COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD REVIEWS REPORT OF ISRAEL
3 June 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second, third and fourth periodic report of Israel on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Eviatar Manor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, said Israel’s primary duty was to uphold and protect the life of its citizens. The Government endeavoured to comply with its international obligations, to ensure the welfare of its entire population, and basic human rights and humanitarian consideration for all sides. Israel came before the Committee in a spirit of fruitful and productive dialogue and would make its best effort to answer questions regarding Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, irrespective of its legal position. Data and statistics related to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in relation to issues under the Convention, were not available to Israel but to the Palestinians in control of these areas and who legislated there. The focus today was on Israel, who was present in the Committee to discuss professionally and openly its situation with regards to the rights of the child.
Committee Experts commended Israel for the progress made in the enactment of new legislation. Experts asked how was the full enjoyment of rights by Palestinian children, under Israel’s jurisdiction, guaranteed by the Convention. Other questions addressed the juvenile justice system, namely the involvement of courts of military nature in juvenile processes; instances of prolonged detention of minors; reports of physical violence against children in detention, including torture and ill treatment; and the harsh sentenced imposed on minors. Other concerns raised included reports documenting the use of Palestinian children as shields by the Israeli army; the situation in the Gaza Strip; acts of violence committed by Israeli settlers; the provision of clean drinking water, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and the situation of children with disabilities.
The delegation said that the rights of defenders in criminal procedures, particularly minors, had been strengthened including through the establishment of military juvenile courts, the right to an attorney, and compulsory notification of rights. The security situation in the Gaza Strip had dramatically deteriorated and, under these circumstances, Israel had the right and obligation to protect itself. All operations in this regard were guided by international humanitarian law and the principles of distinction and proportionality. Corporal punishment was prohibited in the educational system. While schools were not fully inclusive yet, special measures to ensure a better integration of children with disabilities had been taken, including the allocation of greater resources to this end.
Kirsten Sandberg, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Israel, in closing remarks, said that the concerns raised by the Committee, including those regarding education, juvenile detention, and the situation in the occupied territories, would be included in the concluding observations issued by the Committee at the end of the session.
Also in closing remarks, Eviatar Manor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reiterated Israel’s commitment to children’s rights and said that no country or person was perfect and everyone here stood for a better future for children.
The delegation of Israel consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Israeli Defence Forces, and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 4 June, to consider the third and the fourth periodic report of Uzbekistan (CRC/C/UZB/3-4) on the implementation of the provisions under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The combined second to fourth periodic report of Israel on the Convention of the Rights of the Child is available here (CRC/C/ISR/2-4).
Introduction of the Report by the Delegation
EVIATAR MANOR, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the situation in the Middle East was very complex and volatile. Despite the hope and cautious optimism of the Arab Spring, there was much uncertainty and the threats of terrorism, extremism and violence remained prevalent. The Israeli-Palestinian issue remained pressing and achieving a just and negotiated resolution to the conflict continued to be a priority. Israel’s primary duty was to uphold and protect the life of its citizens. The Government endeavoured to comply with its international obligations, to ensure the welfare of its entire population, and basic human rights and humanitarian consideration for all sides. Israel came before the Committee in a spirit of fruitful and productive dialogue and would make its best effort to answer questions regarding Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, irrespective of its legal position. Data and statistics related to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in relation to issues under the Convention, were not available to Israel but to the Palestinians in control of these areas and who legislated there. The focus today was on Israel, who was present in the Committee to discuss professionally and openly its situation with regards to the rights of the child.
