Committee on the
Rights of the Child 28 September 2004
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial report of Antigua and Barbuda on that country’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report was Colin Derrick, the Minister of Social Transformation of Antigua and Barbuda, who said the country was absolutely and unequivocally committed to the application of the Convention. The Department of Social Improvement had established a National Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2000 to monitor the implementation of the Convention and to ensure that the rights of the child were given high priority as part of the national development thrust. Among other things, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda aimed to ensure that children in the country were provided with the best education, health care and protection from all forms of violence and exploitation.
In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Yanghee Lee, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Angola, hoped the commitment expressed by the delegation today would continue to benefit all children in Antigua and Barbuda. Among other things, the Rapporteur recommended that the State party ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Serving as co-Rapporteur for the report was Committee Expert Awa N’Deye Ouedraogo, who said the Committee had taken note of the Government’s commitment to implement the Convention and hoped it would translate that into legislation to benefit the children in the country. The co-Rapporteur said the Committee expressed hope that progress would be made in terms of corporal punishment and encouraged the State party to finish its work on its pending Family Law.
Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions pertaining to corporal punishment, child maintenance, education, natural disasters, sexual exploitation, poverty alleviation and juvenile justice.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 1 October.
The delegation of Antigua and Barbuda consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Social Transformation, the Child Welfare Office, the Office of the Executive Director for Gender Affairs and the National Committee on the Rights of the Child.
As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Antigua and Barbuda is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.
When the Committee reconvenes in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 October, it will conclude its thirty-seventh session and present its concluding observations on the reports of the seven State parties presented during the three-week session.
Report of Antigua and Barbuda
According to the report, which is contained in document CRC/C/28/Add.22, the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda enshrines the basic right of a child to be legally protected against any discrimination that can result from the circumstances of its birth. The Ministry of Youth has produced a draft National Youth Policy that is currently being reviewed for enactment into law. The Government has taken steps to bring local laws and policies in compliance with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The report states that there is no single uniform definition of a child that holds true for all circumstances. However, for a number of different purposes, activities and responsibilities, the law in Antigua and Barbuda uses various terms such as child, infant, minor, juvenile and young person to define persons below the age of 18 years. The Education Act stipulates that all children between ages of five and 16 years are to stay in school and under the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code, a child is defined as a person under 14 years. Moreover, under the Domestic Violence Act, a child is defined as any person under the age of 18.
There are few local laws that directly address the issue of how parents should guide their children’s lives or what responsibilities they have towards their children. However, common law recognizes that parents have a duty to see that their children receive due care and attention. Most children in Antigua and Barbuda grow up in relatively safe family environments, however, the problem of street children is just beginning in Antigua and Barbuda. Of particular concern is the limited access to secondary education. The Government recognizes that more secondary schools need to be built to provide more spaces at that level.
Introduction of Report
COLIN DERRICK, Minister of Social Transformation of Antigua and Barbuda, pointed out that his Government was approximately six months old, having been elected in March 2004. It had inherited unfinished business in relation to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Despite the tardiness of the report, Antigua and Barbuda pledged to the Committee its commitment in observing future reporting schedules and reaffirmed its commitment to ensure that the fundamental rights and freedoms of the child were promoted and protected. Antigua and Barbuda was absolutely and unequivocally committed to the application of the Convention. The Government had inherited a stupendous national debt which had placed severe constraints on its ability to meet ongoing national, regional and international obligations, the Minister added.
The Department of Social Improvement had established a National Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2000 to monitor the implementation of the Convention and to ensure that the rights of the child were given high priority as part of the national development thrust, Mr. Derrick said. The report was widely publicized through a number of initiatives undertaken by the National Committee. The Government was very much aware that there were many important challenges to be surmounted and looked forward to the outcome of the meeting today along with the observations and recommendations of the Committee which would be used to formulate a National Action Plan for Children in Antigua and Barbuda.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda aimed to ensure that children in the country were provided with the best education, health care and protection from all forms of violence and exploitation. The Minister informed the Committee that his Government was currently undertaking legal reforms related to family and social matters which were part of an initiative which commenced in 1999 spearheaded by the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), with support from the United Nations, among other organizations. This initiative commenced with a number of detailed reviews of major areas of family law in Antigua and Barbuda which included adoption, child maintenance, divorce, domestic violence, marriage and the status of children.
