23 January 2018
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered via video conference the combined second and third periodic report of Solomon Islands under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Cedric Alependava, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs of Solomon Islands, noted that since the previous periodic report, the Government had started the application of the Family Protection Act and of the Sexual Offences Act in 2016. It had enacted the Child and Family Welfare Act in 2017, and it was currently reviewing the Education Act, the Islanders Births, Deaths and Marriages Act, the Juvenile Offenders Act, as well as raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12, and having separate facilities for children in conflict with the law. With the support of development partners, the Government had established a juvenile court and had allocated space for the hearing of family matters at the magistrates’ court. The Government’s National Development Strategy 2016-2035 was committed to promote gender equality and to provide support to disadvantaged and vulnerable persons, complete free, equitable and quality early childhood education and care by 2020, as well as equitable access to quality basic education. The Government had also embarked on an Access to Justice project in 2017 to ensure that access to justice under the Family Protection Act of 2013 was improved, and it had launched the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System in 2014.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the legislative efforts in the country to bring laws in line with the Convention provisions, but noted that the remaining legal gaps needed to be addressed, such as the Islanders Births, Deaths and Marriages Act which allowed girls to marry at the age of 15. Experts also highlighted the following issues: awareness raising programmes about newly adopted legislation, the pace of the ongoing legal reform, dissemination of the Convention, comprehensive data collection, budgetary allocations for children’s programmes, establishing an office of the child rights commissioner, juvenile justice, corporal punishment, violence against children, helpline and shelters for victims of violence, birth registration, alternative care and informal adoptions, inclusive education of children with disabilities, teacher and student absenteeism, low vaccination coverage, economic exploitation and child labour, trafficking in children, social welfare for children, safe access to the Internet, breastfeeding, sexual education, and mental health.
In concluding remarks, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Expert and head of the task force for Solomon Islands, acknowledged that the country was facing challenges due to the geographical environment, and constraints in terms of financial and human resources. However, the ongoing legislative developments which were at a draft stage were opportunities to adequately address children’s rights. He suggested that the Government make the best use of the Committee’s concluding observations.
Mr. Alependava noted that the dialogue would assist the Government to better recognize and translate the issues in question to reality and to strategize on how it could address them. He reminded that as a small island country, Solomon Islands still faced limitations in providing basic services to the fullest extent possible, but he reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to meeting the obligations under the Convention.
Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and sent the Committee’s regards to the children of Solomon Islands.
The delegation of Solomon Islands included representatives of the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, and the Ministry of Commerce, Industries, Labour and Immigration. The dialogue was held via video conference.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 25 January, at 9 a.m., to review the second periodic report of Palau (CRC/C/PLW/2) via video conference.
The Committee is reviewing the combined second and third periodic report of Solomon Islands (CRC/C/SLB/2-3).
Presentation of the Report
CEDRICK ALEPENDAVA, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs of Solomon Islands, said that 40 per cent of the population of the Solomon Islands were under the age of 18, and about 15 per cent of the population lived in urban areas. The country comprised more than 900 islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Since its previous periodic report, the Government had started the application of the Family Protection Act and of the Sexual Offences Act in 2016. It had enacted the Child and Family Welfare Act in 2017, and it was currently reviewing the Education Act, the Islanders Births, Deaths and Marriages Act, the Juvenile Offenders Act, as well as the age of criminal responsibility, and having separate facilities for children in conflict with the law. With the support of development partners, the Government had established a juvenile court and had allocated space for the hearing of family matters at the magistrates’ court. In dealing with cross-border trafficking in human beings, the Government had established a Trafficking in Persons Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Committee in 2012. The Government’s National Development Strategy 2016-2035 was committed to promote gender equality and to provide support to disadvantaged and vulnerable persons, complete free, equitable and quality early childhood education and care by 2020, as well as equitable access to quality basic education. In 2017 the guidelines for minimum standards of the management and care for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence had been launched with assistance from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Australian Government.
The Government had also embarked on an Access to Justice project in 2017 to ensure that access to justice under the Family Protection Act of 2013 was improved, and it had launched the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System in 2014. In terms of health, the country had achieved its Millennium Development Goals in the areas of child mortality under the age of five, infant mortality, and the proportion of one-year old children vaccinated against measles. The Government recognized that there were significant areas to improve in the field of neonatal health, infant mortality, nutrition and food security, and maternal health. In collaboration with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, Solomon Islands had received confirmation of GAVI funding to cater to the increased coverage and introduction of vaccine programmes for Rota virus, hepatitis B and human papilloma virus. As for education, the positive trend of early school enrolment had come about due to the Government’s funding and support for education. However, the gender parity in primary education remained low. The authorities had undertaken reforms in the early childhood education sector, making the universal age for pre-primary education five. Turning to challenges, Mr. Alependava noted that they included the nature and geographical spread of the country, financial, human and capacity constraints, information, communication and technological issues, and cultural diversity and values.