Much remained to be done in order to ensure the protection of these rights, particularly for those children in the most vulnerable segments of the society. Since its independence in 1948, a national medical insurance, free education, a monthly allowance for children with disabilities, and a broad network of social services had continuously been a central part of legislation. Israel had enacted several new acts on children’s rights, including the 2010 and 2012 amendments to the law on legal capacity and guardianship, enabling both parents to be involved and updated about the minor. These amendments had also included the right of grandparents to file a request to connect with their grandchildren, if the court found this was in the best interest of the child. The 2011 amendment to the Women’s Labour’s Law applied the same rules concerning maternity leave, benefits and other issues to biological and adoptive parents. The Rules of Civil Procedures had been amended in 2011 to provide children with the opportunity to express their feelings and preferences in the Family Court. The 2011 amendment to the Youth Law allowed for the referral of minors who committed criminal acts to alternative procedures with the purpose of ensuring accountability, for example, through redress for victims or the community. In the judicial realm, courts continued to play a crucial role in enhancing and protecting children’s rights. The Supreme Court, through its decisions, had further established and protected basic rights and fundamental values in the society, including on the rights of children asylum seekers and on the right of children to education. The New Horizon was a reform programme to improve the existing education system and which aimed at strengthening the position of teachers, providing equal opportunities to all pupils, improving schools’ climate and expanding the authority of school principals. Free legal aid was provided to minors in many different situations, and also to non-citizen minors in matters related to child kidnapping, child alimony and other civil issues.
Examination of the report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Questions by Committee Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Israel, commended Israel for the progress made in the legislative field. Even though Israel was not willing to recognize its responsibilities concerning the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Committee had followed the decision of the International Court of Justice that reaffirmed the obligations of Israel as the occupying power in these areas. The Committee had an obligation to ask questions concerning the situation of children and their rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and it was regrettable that the delegation would only answer questions concerning Israel. Ms. Sandberg inquired about the status of the Convention on the Right of the Child in Israel’s domestic legislation and courts; and inquired about the idea that the adoption of a comprehensive children’s code would improve existing laws and incorporate certain provisions of the Convention? Was Israel aware of the need to ensure that a coordination mechanism was in place and what was the state of play concerning the national policy on children? The Country Rapporteur asked the delegation about training for professionals working with children, the right of children to political participation, and the participation of youth representatives in the Knesset Committee. Ms. Sandberg also asked the delegation to explain in detail the prohibition of corporal punishment and also to comment on reports of physical violence against children in detention.
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Israel, asked how data on children from all the territory under the control of Israel was used to develop policies for children, in particular, those most vulnerable. How did non-discrimination policies affect Palestinian and Bedouin children and how did Israel ensure that Palestinian children subject to the jurisdiction of Israel fully enjoyed the rights guaranteed by the Convention? There was a lack of data regarding instances of torture or cruel and degrading treatment against children, said Mr. Nougeira Neto and asked about the plans in place to prevent and address such incidents.
Experts noted that Israel was the first country which had legalized surrogacy in 1996; however, there were no laws regulating the process, particularly international surrogacy frequently used by same-sex couples. This process affected the identity of the child and the rights of biological parents. Today, 3.6 per cent of all children born in Israel were born through in vitro fertilisation procedures and there remained concerns about children’s identity, access to donors, as well as the about support for parents. Committee Experts also inquired about birth registration practices, particularly in the case of children of migrants whose fathers’ name was not recorded. Migrants had to pay about 2,000 in fees for paternity tests to have the father’s name included.
The Committee was very concerned about reports of incidents of torture of Palestinian children in Israeli detention; about reports documenting the use of Palestinian children as shields by the Israeli army; about the death of 428 Palestinians and over 2,000 children injured during Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Committee Experts also expressed concerns about instructions given to Israeli soldiers to open fire on Palestinian children fishing or collecting building materials near the borders. The conduct of settlers against Palestinian children, which included various forms of violence, was another source of serious concern. Few of such cases had been taken to court and the Israeli army was not doing much to prevent such instances of violence.
What measures were in place to protect the rights of all children in its jurisdiction in areas such as the services, agriculture and tourism industries, whether in private or public sectors? What was being done to protect the rights of children affected by the construction of settlements; and to assess their political, security and economical impacts on the rights of all the children under its jurisdiction? Most of the sexual violence against children reportedly took place outside of homes and in communities; what measures were being taken to prevent incidents of sexual abuse and what sentences were being handed down to perpetrators?
Other Experts asked about Israel’s ratification of various international instruments, the application of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the occupied territories, and the incorporation of the Convention in national legislation. To what degree were judges, lawyers and other professionals working with children aware of its provisions? The military occupation of Gaza had ravaged the rights of children. In particular, their right to life and safety were continuously under threat given the attacks carried out by Israel. Could the delegation comment on reports of torture, cruel, ill- and degrading- treatments in detention centres?