Mr. Derrick indicated that one of the proposals relevant to the discussion today was the proposal to increase the definition of the age of the child from 16 years to 18 years in accordance with the definition of the child under the Convention.
In addition to the legislative reform that was currently under consideration, a research project was conducted in Antigua and Barbuda in July 2001 which was jointly sponsored by UNICEF and the National Children’s Home. The research covered areas of social service delivery to children and families, particularly children in institutions, children in foster care, children subject to care and protection orders, adoptions, juvenile justice and child maintenance, and instances of child custody and access.
Turning to education, Mr. Derrick said that according to the Education Act, the Government provided free and compulsory primary and secondary education to children from the age of 5 to 16 years. This year, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda had instituted a programme of free school uniforms to all students in primary and secondary schools, which was part of its poverty alleviation strategy. Moreover, the Government would establish during the current school year a national school meal programme where all school children would receive free meals.
The Minister said the State’s Immunization Expansion Programme (EPI) had been in place for decades and provided coverage in respect of preventable diseases for all children from two months old. By the year 1990, the nation had achieved the immunization rate of 100 per cent. Moreover, a number of initiatives had been taken to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Antigua and Barbuda. These included training and education and free medical care for patients living with HIV/AIDS. There was also a proposed programme with support of UNICEF in the form of a TV programme called “Teen Talk” which would be conducted by children and would have a child audience. The aim of the programme was to encourage behavioural change among young people to prevent HIV/AIDS.
In conclusion, Mr. Derrick said his country, and the Caribbean region as a whole, had to deal with the damaging effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes to which they were prone. Thus, it had struggled to meet its obligations to provide and maintain its social services with limited financial and human resources. It was the intention of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to collaborate fully with the relevant national, regional and international organizations in the development of structures, procedures and guidelines for the effective protection of the rights of the child. Social mobilization and participation between children, non-governmental organizations, civil society and the Government would also be encouraged, he added.
Questions Raised by Experts
YANGHEE LEE, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of
Antigua and Barbuda, noted that although Antigua and Barbuda was a small Caribbean nation comprising of three islands with 73,000 inhabitants, its burdens were not small. There was a large external debt accompanied with a decline in the economy and cuts in public expenditure. Antigua and Barbuda was also at the mercy of frequent hurricanes and severe periodic droughts. Often times it was children who were most affected by these problems.
The Rapporteur noted as positive the Sexual Offences Act of 1999, the Domestic Violence Act of 1999, the Childcare and Protection Act of 2003, the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2002 and the ratification of the ILO Convention related to the worst forms of child labour.
The Rapporteur asked whether the National Strategic Development Plan for the period 2001 to 2004 had been completed and whether it included children. She also asked about the activities of the National Youth Policy and the Office of the Ombudsman.
With regard to the budget, Ms. Lee said it was difficult to assess the budget allocation for children and the figures in the report did not represent government expenditure for children- related services. Information on the National Plan of Action was also lacking.
The Rapporteur said the age of sexual consent for both females and males was 16, but the maximum age for statutory rape was 14. There seemed to be differences in the maximum penalty for crimes committed against children between the ages of 14 and 16 and the age of criminal responsibility was eight, Ms. Lee noted.
With regard to the family environment, the Rapporteur indicated that some 50 per cent of all households in Antigua and Barbuda were headed by women, most of whom were single parents. Furthermore, she expressed her concern that there were no legal provisions to protect the rights of children whose parents were separated.
The Rapporteur asked what measures had been taken to address the issue of teenage pregnancy. She also said she was concerned that there were no local laws which addressed the rights of disabled children and asked whether the Government planned to establish a comprehensive policy for children with disabilities. She asked for more information about the State party’s Early Intervention Programme that was instituted in 1990.
AWA N’DEYE OUEDRAOGO, the Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur to the report of Antigua and Barbuda, said too few non-governmental organizations had taken part in the drafting of the report and suggested that more efforts should be made to improve cooperation with non-governmental organizations in general. The efforts of the Government fell short of providing copies of the Convention to those outside of the Government and promoting the principles within. She asked whether there were campaigns to promote the Convention and the rights of the child as part of the ongoing plans of the current Government.
The respect for the opinion of the child did not seem to be of priority in the legislation adopted by the State party, Ms. Ouedraogo said. Activities and measures should be conducted in order to change this attitude. She said birth registration practices in Antigua and Barbuda were not in compliance with the Convention and asked what steps the Government was planning to take to make this possible. Regarding citizenship, the co-Rapporteur asked whether there were provisions in the law where a citizen may be stripped of his or her citizenship and if that applied to children as well.