Questions by the Committee Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Solomon Islands, commended the legislative efforts in the country to bring laws in line with the Convention provisions. When would the Child and Family Welfare Act enter into force? Were there any awareness raising programmes about the new legislation? When would the Government review legal acts that were not in line with the Convention, namely the Islanders Births, Deaths and Marriages Act which allowed girls to marry at the age of 15?
What were the results of the review of the previous national strategy for children? Was there comprehensive data collection in the country? Did the survey cover the situation of children with disabilities?
As for independent monitoring, Mr. Nelson noted that the authorities should establish a child rights commissioner or a child protection officer. Were there any activities in schools with respect to disseminating the Convention?
It seemed that there was no law prohibiting corporal punishment, but a policy banning it only in schools. When would this situation change? Had the police been given more resources to enforce laws on preventing violence against children? Were there any community-based programmes addressing violence against children, especially of sexual abuse? Were there any shelters for victims with counseling and reintegration services? Was there a helpline in the country?
On juvenile justice, Mr. Nelson asked about sufficient training of judicial and probation officers. Was there a juvenile court covering rural areas? Was it true that juvenile offenders were held together with adults? Were there alternative measures to imprisoning children?
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Solomon Islands, inquired about birth registration of children born outside the hospital environment. What were the penalties for those parents who failed to register their children within reasonable time? Were there any measures in place to avoid the situation of statelessness?
Were there minimum standards for alternative care? Were there any measures to monitor the mechanisms for alternative care? Was there periodic review of children placed in institutions? Were there risks related to informal adoptions of children within the family?
Was there improvement in inclusive education of children with disabilities? What were the reasons for budget cuts for community-based rehabilitation?
Turning to health, Mr. Mezmur inquired about the low vaccination coverage. What were some of the challenges and successes in that regard?
Mr. Mezmur reminded that abortion was a criminal offence without exception. What were the challenges in that respect? What had been the impact of providing information on the transmission of HIV from mother to child?
How did the State party plan to address the fact that textbooks were available only in English, which was the second language of the country? How many of those not making progress in education were girls, and how many were boys? What were the measures taken to address teacher and student absenteeism?
In terms of economic exploitation and child labour, there was no policy and no programmes for children working in logging and fishing. Would the State address the fact that domestic trafficking was not an offence, as well as the sale of girls as foreign workers, Mr. Mezmur asked.
An Expert asked about efforts to end discrimination against children with disabilities and rural girls. What were implementation measures and training for professionals on the best interest of the child? What kind of efforts were being made to ensure the right of the child was heard? How did children take part in discussions about the national natural disaster plan?
What did the State party plan to do to balance out self-protection of the child and independence of the child when accessing the Internet?
In terms of breastfeeding, what was the number of hospitals that were child friendly, in line with UNICEF’s criteria? What did the Government plan to do to curb the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco? What was being done to ensure the welfare of children?
What were the plans of the State party for the Mental Health Treatment Act which was still under review? What would be done with respect to the quality of services? Did the Government plan to introduce sexual education in all areas of the country, including remote areas?
An Expert inquired about budgetary allocations and the measures taken to reduce the heavy reliance on foreign assistance. How did the Government ensure the alignment of donors’ priorities with children’s programmes?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that it would take about a year before the launch of the Child and Family Welfare Act was decided. The Government had worked with UNICEF to develop positive parenting as the baseline of that act, and key advocacy activities in the country. As for the Family Protection Act, training for public servants, judicial personnel, police and supporting organizations had been implemented, and the Family Protection Advisory Council had also been set up. Once the Government finalized its advocacy plan, it would organize awareness programmes to inform children and parents about the Child and Family Welfare Act.
The review of the national strategy on children, which was supposed to take place in 2017, did not take place. UNICEF would assist the Government in that process and the review was supposed to start shortly. Comprehensive data collection on child protection did not exist in itself and the authorities relied on the statistics gathered by the Ministry of Finance.
The Government was looking into the best options for the establishment of a child’s rights commissioner and it was deliberating with UNICEF and non-governmental organizations.
The budgetary allocation given by the Government was quite small in comparison with ministries. The Government anticipated an increase in its budgetary support to children and youth. Foreign donor assistance would, nevertheless, be incorporated into budgetary programme lines.
The Child and Family Welfare Act stipulated respect for the views of the child and the best interest of the child.
In terms of access to the Internet, it was a growing concern not only in the country but in the region. At the school level the authorities had tried to educate children and teachers about safe use of the Internet. The Sexual Offences Act of 2016 criminalized exposing inappropriate photos of children on the Internet.