The Committee also asked about practices of early marriage in the country and efforts made to prevent them, particularly, forced marriages. What about measures taken to address the practice of chaining the hands and feet of children in custody, which in the views of the Committee constituted torture?
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Israel, asked about the progress concerning the setting up of the independent monitoring mechanism in the country and the opening of the Children’s Ombudsman; about the participation of civil society, particularly Palestinian organizations in the preparation of the reports to the Committee; about reprisals against those cooperating with fact-finding mission; and about the difficulties for foreigners working with humanitarian organizations to obtain work permits. It had been proven that male circumcision had serious short and long term consequences and the delegation was asked about Israel’s intentions to study this issue and take any measures to address it.
Response by the Delegation
In the Israeli legal system, a ratification of the international treaty obliged the courts and the Government to respect its provisions, but it needed to be legislated in order to become part of the national law. The view of the Roth-Levi Committee was to specify the rights of the child in a separate law and this was how Israel was proceeding. There was no general code introducing the provisions of the Convention in national law, but its principles were reflected in other legal provisions. The Office of the State Controller fulfilled the role of an ombudsman for the whole population; it was in charge of coordinating the activities in the area of children’s rights and counted with a special unit which received complaints from children. The Roth-Levi Committee did not make a specific recommendation concerning the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism for children.
An adoption order was not issued unless the children were informed; children aged 9 and over, if able, had the right to participate in court proceedings concerning adoptions and the authorities encouraged adoptive parents to inform their children and to freely discuss the adoption. As far as the children’s identity, a child had the right to request the opening of the files at the age of 18; social workers could authorise a meeting with biological parents. Israel was one of the first States which had legalized surrogacy and several years ago had noted a phenomenon of inter-country surrogacy, which was under discussion by the Hague Conference on International Adoption. Israel was in the process of adopting legislation on the issue. Trafficking in children and the views of the mother posed specific issues of concern in relation to inter-country surrogacy. The anonymity of in vitro fertilization procedures was currently guaranteed by the law, but there were ongoing discussions in light of the right of the child to identity.
Concerning questions about the applicability of the Convention in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, the delegation said that Israel consistently maintained that the Convention applied territorially and that Israel was not responsible for its application beyond its own territory. The Palestinian population was not in a legal void, but was subject to the laws on armed conflict. Following the disengagement and withdrawal of Israel from Gaza Strip, in 2005, Israel did not have effective control of Gaza Strip and Israel was not responsible for it.
Since 2000, Israelis had been victim of relentless armed conflict and attacks carried out by Palestinian terrorists, in which a certain number of minors took active part. This situation in the West Bank required the use of measures to protect human lives. Maintaining public order in this area was marred with many challenges and dilemmas, and often deterrence was the only remaining strategy. Israel sought to ensure a greater protection of rights and had made significant amendments on the rights of defenders during criminal procedures, particularly for minors. In September 2012, the age of minority had been raised from 16 to 18 which had broadened the scope for the application of the law and for the protection of minors.
In 2009, a juvenile court had been established which exclusively presided over cases involving minors. The military juvenile court had also granted the right to attorney, which could be changed on request of the juvenile; separate juvenile detention facilities had been established; and the obligatory notification of rights. Israeli Defence Forces were instructed not to cuff minors, unless in special circumstances and when there the risk of escape; when it had to be done, cuffing had to be executed without inflicting pain and bodily damage. The delegation said that all prisoners had access to prison complaint mechanisms and the right to approach official visitors to prisons and present their complaints.
Since the 2005 disengagement initiative of Israel from Gaza Strip, Israel did not have effective control over Gaza Strip and its obligations were not bound by belligerent occupation laws and human rights laws, but were by the law on armed conflict. The security situation had dramatically deteriorated and terrorist structures in Gaza Strip had grown at an alarming pace. More than 10,000 rockets had been fired against Israel from the Gaza Strip, even during daylight.
Under these circumstances Israel had the right and obligation to take action against Hamas in Gaza in order to protect itself. During such military operations, the Israeli Defence Forces were guided by international humanitarian law, including by the principles of distinction and proportionality, which were part of military ethics and rules of engagement. While incidental damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure were unavoidable, Israel took special care to ensure that these were not deliberate, and allowed for the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza Strip. Israel faced an adversary that used its own population as a human shield. Despite all the care taken to protect civilians and civilian property, lives had been lost; Israel made no attempts to minimize the human cost of those operations but there were no indications that international humanitarian law was being violated. Any allegations of misconduct by Israeli forces were taken extremely seriously and the Israeli Defence Forces were fully committed to investigate them and to sanction violations.