The co-Rapporteur also raised the issue of corporal punishment and asked for additional information on this form of punishment in Antigua and Barbuda and whether the Government was in a position to ban the practice, to encourage children to report these practices, and to propose alternative forms of punishment. She also asked the delegation what measures were taken by the Government to allow for the full freedom of speech for all children in Antigua and Barbuda and what the follow up had been to the conclusions of the annual Youth Forum held in the country. Ms. Ouedraogo also asked what measures had been put in place to address the issue of drug abuse among children which was reportedly on the rise.
Ms. Ouedraogo also asked what measures had been taken by the Government to prepare children for hurricanes, given the high occurrence of such natural disasters in Antigua and Barbuda.
Another Committee Expert said there was not enough clear legislation in Antigua and Barbuda in terms of non-discrimination concerning children and noted that there was a de facto discrimination taking place against by both children with disabilities and children belonging to ethnic groups in the country.
A Committee Expert noted that the country had made big improvements with regard to legislation, however certain customary laws practiced in the country did not comply with the principles of the Convention. He asked whether there had been any efforts by the Government to address this issue.
Other Committee members raised questions pertaining to violence against children; the Office of the Ombudsman; the age of criminal responsibility; budget allocations for programmes for children services; religious instructions in schools; and the State party’s national strategic development plan for children.
Response by Delegation
The delegation, responding to questions raised by the Experts, noted that all legislation affecting children and the family was being reviewed under the proposed Family Law which would eliminate all existing discrepancies with regards to the definition of the child. This new Law would also address the issue of making the Convention applicable in national law.
Regarding divorce proceedings, under the laws in Antigua and Barbuda, the judge took into consideration the views of the child in private and independently of the parents, and the best interests of the child were always considered.
Concerning child maintenance, the delegation said that under the current legislation, a father could be named on the birth certificate if he consented to it, otherwise the mother could take the father to court to seek maintenance. In some cases, magistrates had to order DNA tests to determine the biological father. This issue would be addressed in the proposed Family Law with a view to facilitating the process. There was a problem in that many fathers were not paying for child maintenance. In cases where a father was absent from the country, there was no reciprocal arrangement between Antigua and Barbuda and other countries, therefore child maintenance payments could not be enforced.
The Constitution clearly indicated that there should not be any discrimination against any person, including children, the delegation said in response to a question. Given the debt inherited by the current Government and since it did not deem this issue as a matter of concern, the Government did not plan to amend any existing laws to specifically prohibit discrimination against children.
With regard to the monitoring of television programmes and the media in general, the Government felt that provisions should be made for the types of television programmes which were being aired and was looking at measures to censor and control the content of programmes which exposed children to violence.
With regards to corporal punishment, the delegation noted that the issue had been debated in Antigua and Barbuda for some time. As it stood now, the present Government had no political will to abolish the practice of corporal punishment although many individuals and groups had been fighting against the practice. The issue had created a lot of debate and had been raised under the whole reform process currently underway. The delegation added that it was a cultural norm to apply corporal punishment in Antigua and Barbuda, and there was a need to continue to impress upon the public the importance of changing such behaviour and to show teachers the negative effects of the practice.
On the subject of children with disabilities, the delegation noted that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda had a long way to go to ensure that measures were taken to fully realize non-discrimination for those with disabilities. As far as schools were concerned, there was no discrimination against children with disabilities and there were special schools for children with disabilities.
In response to questions on education, the delegation noted that there were no special programmes in school to teach children of foreign nationalities their own languages; the State’s education programme encouraged all students to learn the national language. The issue of placement exams for secondary school students had been opposed by many in the Government and society, but the system remained in place due to the lack of places in secondary schools. Moreover, several classrooms had been built to increase the State’s capacity to deal with the problem of overcrowding in schools.
There was a degree of discrimination encountered with regard to girls who became pregnant while attending school. Efforts had been taken by the Government to allow girls who had been pregnant to be able to return to school after giving birth. There were programmes in place to assist teenage mothers, however teenage mothers often did not return to school because they did not feel comfortable due to the social stigma.
In reaction to a question on preparations for natural disasters, the delegation said there was a system in place to prepare the people for such incidents. The National Office of Disaster Services had done a lot of pubic awareness work in terms of preparations in the event of natural disasters and hurricanes. The Women and Development Programme of the Government had proposed a special programme for preparing women which would take place in October.
