25 January 2018
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered via video conference the second periodic report of Palau under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Baklai Temengil, Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Working Committee of Palau, noted that even though it had limited resources to address many complex issues, the Government of Palau continued to prioritize the protection of children and it was seeking approaches to challenges in a more holistic manner. It had enacted legislative reforms to address sexual assault of children and to introduce higher penalties to deter human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. It had also enacted the Family Protection Act to better protect women, children and families from violence, and it had signed an inter-institutional memorandum of understanding to set clear procedures to expedite juvenile justice cases and to coordinate optimum plans for youth offenders. The new Penal Code included regulating the use of force against children and protected children from predatory actions, such as indecent electronic display of a child and promoting pornography of minors, as well as to treat labour trafficking and child exploitation crimes.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts inquired about the measures to carry out a comprehensive review of laws and policies to ensure their compliance with the Convention, dissemination of the Convention, budgetary allocations intended for children, disaggregated data on children’s issues, independent monitoring of children’s issues, inclusive education and physical accessibility for children with disabilities, the national mental health policy, potential de-criminalizing of abortion in cases of rape and incest, the high rate of marijuana and substance use in schools, children’s participation in the design of school emergency evacuation plans, gender parity in schools, sexual and reproductive health education, the high dropout rate in secondary schools, the right of children to participate and to be heard, customary (clan) adoption of children, trafficking of children, juvenile justice and age of criminal responsibility, corporal punishment, granting of nationality to non-Palau children, and drafting a code of conduct for businesses in the tourism industry.
In concluding remarks, Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson and head of the task force for Palau, thanked the delegation for an open and frank dialogue, adding that the Committee took into consideration all the challenges that the Government was facing. She expressed hope that the Committee’s recommendations would help improve the situation of children in Palau.
For her part, Ms. Temengil assured that the Government of Palau would continue to educate the public about human rights and to ensure that rights bearers understood their rights and responsibilities. With financial and technical support from international partners, the Government would continue to analyze national laws and make further amendments to legislation to ensure the protection of children’s rights.
The delegation of Palau included representatives of the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the National Congress. The dialogue was conducted via video conference.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 29 January, at 9 a.m. to review the combined third and fourth periodic report of Marshall Islands (CRC/C/MHL/3-4) via videoconference.
The Committee is reviewing the second periodic report of Palau (CRC/C/PLW/2).
Presentation of the Report
BAKLAI TEMENGIL, Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Working Committee of Palau, noted that the Government of Palau would value the Committee’s recommendations that would come out of the review, especially those concerning the effect of climate change and natural disasters on children’s rights. Some of the challenges were complex and required extensive support, namely human trafficking, migrant issues, and displacement and loss of land, property and homes due to climate change. As a small island developing country, Palau had limited resources to address those multi-dimensional issues. Nevertheless, the Government continued to prioritize the protection of its children and it was seeking approaches to challenges in a more holistic manner. It had enacted legislative reforms to address sexual assault of children and to introduce higher penalties to deter human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The Government had enacted the Family Protection Act as a way to protect women, children and families from violence, and it had dedicated resources towards implementing the law, as well as training for enforcement personnel. In order to improve juvenile justice, a memorandum of understanding had been signed to set clear outline procedures to expedite juvenile justice cases and to coordinate optimum plans for youth offenders. The new Penal Code included regulating the use of force against children and protected children from predatory actions, such as indecent electronic display of a child and promoting pornography of minors. It also protected children from harming themselves. The new Penal Code also included labour trafficking and child exploitation crimes.
The Constitution accorded children in Palau free and compulsory education. To improve access to education the Government provided free lunch and transportation to all public schools. The Palau Education Master Plan 2017-2026 emphasized the quest for a holistic approach to educate the whole child – mind, body and heart. The Government also recognized that the health of the child was necessary for better participation in school and it therefore provided healthcare and screening at school, as well as healthier foods and eating habits for students in order to fight obesity. Palau had a number of progressive traditions and current policies and programmes that promoted traditional and modern social inclusion for all. It was committed to promote equality of women and men, and girls and boys. New, more broadly focused policies were starting to establish a framework for social policies to reach across all sectors. The Palau National Youth Policy 2016-2021 identified the importance of the participation of youth, whereas the National Gender Mainstreaming Policy recommended a high-level cross-Government coordination mechanism to support gender mainstreaming across all ministries. International cooperation and support would be critical for addressing climate change challenges, human trafficking, migrant workers and gender-based violence, Ms. Temengil concluded.