Questions by Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Israel, concerning the deprivation of family life, noted that existing difficulties to obtain Israeli citizenship created large challenges for the reunification of families, who were forced to live apart. In addition, military procedures regulating the movement of persons prevented families from reunifying. Could the delegation comment on the Israeli’s civil administration plans concerning resettlement and eviction of the Bedouin population and of Palestinians? What plans were in place to address the prolonged detention of minors, to improve the conditions in detention for children, and to provide psychosocial support to children in detention who were victims of maltreatment or trafficking? Turning to asylum seeking and refugee determination procedures, the delegation was asked about the intentions to integrate child-friendly approaches into asylum procedures, about the frequent practice of refoulement, and high number of applications refused.
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Expert and the Country Co-Rapporteur for Israel, asked how the legal system protected children who were victims or witnesses in criminal procedures and what support they received.
Taking up the issue of juvenile justice, Committee Experts noted that children under the age of 18 could appear before military court and this was an issue of concern for the Committee; what provisions were in place to ensure that children under the age of 18 were heard by juvenile courts and that they would not be military in nature? The provisions regulating the sentencing of minors did not comply with the Convention or with the Beijing Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice; the Committee was concerned about 20-year prison sentences handed out to minors for throwing stones; and about the use of children as human shield or for intelligence purposes by the Israeli Defence Forces.
The report was very silent on the measures with regards to changes to children’s environment, particularly children with disabilities, for example changes in policy, school curriculum, etc. There were many children with disabilities placed in institutions and, despite all the efforts made to increase foster care, the number of children in institutions was rather high, particularly for children aged six to 12.
Experts also inquired about the availability of statistics regarding breastfeeding practices, about the implementation of provisions on breastfeeding in the workplace, baby-friendly hospital initiatives, and the marketing of formula. Other questions inquired about special measures to allow for a speedy crossing of border points for pregnant women on their way to hospitals; and measures to ensure that the budgetary allocations were child-friendly, in particular, given the disparity between the Arab and non-Arab localities and the current economic and financial crisis.
The Committee was very concerned about the water supply in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and asked about measures to ensure the provision of clean water. Concerning the right to education, Experts asked the delegation to comment on the deprivation of some segments of the population from access to education, particularly during military operations, and on the practice of collecting school fees, despite the fact that education was free. Experts also inquired about measures to improve the lower quality education provided to minority groups and whether non-Jewish immigrant children had access to education and social welfare. All references to Palestinian culture and territory had been removed from the school textbooks; in this context, one of the Experts asked how the right of children to cultural rights and identity was ensured by Israel in this restrictive context.
Response by the Delegation
Complaints about the conduct of Israeli forces could be received by a whole range of actors, such as non-governmental organizations and the media. Once complaints were made, an investigation was carried out to establish whether a criminal investigation should take place, all of which were under civilian oversight. The use of civilians, including children, as human shields was expressly prohibited by the law and the Israeli Defence Forces took specific measures to ensure that any allegations of such incidents were promptly investigated. As a part of the armed conflict between Israel and the Hamas, security measures had been implemented in and around Gaza Strip to protect Israel with the aim of protecting civilians.
Among the positive developments, for example, checkpoints and roadblocks had been removed. Checkpoints inside of the West Bank were often opened, and the free transfer of people and goods from one end of the West Bank to the other was a reality. When, because of security regulations, restrictions of movement were in place, specific needs in medical cases were taken into account. Permits to cross checkpoints within the West Bank and for exit into Jordan were no longer needed. Permits to entry into Israel were required to enter from the West Bank and, in 2011, almost 200,000 persons had entered for medical purposes. Concerning planning and zoning issues inside the West Bank, Israel noted that in areas A and B those rights and obligations had been transferred to the Palestinian authorities. As far as area C was concerned, an Israeli military commander was in charge of zoning and planning, and this was carried out in accordance with laws, rules and regulations.