Concerning street children, the delegation noted that there were isolated cases of street children, but that this issue was not an area of concern because it was so limited. Similarly, there were only isolated cases of sexual exploitation in Antigua and Barbuda. There was a Sexual Offences Act which addressed the issue of paedophiles and which called for serious sentences for perpetrators of such acts.
On a question related to childcare centres, the delegation said there were 110 such centres in Antigua and Barbuda including day care and pre-school centres. Special training was provided to teachers at such centres. Some early childhood centres had received funding and support from UNICEF.
Pertaining to drug abuse programmes, the delegation said there were rehabilitation centres for drug addiction in Antigua and Barbuda which were supported by a national non-governmental organization. One such centre, the “Crossroads Centre” had been upgraded to include extra facilities. In 2000, the Government had developed an anti-drug policy which focused on drug supply reduction, drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation.
In response to questions about HIV/AIDS the delegation said the Government’s AIDS Secretariat provided information and training on the prevention and spread of HIV/AIDS. Mothers infected with the epidemic were also provided with free anti-retroviral drugs.
In response to questions about sexual exploitation, the delegation said that as a result of the Government’s efforts, more people were now encouraged to file cases of sexual offences as compared to the past. These efforts included specialized training for the police. The Government’s Department for Sexually Abused Children had been created to address this problem and there was an office where a psychologist provided counselling and support to victims of sexual abuse.
As per a poverty alleviation initiative, the Government provided an equivalent of $ 12 every two weeks to every child living in poverty. In conjunction with the Caribbean Development Bank, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda had carried out an assessment to address issues of poverty as they related to children. The Government would follow up by taking actions once the results of the assessment were completed.
In response to a question on mental health, the delegation said the Child and Family Welfare Centre was an institution in place where specially trained psychologists were available to counsel children suffering from mental illnesses.
In response to a question on adoption, the delegation said international adoption was prohibited in Antigua and Barbuda; any adoption could only be granted to persons living in Antigua and Barbuda.
Concerning juvenile justice, as a point of clarification, the delegation indicated that if a child under the age of eight committed an offence, he or she were not held liable. A child between 8 and 14 years who committed a crime and was found guilty was either sent to the boys' training school for more serious offences, or for lesser offences charged with a fine or reprimanded. Due to the poor condition of the boys' training school, many child offenders were sent to a detention centre within the main prison system in Antigua and Barbuda. Girls who committed offences in Antigua and Barbuda were sent to the Sunshine Home for Girls run by the Salvation Army.
YANGHEE LEE, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Antigua and Barbuda, said the dialogue with the delegation had been very enjoyable, constructive and fruitful. The Committee had learned a lot about the children of Antigua and Barbuda and hoped the commitment expressed today would continue to benefit all the children in Antigua and Barbuda.
Among other things, the Rapporteur recommended that the State Party ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Committee would also suggest that its concluding observations and the nature of today’s dialogue were actively publicized and disseminated.
AWA N’DEYE OUERDOAGO, the Committee Expert who served as co-Rapporteur for the report of Antigua and Barbuda, thanked the delegation for the useful exchange of views that had provided the Committee with a better insight on how the Government applied the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Antigua and Barbuda. The Committee had taken note of the Government’s commitment to implement the Convention and hoped it would translate that into legislation to benefit the children in the country.
The Committee had noted both improvements and shortcomings, and encouraged the State Party to change existing laws where needed to meet the needs of the Convention. The Committee took note that the Government had made the commitment to create an office of the Ombudsman as per the Paris Principles. The issue of non-discrimination had not yet been implemented into the legislation of Antigua and Barbuda and the Committee hoped the current reform of legislation in the country would be aligned with the Convention.
Regarding civil rights and freedoms, the paternity process should be made easier and more efforts should be made to better take into account the opinions of young people at youth forums. The Committee expressed hope that progress would be made in terms of corporal punishment and encouraged the State party to finish its work on its pending Family Law. Moreover, special attention should be given to children with special difficulties and efforts should be made to help young mothers to continue their education. While noting that the Government had prioritised health and education measures, the Committee encouraged the Government to continue its work in that direction. Improved measures should also be taken on the issue of sexual exploitation, poverty alleviation and the State’s juvenile justice system.
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