COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF OMAN

Committee on the Rights
of the Child

13 September 2006

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the second periodic report of Oman on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In opening remarks to the Committee, Sultan bin Yaarib Al Busaidi, Director of Royal Medical Services and Deputy Chairman of the Implementation Follow-up Committee, said the Sultanate fulfilled its obligations regarding all the items in the Convention, taking into consideration the reservations set forth. The accession of the Sultanate to the Convention was a landmark at the national level, and the Sultanate had paid great attention to improving the situation of children in the context of its resources, and without discrimination as to gender or race. The Follow-Up Committee took into account everything that had been achieved, and drew up plans and programmes to further improve the situation, and a study had been carried out to clarify the future steps to be taken by Oman.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Committee Expert Hatem Kotrane, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Oman, said it had been a rich and frank exchange, and a very positive impression of the rights of the child had come out of the discussion. Oman was a country which was friendly to the rights of the child, and was a State of social advancement and education. The natural circumstances were difficult, but, thanks to the will of the men and women of the country, the natural surroundings had been conquered. Oman had made great accomplishments in only a short period, and these were commended. Some questions, queries and recommendations would be made, including on the reservations, independent monitoring structures, the allocation of resources and health, with the aim of helping Oman to develop its achievements even further.

During the debate, other Committee Experts raised questions related to, among other things, persistent socio-economic disparities, particularly among the children of migrant workers and those living in rural areas with regards to social benefits, health, and the right to education; the need for increased consideration of children’s views and needs in families, schools, local communities and administrative procedures; how many children were affected by HIV/AIDS and whether there was a national plan of action on HIV/AIDS; and that some nomadic children and those in remote areas could not or had difficulties in going to school and what care was provided for children who did not attend.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Oman towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 29 September.

The delegation of Oman consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of External Relations, and the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Mission of Oman to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Oman 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 on Friday, 15 September at 10 a.m., it will hold a Day of General Discussion on “the right of the child to be heard”.

Report of Oman

The second periodic report of Oman (CRC/C/OMN/2) says the current laws in the Sultanate of Oman guarantee the protection of human rights, including the rights of the child. International treaties and agreements supersede domestic law and become part of Omani legislation upon their ratification. The Civil and Commercial Code guarantees rights to children in the case of legal proceedings relating to them or in which they are a party. Due regard for the interest of the child is clearly and explicitly provided for; proceedings may be instituted for maintenance, custody, or visitation in his or her place of residence and temporary orders may be issued for maintenance or visitation or for the delivery of a minor child into the care of a person who will cater to his or her interests.

The Civil Status Act guarantees an identity for every child born in Oman or elsewhere to Omani parents or an Omani father. It also guarantees Omani nationality for all children of unknown parents on the basis of the name given to them by the social institutions entrusted with their care. Illegitimate children are also entered in the civil register and acquire Omani nationality. Under existing law in the Sultanate, laws must be published in the Official Gazette, including those comprising the ratification of such international conventions as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ministry of Education sought the assistance of a UNICEF expert on children’s rights in incorporating the general principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into the school curricula for basic and general education. All competent authorities were informed of the concluding observations on the Sultanate’s initial report, which were circulated to all concerned parties and bodies. The legislative amendments referred to in several parts of the present report consequently aimed to address those observations, affirming at the same time the wide dissemination of the Convention, the serious interest in its subject matter and the concern to address the observations made on the report.

The Sultanate affirms its commitment to the Convention and to its implementation, subject to the reservations which it entered thereto until such time as they are withdrawn or modified. The Sultanate is endeavouring to harness all of its resources with a view to the full performance of its obligations under the Convention, despite the economic, social and statistical problems which it faces and which it needs time to overcome by way of the comprehensive plans elaborated and the mechanisms created, guided by the recommendations of the Committee and in compliance with its principles. Every stage of the Sultanate’s present report was prepared in coordination with all concerned governmental bodies and civil-society institutions and scores of official items of correspondence received from all relevant bodies, organs, institutions and associations were used in the process.
Presentation of Report

Sultan bin Yaarib Al Busaidi, Director of Royal Medical Services and Deputy Chairman of the Implementation Follow-up Committee, said the Sultanate was grateful for the opinions and recommendations which had been sent, which had helped in follow-up to and implementation of the Convention in Oman. The Sultanate fulfilled its obligations regarding all the items in the Convention, taking into consideration the reservations set forth. The accession of the Sultanate to the Convention was a landmark at the national level, and the Sultanate had paid great attention to improving the situation of children in the context of its resources, and without discrimination as to gender or race. On the basis of research, the Implementation Follow-Up Committee had redrawn provisions in order to make them compatible with the Convention, including legislation, which had been examined for lacunae, and thus some articles had been amended.