Questions by the Committee Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Palau, asked about the progress made in the review of the Juvenile Act, and about measures to carry out a comprehensive review of laws and policies to ensure their compliance with the provisions of the Convention.
Was there a national body responsible for the coordination of the implementation of the Convention? What proportion of the increased budgetary allocations was intended for children? Did the State party intend to capture disaggregated data on children’s issues?
Turning to independent monitoring, Mr. Nelson inquired about where children could complain about mistreatment. Did children in Palau know about their rights under the Convention? What programmes were in place to inform them in schools?
When would the State party ban corporal punishment in all settings? What awareness raising campaigns would it undertake to change attitudes towards corporal punishment?
How was accessibility for children with disabilities to public buildings and services ensured? Was there inclusive education in Palau? Was there training for teachers who dealt with children with disabilities? What was the situation with respect to providing healthcare in rural areas for children with disabilities? Were there any special policies for families with children with disabilities?
As for health, Mr. Nelson inquired about non-communicable diseases, and whether there was a national mental health policy that addressed suicide and depression among youth. Would the State party consider de-criminalizing abortion in cases of rape and incest? What efforts had been taken to target the high rate of marijuana and substance use in schools?
How did school emergency evacuation plans consider the situation of children, especially of children with disabilities?
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Palau, asked about plans to raise awareness of children about their right to participate and to be heard. When would the review of the Family Code be ready?
Concerning formal adoption, were children under the age of 12 asked about their wishes? Why was it that children of foreign parents adopted in Palau did not receive the citizenship of Palau? Were there any safeguards in case of customary adoption within the larger family? What services were provided to children who were victims of sexual exploitation? What kind of training was there to address trafficking for sexual exploitation and trafficking for forced labour?
Was the State party willing to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 or 14? What kind of alternatives to custody of children were being prepared, asked Ms. Winter.
An Expert asked about the participation of civil society and children in the drafting of the periodic report. Had the Government considered adopting a code of conduct for the tourist industry? Was there direct or indirect participation of businesses in the protection of children’s rights?
What were the Government’s plans to amend the Constitution to safeguard the rights of children of non-Palau parents? Was there any process to introduce legislative measures to protect children from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation?
How was respect for the opinion of the child in schools, families and communities ensured? Was there a plan for the systematic inclusion of children’s participation in the design of laws and policies?
Another Expert drew attention to the definition of the child and the fact that girls in Palau could marry at the age of 16 with their parents’ permission. When would the State party set the minimum age of marriage at 18?
Was there a differentiation of the best interest of the child as the paramount and most important consideration in adoption cases?
What were the reasons for the low enrolment of girls in primary school? What steps had been taken to keep children in schools and to motivate them to continue their education? What was the reason for the low-level of education of teachers?
Turning to birth registration and nationality, Experts noted that the fact that the authorities only applied the principle of origin in granting the citizenship of Palau could lead to statelessness for those not born on the territory of the country. What measures would be considered by the Government to ensure that every child had the nationality of Palau?
Replies by the Delegation
BAKLAI TEMENGIL, Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Working Committee of Palau, explained that the Family Protection Act had a mechanism in place to provide protocols from the first responders, namely ministries that were responsible for the implementation of the act. Awareness raising campaigns had been organized regarding the accessibility of helplines throughout the country, and services were available in English and Palau.
Being a priority for the Government of Palau, the implementation and protection of children’s rights was a cross-sectoral responsibility of all ministries. As for budgetary allocations for children’s programmes, they were devoted mostly to healthcare and education. The Government had been working with ministries, particularly with the Division of Gender, to include disability in surveys and to provide more disaggregated data on children’s issues, Ms. Temengil said.