The Public Solicitor’s Office had conducted some level of awareness raising campaigns to inform children and parents on the use of protection orders under the Family Protection Act. But such campaigns were not consistent in schools.
Raising the minimum age of marriage of 15 was not a priority of the ongoing legal reforms at the moment. However, amendments to the Penal Code would consider sexual offences against girls under the age of 15. There were challenges with respect to the enforcement of protection orders due to the country’s dispersed geography and capacity problems.
There was a helpline established by the service provider – Safe Place – which was a clinic established by the police and the Ministry of Health. It dealt primarily with victims of gender-based violence. The Government acknowledged that a helpline specifically for child victims should be considered.
Under the current review of the Juvenile Offenders Act a training had been conducted with lawyers in January 2018, whereas judges would receive training in February. Juvenile offenders were currently placed with adults. However, the principles of the Youth Justice Bill did address the separation of juvenile offenders from adults before and after convictions. It also addressed alternative sentences. Juvenile offenders had access to free legal counsel at any stage of the criminal proceedings.
The Youth Justice Bill attempted to address the four main principles of the Convention on children in conflict with the law: the best interest of the child, detention as the measure of last resort, rehabilitation and reintegration. Government lawyers were currently considering the fifth draft of the bill.
The failure to register children within reasonable time was an issue that would be considered by the Government. It was envisaged that soon after birth mothers could register babies born outside a hospital environment. There were challenges in birth registration for children born outside wedlock.
Statelessness was currently not an issue for the country. The Government acknowledged that there were no written rules for informal adoption of children within the family. Changes to the Adoption Act did provide some safety nets.
Abortion was an offence, but it would be addressed by the ongoing legal review process. The Sexual Offences Act provided better protection to girls and boys with respect to sexual and economic exploitation, and it addressed the sale and prostitution of children.
Sexual education had been included in secondary school curricula. There was a ban on the sale of tobacco to minors under the age of 18, in addition to awareness raising campaigns in schools.
The current Immigration Act and Labour Act criminalized child trafficking and aimed to provide powers to the police and immigration authorities to combat trafficking. They stipulated punishment of those who exploited children under the age of 18. There was a four-pronged approach to fighting child trafficking: prevention, punishment, prosecution and partnership. There were two shelters for victims of trafficking operated by the national police, as well as faith-based shelters. The country experienced challenges in terms of providing sufficient psycho-social and rehabilitation support to victims of trafficking. The current Immigration Act could also deal with the cases of domestic trafficking.
The Attorney General’s Chamber was closely involved in the proposed reforms to the Mental Health Act. Increasing vaccination coverage was challenging due to the country’s dispersed geography, supervision and monitoring of health staff, training of health staff on storage and transportation of vaccines, and the distribution of vaccines.
The breastfeeding policy needed improvement in coordination at the national and provincial level, training of health workers and mothers during the pre-natal period, and education and awareness raising on the benefits of breastfeeding in schools and communities. Out of nine hospitals, four met UNICEF’s mother friendly standards.
The Government used regional guidelines for the prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child, and it was drafting its own guidelines. The authorities were committed to re-open clinics in rural areas.
In terms of the inclusion of children with disabilities in education, the Government was working with faith-based organizations and the Red Cross on a set of initiatives. Another initiative was to make health services accessible to children with disabilities.
The Ministry of Education aimed to ensure universal access to quality education by 2020. Teacher absenteeism was a great concern for the Government which experienced difficulties in monitoring some 10,000 teachers. Even though the national language was English, there was a pilot project on vernacular language. In future, the Government would translate textbooks in various languages in the country. The authorities ensured that children were involved in preparing emergency disaster plans in schools.
Even though education was not compulsory in Solomon Islands, the Government was working to make it compulsory. Children started primary education at the age of six, and usually left at the age of 11. As for gender parity in education, the authorities were implementing a programme on second chances in acquiring education for girls. Child absenteeism was high due to the difficult road that children had to cross from home to school.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Expert and head of the task force for Solomon Islands, thanked the delegation for the responses. He reiterated that the country was facing challenges due to its geographical environment, and constraints in terms of financial and human resources. However, the ongoing legislative developments which were at a draft stage were opportunities to adequately address children’s rights. The remaining challenges mostly had to do with violence against children, birth registration and education. He suggested that the Government make the best use of the Committee’s concluding observations.
CEDRICK ALEPENDAVA, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs of Solomon Islands, noted that the dialogue would assist the Government to better recognize and translate the issues in question to reality and to strategize on how it could address them. Mr. Alependava reminded that as a small island country Solomon Islands still faced limitations in providing basic services to the fullest extent possible. He reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to meeting the obligations under the Convention.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and sent the Committee’s regards to the children of Solomon Islands.
For use of the information media; not an official record