After coordination with relevant authorities, a respectable level of success had been achieved, whilst taking into account the needs of Omani society - such as the raising of the minimum age of participation in camel races. The authorities working on all matters concerning children worked hard to promote all interests of the child, and tried to reach conciliation rather than resorting to courts when there were problems. One of the Committee’s recommendations on the first report had been the cooperation with international organizations, and there had been a significant increase in this, in particular with regards to UNICEF. Training programmes had been carried out to increase the awareness of teachers and the media of the Convention. The Sultanate had ratified a number of international conventions, including the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The freedom of children to express their opinion and for this opinion to be taken into account continued to be one of the main priorities of the National Committee, and various programmes had been held in this respect. At the previous meeting, concern had been expressed regarding abuse of children. Although this was not a problem in Oman, work had been done to ensure it did not become so, and a programme and study had been implemented in this regard. The Follow-Up Committee took into account everything that had been achieved, and drew up plans and programmes to further improve the situation, and a study had been carried out to clarify the future steps to be taken by Oman. The Follow-Up Committee would be redrawn, along with its specificities, plan of work and technical and financial resources. The recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child would be most appreciated and would be part of the points the Follow-Up Committee would integrate into its plans for the future.

Questions by Committee Experts

HATEM KOTRANE, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Oman, said he welcomed the efforts deployed in Oman since the ratification of the Convention. The written responses, although received very late, had been very helpful. All the positive progress achieved was welcomed, namely the signing of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and that of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, among others. Two other important instruments remained to be ratified, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights, and these were the keystones to the international human rights system. Did Oman intend to sign the new Arabic Charter on Human Rights, he asked.

The collaboration between Oman and UNICEF was also particularly appreciated, Mr. Kotrane said. Regarding the general measures of implementation and the previous recommendations of the Committee, whilst the establishment of the Follow-Up Committee was welcomed, and a number of its recommendations had found response within the State and measures taken to remedy issues that had been raised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, some of the issues raised by the latter had not been given attention to, in particular the State’s reservations to certain articles of the Convention. The Sultanate was, according to the report, participating in all Arab Conventions and plans on the rights of the child, but there was no new Plan of Action to follow up the General Assembly’s plans on a New World For Children. There was a series of national strategies on improving the health of children, but there appeared to be a delay in the time limits that were given, and the reason for this should be clarified.

Would the State, in the light of the observations of the Committee, consider establishing a national oversight committee for implementation, Mr. Kotrane asked, or maybe expanding the mandate of the Follow-Up Committee to do this. The Committee also had concerns regarding the establishment of an independent monitoring structure with the ability to receive complaints of violations of rights, as this appeared to be lacking. All the positive measures taken to ensure that the law was in keeping with the provisions of the Convention were welcomed, including the raising of the age of employment to 18, but there was still concern with regards to the minimum age of marriage, and the Committee hoped that the marriage of children would be explicitly forbidden.

Other Experts raised a series of questions pertaining to, among other things, persistent socio-economic disparities, particularly among the children of migrant workers and those living in rural areas with regards to social benefits, health, and the right to education; concerns for discrimination for children born out of wedlock who were thus deprived of their right to an identity and to live in a family environment; the need for increased consideration of children’s views and needs in families, schools, local communities and administrative procedures; the need to lift the reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; what kind of NGOs existed in Oman, as these appeared to be mostly charity organizations and not rights-based organizations advocating children’s rights; and the figures for the increase in the number of orphans given care, and the inverse decrease in the amount of resources given thereunto.

Response by Delegation of Oman

Responding to these questions and others, Mr. Al Busaidi said many of the conventions mentioned were inter-dependant, and at the appropriate time would no doubt be examined further. On the reservations, the delegation said several meetings had been organised with Governmental authorities to examine the possibility of overcoming these, and several reports had been submitted. The possibility of removing some of these reservations could therefore not be excluded. Regarding the establishment of an independent National Committee for the Rights of the Child, the matter was not currently being discussed, but a strategy was being drawn up for the Follow-up Committee’s activities in the future which would work towards the creation of an Independent National Committee. The only possibility for marriage under the age of 18 was according to the decision of a judge.

On the publication of the Convention, several seminars and colloquia had been held to publicise it, and these were believed to have helped to better inform and disseminate the Convention, the delegation said. The Sultanate did not have migrant children, it had incoming workers, but not migrants, and therefore there was no discrimination against migrant children. Penal responsibility being set at 9 was excessive, but this would be raised when the new law on juveniles was adopted, and this was now in its final phases, and was ready for publication and approval. As for penal institutions and corporal punishment, the text of the law prohibited corporal punishment, but violations and certain excesses could occur. However, when these were noted and brought to the attention of the authorities, those responsible for these acts were taken to court. Children were protected, and could not be forced into any activity. Detention of children under the law was carried out in certain centres, and they could not be held with persons over the age of 18. There was no discrimination between the inhabitants of the Sultanate, and there was no discrimination against those living in rural areas.