As for the dissemination of children’s rights, the Family Protection Act contained a handbook on rights, services and contacts in case of domestic violence. Turning to children’s participation, Ms. Temengil explained that children and youth in Palau were involved in many national activities and events where they could express their opinions about laws and policies.
The Government would continue with efforts to ensure accessibility to buildings and public services for children with disabilities, including its advocacy and awareness efforts in partnership with civil society. Families with children with disabilities were provided with financial aid every month, utility and water subsidies in case of low income, and healthcare subsidies, Ms. Temengil clarified.
The delegation stated that ratified international treaties had the same effect as the laws of the country. There had been no review of juvenile legislation, but the Government would look into that issue. The best interest of the child was of paramount importance for national courts in cases of adoption and divorce proceedings. Courts usually issued a subpoena and asked a psychiatrist and a social worker to assess children younger than 12 before they voiced their views.
The extended family and the clan traditionally took care of children, and the role of maternal uncles in caring for children was very important in the Palau society.
Turning to discrimination against children based on their gender identity and sexual orientation, the delegation explained that the Constitution did not specifically mention such ground for discrimination.
As for the granting of Palau citizenship, the adoption of non-Palau children by Palau parents and related citizenship issues would probably be addressed in the next referendum. The Government currently had no code of conduct for the tourism industry with respect to children’s issues.
Corporal punishment was strictly prohibited in schools, but there was no specific legislation on banning it in all settings. The legal provision that allowed using force on children specifically referred to situations where children wanted to commit suicide or harm themselves.
The Criminal Code had been revised in 2014 and allowed for deferred sentencing of juvenile offenders. The minimum age of criminal responsibility had been raised to 14. Juvenile offenders were held separately from adult offenders. Currently, no minors were held in detention. Detention was used as the measure of last resort.
Ms. Temengil clarified that the Government pursued preventive healthcare in schools, and the Ministry of Health had increased the opportunity for the training of nurses. There was a national mental health policy to deal with suicide, whereas sexual and reproductive health education was available in schools.
As for potential de-criminalization of abortion in case of rape and incest, the delegation said that it would verify how that issue was treated in the new Penal Code and that it would take the Committee’s recommendations under consideration.
The delegation explained that the Ministry of Education provided special education in all public schools for students with disabilities. Special education teachers were trained together with regular teachers. The Ministry provided assistive devices and transportation to students who needed them. As for the provision of education in remote communities, relevant ministries conducted monitoring trips to ensure the quality of education in remote schools.
On the low enrolment rate of girls in primary schools, it reflected the population dynamics and there was gender parity in schools. The authorities aimed to address the dropout rate in secondary schools by introducing more hands-on and technical education. The low-level education of teachers was a challenge for the Government, which was trying to recruit more teachers.
Sexual and reproductive health education was in place in schools to raise awareness among adolescents about the risks of early pregnancy. The Ministry of Health had launched an awareness raising programme to highlight the risks of marijuana, drugs and tobacco use. The authorities had made access to tobacco and alcohol use more restrictive and they had raised the age of use to 21. The Ministry of Justice had mandated a task force to prevent the sales of drugs and narcotics to minors, and to impose more stringent fines for dealers.
All schools received assistance in developing emergency evacuation plans, in cooperation with international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and head of the task force for Palau, thanked the delegation for an open and frank dialogue, adding that the Committee took into consideration all the challenges that the Government was facing. She expressed hope that the Committee’s recommendations would help improve the situation of children in Palau.
BAKLAI TEMENGIL, Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs and Vice Chair of the Human Rights Working Committee of Palau, assured that the Government of Palau would continue to educate the public about human rights and to ensure that rights bearers understood their rights and responsibilities. In Palau, a child was born into a clan where he or she took root from birth and was raised by the members of the clan and community, learning the local culture, traditions and to be a well-respected individual in the community. With the financial and technical support from international partners, the Government would continue to analyze national laws and make further amendments to legislation in order to ensure the protection of children’s rights.
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