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COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS MEETS WITH CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATIVES FROM SENEGAL, DENMARK AND SLOVAKIA

7 October 2019

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning heard from civil society organizations on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Senegal, Denmark and Slovakia, whose reports the Committee will review this week.

Civil society organizations from Denmark said receivers of integration benefits were facing challenges in enjoying their rights under the Covenant and the Danish Constitution. The law on integration benefits should be abolished.

Speaking about Slovakia, a civil society organization drew the Committee's attention to concerns regarding undocumented migrant women’s access to quality and affordable maternal health care in Slovakia.

On Senegal, a non-governmental organization said secondary school students were forced to pay high fees, which led to the drop out of numerous girls and exposed them to sexual exploitation. School-related sexual violence was pervasive in secondary schools. On another issue, the Government’s criminalization and harassment of men having sex with men was undermining its efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Amnesty International and the Centre for Reproductive Rights spoke about Denmark. ActionAid Denmark also spoke on this country by videoconference.

Speaking on Slovakia was the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

Human Rights Watch spoke on the situation in Senegal.

The Committee will next meet in public today, 7 October, at 3 p.m., to consider the third periodic report of Senegal (E/C.12/SEN/3).

Opening Remarks

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, welcomed representatives of civil society from Senegal, Denmark and Slovakia.

Statement by a Civil Society Organization on Denmark

ActionAid Denmark, speaking via videoconference, said the integration benefits scheme had been changed in 2015 to make it less attractive to refugees to go to Denmark. About 96 per cent of such benefits went to non-Westerners. The law on integration benefits, by targeting a certain group of people, contravened article 2 of the Covenant. There were families with budgets so small they could not access healthcare services. Instead of integrating refugees, this law was ironically further excluding them. Some believed that the integration benefits scheme also violated the Danish constitution. Receivers of this benefit were facing challenges in enjoying their rights under the Covenant and the Danish Constitution; the law on integration benefits should be abolished.

Questions by Committee Experts and Responses

An Expert asked if there were any advantages to this scheme.

Another Expert asked what opportunities and incentives were provided for people who were not eligible to this benefit to ensure that they could contribute to Danish society.

ActionAid Denmark replied that the integration scheme had been developed with good intentions. On the ground, however, the effect was opposite to the outcome sought. It put families in a situation where they had to beg to obtain things they had a right to. Inequalities was straining their relationship with Denmark.

Statements by other Civil Society Organizations on Denmark

Amnesty International said it had documented in a report that rape-related legislation and practices continued to fall short of international human rights law and standards. It was concerning that education about relationships, sexual autonomy and consent was not included in compulsory school sexuality education programmes. Danish authorities should introduce sex characteristics as a ground of discrimination in relevant laws. On people born with variations of sex characteristics, they should develop national human-rights based guidelines with an emphasis on postponing non-emergency, invasive and irreversible surgery or hormone treatment on infants and children. The L38 law on social housing was discriminatory against residents from “non-Western countries”. The Government should repeal it.

Centre for Reproductive Rights expressed concerns regarding compliance with article 12 of the Covenant as a result of legal and policy barriers preventing undocumented migrant women from accessing quality and affordable maternal healthcare in Denmark. They were not entitled to any cost coverage for antenatal care and could only access emergency free of charge, that is during obstetric emergencies or when delivery took place before 37 weeks of pregnancy or after 41 weeks. Health care providers could construe “emergency care” narrowly and exclude undocumented migrant women from cost coverage schemes for certain maternal healthcare services. These policies could also negatively impact the quality of care provided to undocumented migrant women.

Questions by Committee Experts and Responses

An Expert asked for more information about sex education in Denmark. Noting that it was not compulsory, she asked when and how it was provided.

Another Expert asked about access to housing.

Amnesty International said that, while sex education was compulsory, there was no fixed number of hours allotted to it and teachers had no obligation to get training on sex education. Sex education in Denmark focused on biology, overlooking topics such as consent and relationships. And yet, sex education could play a role in preventing sexual violence; it was an important tool to change attitudes. Age-appropriate sex education should be provided throughout high school. On housing, Amnesty International was worried that the L38 law could lead to forced evictions. The Government should consult with concerned individuals. Everyone had a right to housing.

Centre for Reproductive Rights said the previous Government had defended the current laws and policies. Perhaps the Committee could ask the delegation if the current Government intended to carry out legislative reforms on this matter.

Statement by a Civil Society Organization on Slovakia

Centre for Reproductive Rights drew the Committee's attention to concerns regarding undocumented migrant women’s access to quality and affordable maternal health care in Slovakia. While undocumented migrant women were entitled to access emergency health care, which was understood to encompass care during labour and delivery, most of them did not meet conditions for participating in the public health insurance system. Furthermore, public health insurance in Slovakia did not cover any forms of contraceptives for pregnancy prevention and coverage was explicitly prohibited by law. Women must also observe a mandatory waiting period and received biased information before abortion.

Statement by a Civil Society Organization on Senegal

Human Rights Watch said Senegal did not provide fully free primary and secondary education. Secondary school students were forced to pay high fees, which led to the drop out of numerous girls and exposed them to sexual exploitation. School-related sexual violence was pervasive in secondary schools. In some cases, teachers married their students following a sexual relationship. Schools provided very limited information on sexuality and reproduction. Teachers often provided incorrect information in that regard. Secondary schools should be free of charge and the inclusion of comprehensive sexual education in the curriculum should be expedited. On talibés, that is boys studying the Koran at daara schools, Senegal should crack down on the abuse through both preventive and punitive responses. On homosexuality, there were arrests of people based on their perceived sexual orientation. The Government’s criminalization and harassment of men having sex with men was undermining its efforts to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Questions by Committee Experts and Responses

Committee Experts asked what were the causes of forced begging and other issues related to the situation of talibés.

Another Expert asked about sexual exploitation in schools known as “sex for grades”.

Human Rights Watch said a lack of political will was a factor affecting the cases of forced begging and other issues related to talibés. While the Government had expressed its willingness to address this issue, pressure from religious and other groups had proven to be an impediment. Some government officials and policemen were aware of abuses and failed to take action. There was a lack of capacity in prosecution. Koranic teachers were not sufficiently held to account.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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