The education system treated every child in Israel in the same manner; there was a sweeping prohibition of corporal punishment in the education system. Several education programmes dealt with the prevention of violence, while meetings between Jewish and non-Jewish students were taking place in some of the schools. The education system was also dealing with fighting poverty and school hours had been extended until 4 p.m., which allowed for a greater number of children to benefit from school feeding programmes; similarly, free textbooks were provided to more than half of students, 40 per cent of which were Arab children. Some 40 per cent of all newly built classrooms went to the Arab sectors and many of the new programmes in the city of Jerusalem were placed specifically in the neighbourhood of East Jerusalem.
Schools were not fully inclusive yet and the priority was to improve the integration of children with disabilities into society. Compulsory education for children with disabilities was three years longer and resources allocated by the State had increased to reach three-times the level of those for mainstream students. The only references removed from the textbooks concerning Palestinian culture and identity were those with denigrating references to the State of Israel.
The policy on children at risk was community oriented and services provided to families were being strengthened. As a result, the number of children in need had decreased significantly and this had allowed for budgetary savings, which were then reinvested into communities and community-based services for families. Over the past five years, Israel had learned a lot about its children and youth and about their specific needs, particularly about those at risk, thanks to mapping and identification exercises. So far, some 85,000 Arab children at risk had been identified. While they shared many of the needs of non-Arab children, they also had additional specific needs. This knowledge was being used for the design of community-based programmes tailored to the specific needs of these communities. Other vulnerable groups of children included orthodox Jews and new immigrants.
The provision of social services was the responsibility of the Government and local communities who could decide to act either directly or through private service providers, including non-governmental organizations. There were no links between the private provision of social services and levels of poverty; social services were accessible to all and were funded by the Government. Over the past several years, the focus had been the development of a foster care system and, as a result, most of the children in need today did not go into residential care but were placed with foster families.
In recent years, Israel had been experiencing a large influx of people from Africa. Since 2006, some 64,000 persons had crossed the border, mainly from the Sudan and Ethiopia. Israel applied strictly the principle of non-refoulement and had granted over 60,000 stay-permits so far. Considering that many Israelis had been refugees, there was a vibrant debate in the country about immigrants and about irregular migrants. Refugee determination procedures had been developed in close cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which was still monitoring their application. There were currently seven minors awaiting removal in detention.
Saharonim was a detention facility for asylum seekers near the Egyptian border which housed men, women and children. Appropriate services were being provided to residents, including social services, psychological services and education for children. The citizenship law guaranteed the right to citizenship for spouses of Israeli citizens. However, given the security situation, Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip did not benefit from these provisions. In case of parents being deported, the Government must make a decision whether to deport the child as well, and this decision must be made in the best interest of the child. Twenty children whose parents had been deported to South Sudan had been kept in Israel because their return to South Sudan involved too many risks and South Sudan could not offer sufficient guarantees as to their wellbeing.
Many Bedouins chose to live outside of settled areas and in unauthorized villages. About 80,000 lived in such sites in the Negev, where delivery of services, particularly water, remained a challenge. Authorized Bedouin settlements received water through centralized water supply systems with excellent water quality. Circumcision was a Jewish religious act and about 75,000 boys and men were circumcised in the country every year; complications would arise in about 50 cases and 95 per cent were minor complications. Israel had set targets for breastfeeding and each Government facility must provide space for breastfeeding or for expressing breast milk; and there were provisions regulating the advertising of formula. Birth confirmation documents were issued to children born in Israel to foreign parents and contained information about the child and the mother’s name; but there was currently a petition in the Supreme Court filed by non-governmental organizations against this practice.
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Israel, thanked the delegation for the fruitful dialogue and the willingness to answer the questions regardless of the differences in opinion on some legal issues. The concerns raised by the Committee, including those regarding education, juvenile detention, and the situation in the occupied territories, would be included in the concluding observations issued by the Committee at the end of the session.
EVIATAR MANOR, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reiterated the commitment of Israel to children’s rights and said that no efforts would be spared to ensure further improvements. Israel took careful note of what had been said by the Experts and this would all come to a good use for the children in the future. No country or person was perfect and everyone here stood for a better future for children.
HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their hard work and the efforts in responding to the questions asked by Committee Experts.
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