COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS INITIAL REPORT OF THE BAHAMAS

Committee on the
Rights of the Child 19 January 2005


The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial report of the Bahamas on that country’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report was Melanie Griffin, the Minister of Social Services and Community Development of the Bahamas, who reaffirmed her country’s unwavering commitment to the implementation of the Convention and pledged its continuing cooperation with the Committee and the international community as a whole in meeting that goal.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Ghalia Mohd Bin Hammad Al-Thani, who served as Rapporteur for the report of the Bahamas, thanked the delegation for the information it provided and said that the Committee was assured of the level of commitment the country was giving to the implementation of the rights of children. She said the Committee, in its final concluding observations, would reflect its concerns. It would also note the positive aspects of the constitutional and legislative reform that was taking place in the country.

Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions pertaining to corporal punishment, child maintenance, education, natural disasters, sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and juvenile justice.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Bahamas towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 28 January.

The delegation of the Bahamas consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Permanent Mission of the Bahamas in Geneva.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, the Bahamas is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The 6-person delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 20 January, it is scheduled to take up the second periodic report of Iran (CRC/C/104/Add.3).

Report of the Bahamas

According to the initial report of the Bahamas, which is contained in document CRC/C/8/Add.50, measures are currently being considered in relation to law and policy in order to harmonize national laws and policies with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child where there are anomalies. There is a constant review of legislation, in particular the law relating to family matters, by the Attorney General’s Office in consultation with the various government offices and non-governmental organizations.

The report notes that the Bahamas faces immense challenges in responding positively to some aspects of the Convention due to the constant influx and high percentage of the undocumented migrant population in the country. According to the Department of Immigration, these are persons who enter the country without proper documentation. Additionally, it is estimated that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 undocumented migrants residing in the country. Approximately 85 per cent of these are Haitians who entered the country by sea. A high percentage of this group and their off springs have not been assimilated into the society.

The report says that the country’s Constitution of 1973 states that every person in the Bahamas is entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms and provides for the protection of the right to life, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed and sex. The Children and Young Persons Act, which was enacted in September 1947, provides for the protection of children from all forms of cruelty and exploitation.

Presentation of Report

MELANIE GRIFFIN, Minister of Social Services and Community Development, said the economy of the Bahamas was based on the two main economic activities of tourism and financial services, and its relative success in those two areas had resulted in the Bahamas attaining a per capita income of $16,500 in 2004. That relative prosperity should be seen, however, within a context of uneven development and resource distribution, as the population was spread over approximately 20 main islands and cays.

The Bahamas had a relatively homogenous population, as approximately 85 per cent was of Afro-Caribbean origin, while the remaining 15 per cent consisted largely of persons of Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian origin, Ms. Griffin said. The population had a high rate of literacy, standing at approximately 85 per cent, and a high level of participation in the political process in the country. The most pressing issue with respect to the make-up of the population of the Bahamas stemmed from the problem of illegal immigration, largely from Haiti. However, the Government was making every effort to ensure that all persons in the country, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality and immigration status, were accorded their human rights and fundamental freedoms and were ensured access to basic social services and due process of the law.

Ms. Griffin said the current Government had placed priority on investing in children through its policies and budgetary allocations. The investment in the development of children attempted to ensure that no child went hungry, none was homeless, none was denied medical services due to lack of funds, no child remained illiterate, none was abused or abandoned, and every child had the right to be respected and protected by his or her family, the community and the State.

A major advance since the coming to office of the current Government in May 2002 had been the creation of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, she said. Discussions were underway with the Office of the Attorney General towards the preparation of a new act for the well-being and protection of children.

Ms. Griffin said her Government was committed to the establishment of partnerships with non-governmental organizations and their participation in the development of policies and programmes.

In conclusion, Ms. Griffin reaffirmed her country’s unwavering commitment to the implementation of the Convention and pledged its continuing cooperation with the Committee and the international community as a whole in meeting that goal.

Questions by Committee Experts

GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of the Bahamas, said the State party had ratified a number of international instruments, including the ILO Conventions Nos. 138 and 182 on minimum age of admission to employment and on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, respectively. However, it had not yet ratified the two Optional Protocols to the Convention concerning child involvement in armed conflicts and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The State party had entered a reservation on article 2 of the Convention.

Ms. Al-Thani said the State party had ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, but had not ratified the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The report, although easy to read and follow, was somewhat legalistic, not very analytical and did not fully reflect the real status of children in the county, Ms. Al-Thani said. On coordination and monitoring, she asked if trans-sectoral and inter-ministerial work had been done to actually implement the rights of the child. Was there an independent mechanism, such as a human rights commission, to monitor the implementation of the rights of the child? How independent and free was civil society in its actions to support children? Did the State party take legal measures against the practice of corporal punishment?

Another Expert asked if social services were provided to asylum seekers. She also asked if the opinion of a child was respected in matters of custody. Did a child have the right to have medical counselling without the parents’ permission? On freedom of religion, did children have the right to pursue a religion other than that of their parents?

Referring to the Bahamas reservation on article 2 of the Convention, another Expert asked if the State party intended to withdraw its reservation. On data collection, he said the number of immigrants in the country was known. The definition of the child was inconsistent with the minimum age for work and the period of compulsory education. The age limit of 10 years for criminal responsibility was also low.

