the country, and all of their cultures were respected.
Education and medical services were offered free of charge to the children of Bidoun persons. However, as there were very few places available in State schools, Bidoun children were sent to private schools and the Government of Kuwait fully covered their fees. On the other hand, Kuwaiti children who went to private schools were required to pay their own fees, since they had access to State education for free.
Abortion was legal, under national laws, in cases where the pregnancy posed a health risk to the mother. All necessary health care and other support were offered to illegal residents, too. Rape was not regarded as a reason to authorize abortion, unless the pregnancy posed a health risk to the mother.
GEHAD MADI, Country Co-Rapporteur for Kuwait, said that dialogue with Kuwait had been fruitful and that the delegation’s answers had been detailed and informative. The Committee hoped that a draft law on the rights of the child would soon be adopted by Kuwait in order to ensure the protection of children’s rights. Aspects of the law which had already been presented looked encouraging, so it was hoped that the law would be adopted as soon as possible. Kuwait was encouraged to consider ratifying the third Optional Protocol regarding the complaints procedure.
DHARAR ABDUL RAZZAK RAZZOOQI, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Chairperson and all Committee Members for their comments and said that the delegation respected their expert opinions. Kuwait would give serious consideration to the recommendations submitted by the Committee.
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