Two important acts were adopted in 2002 concerning the elimination of discrimination against children born out of wedlock and inheritance, an Expert said. What measures were taken to implement them? Was the Government applying the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Refugee Status when dealing with cases of asylum? The country had a very good macro-economic system; did the Government allocate appropriate funds to children in the field of education and health? She also mentioned non-registration of births, domestic violence and women's inability to give their nationality to their children if the father was a foreigner.

There was no disaggregated data on children between 2001 and 2003, echoed another Expert. Was the Inter-Ministerial Council, in which only three ministries were involved, the only body that dealt with children? Which ministry coordinated the Council?

Racial discrimination against Haitians reportedly continued in the Bahamas, an Expert said, seeking further information on the steps taken by the Government to prevent discrimination against the immigrants. Still needed in the country was an act of reconciliation between the Black and the White communities. The lack of birth registration and the issue of youth violence were also other concerns expressed by the Expert. What measures had been taken to change the traditional attitude that "children should be seen and not heard"?

Other Committee Experts also raised a number of questions pertaining to a hotline for children, children placed in foster families, regional disparities among islands, the low rate of breastfeeding, the status of HIV/AIDS and orphaned children, child labour, the rise in the number of children detained with adults, commercial sexual exploitation of children and the expansion of sexual tourism, police violence against children, illegal drug use, the immunization programme, and the handling of delinquent parents, among other things.

Response by Delegation of the Bahamas

The demographical dispersion and the distance between islands had been a major impediment to the advancement of the country’s development plans, the delegation said. The Bahamas was composed of a number of islands where infrastructure for electricity, health, education and other services still needed to be developed. The population distribution had resulted in a considerable strain on the resources of the country in terms of the duplication of the social and economic infrastructure in each of the population centres.

There was no major racial problem in the Bahamas, the delegation affirmed. There was freedom of association for all citizens without distinction. All people cohabited in a peaceful manner without any problems.

The Government was in the process of drafting an umbrella definition of children, the delegation said. Once the drafting was concluded, it would be integrated into the country’s legislation. A committee was also working on a constitutional review, which would affect the rights of the child in a positive manner.

All children in the Bahamas, whatever their ethnic or national background, were entitled to a compulsory education up to the age of 16 years, the delegation said. The Catholic Church was playing an important role in providing English as a language for those whose mother tongue was not English. Students having different beliefs were exempted from religious education upon the request of their parents.

The Bahamas provided health care services free of charge to all children in the country, the delegation said. The main hospitals and clinics were equipped with all the necessary materials and services to treat children.

The Government supported non-governmental organizations by providing them with funds and services, the delegation said. They had access to information and they were considered partners in the implementation of the rights of the child.

The Government had focused in recent years on children with disabilities, the delegation said. The focus also targeted the elimination of discrimination against children with disabilities and related taboos. Further advocacy by the government and non-governmental agencies was required in dealing with the issue. The Government was also envisaging to take measures to provide assistance, through the national insurance system, to children with disabilities under 16 years.

In order to tackle the phenomenon of the “sugar daddy” syndrome, which brought older men in contact with teenage girls for sexual privileges, the Government had taken legislative and administrative measures, the delegation said. Parents were also advised to see into the matter and protect their children from being involved in such acts.

Concerning police brutality against children, the delegation said that a special unit had been put in place in the police department that dealt with this issue. However, no complaints had been lodged either by parents or children to the Attorney General.

According to the 2001 Act on employment, any employer who engaged a child or any parent who allowed a child to work would receive a fine of $ 1,000. The Act intended to strengthen the State’s efforts in fighting against child labour.

Children placed in institutions had been abandoned by their parents. They were placed temporarily until foster families were found to take care of them, the delegation said. Last year, an act had been adopted on residential care of children with the aim of strengthening the protection and care of children.

Flying doctors served families and children in all islands, the delegation said. In addition, air ambulances were provided for serious ailments of children and adults alike to bring them to the capital city Nassau.

The Government encouraged breastfeeding for all mothers, at least for the first six months, the delegation said. Ninety-seven per cent of infants born in hospitals were exclusively breastfed.

Treatment for HIV/AIDS victims was available on a non-discriminatory basis to all children and pregnant women, the delegation said. About 10 per cent of the patients on anti-retroviral therapy for 2004 were children who had benefited from the approximately $ 900,000 spent on medication by the Government. The rate of transmission from mother-to-child had been significantly reduced, thanks to the aggressive intervention of a preventive programme on the issue. In 2002, the Government had adopted a national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS.

There was a high rate of teenage pregnancy in the Bahamas and this had become a problem, the delegation said. Although girls were readmitted to resume their education after delivery, there was a stigma attached to them. To avoid this stigma, they were admitted to new schools after their return.

Schools dropouts were related to pregnancy and academic failure, the delegation said. The Government had taken further measures by introducing vocational training programmes for students who were unable to continue in their academic careers. Accordingly, there were only 87 dropouts for 3,000 graduates in 2002.


Preliminary Remarks

GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of the Bahamas, thanked the members of the delegation for the information they provided and said that the Committee was assured about the level of the State party’s commitment for the implementation of the rights of children. In its final observations on the report, the Committee would reflect its concerns. It would also note the positive aspects of the constitutional and legislative reform that was taking place in the country. Concerns would be expressed on data collection, birth registration, violence inside and outside the family, corporal punishment, child labour, sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy, among other things. The Committee would encourage the State party to put in action the national plan for children and would recommend the need for a trans-ministerial coordination mechanism for the implementation of the rights of the child.


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