Only in national registries was there record of a child being of unknown parents, and the child enjoyed every right enjoyed by every other person in Oman, including four names, and there was therefore no discrimination. The Sultanate was very careful that such information was not given to a child at too early an age in order not to give rise to any psychological or emotional difficulties, the delegation said. Rape was a crime, and if there was rape, a woman could have recourse to law, and she would therefore be exempt from any legal procedures, as she was a victim, Mr. Al Busaidi said. However, if there was conciliation between the two parties, a pregnancy resulting from the rape was considered as being outside the norms, and was therefore illegal. The delegation said that if a woman bore a child out of either an incestual relation or rape, then there were certain norms that were applied, such as if there was a relation of the woman who could take custody of the child, then this was the case, otherwise, the child was taken to a special custodial centre, with the agreement of the mother. In response to a question on what happened to the man involved in such situations, Mr. Al Busaidi said that if his identity was known, then procedures were launched against him.

On whether there were religious impediments hampering the progress of laws, the delegation said that this was not the case. However, Mr. Al Busaidi said that all elements of society had their effect, but everything was being discussed, with the aim of determining and choosing the best solution. The delegation said there was no discrimination based on disability, and there were institutions working in the field to look after such cases. On evaluation, Mr. Al Busaidi said that any Plan of Action, when implemented, sometimes needed to be changed to live up to reality. The question of evaluating any action in order to improve it was of paramount importance. Impartial outside bodies were appointed in this regard.

Questions by Committee Experts

During the second round of questions, the Rapporteur asked whether the Sultanate envisaged establishing any new preventative mechanisms to deal with the problem of violence against children and violations of their rights at the appropriate time, and not just to depend on punishments and sanctions in this regard. On special measures of protection, he raised the issue of children participating in camel races, noting that there were a number of laws against the phenomena of child labour, but some aspects still required intervention by the authorities, and asked what was the Sultanate’s strategy in this regard. There was a danger that there could still be some cases of exploitation and trafficking of children, and there was a need for further information on this topic. The delegation had said that the existing system for juvenile delinquents would be revised, and he asked if there would be alternatives to imprisonment in this context.

Other Experts raised questions on how many children were affected by HIV/AIDS and whether there was a national plan of action on HIV/AIDS; if there were any specific programmes addressed at reducing the number of deaths due to traffic accidents, which was the highest cause of child mortality; that some nomadic children and those in remote areas could not or had difficulties in going to school and what care was provided for children who did not attend; what was the precise nature of human rights education within the curriculum, in particular with regards to child rights; what efforts were being undertaken in order to provide for income for children in institutions; the need for more information on the situation of child camel jockeys and the legal situation; what the Government was doing domestically to prevent trafficking in children; and issues related to female genital mutilation and what measures were being taken to discourage this.

Response by Delegation of Oman

Responding to the questions, the delegation said the Health Ministry budget had not decreased over the last two years. However, percentages could have decreased, as new Ministries had been created which could have received proportions of the Government’s budget. The Sultanate had seen a rapid decrease in the juvenile death rate due to traffic accidents in a relatively short period, and this was due to various programmes and policies as well as the efforts of the police to control this phenomenon. With regards to HIV/AIDS, the overall number of registered cases of HIV/AIDS sufferers to the end of 2005 since cases had begun to be registered was 1,453. Of these, children from the age of 1 to 14 represented 8.5 per cent of the overall cases of HIV/AIDS. From 15 to 24, the percentage was 16.9 per cent. There were four cases under the age of 16 in 2005. With regards to traditional and customary practices, from the 1980s, the Ministry had noticed certain cases of female excision, but the trend had not been repeated, and the Ministry felt it was declining down to disappearance, until certain studies were undertaken over the last five years, the results of which were highly disturbing. The question had been taken up therefore most seriously, and work was being done to determine exactly the size of the problem.

The Ministry of Education had developed a new policy to decrease dropouts and to improve education both qualitatively and quantitatively to better respond to the needs of children, the delegation said. The concept of basic education had been deepened, and teachers re-trained through qualification workshops aimed at improving their standard. More attention was also paid to educational councils. The question of evaluation had also been taken up, with a number of projects and new ideas being implemented. Efforts were being made to integrate all handicapped children and children with disabilities into normal schools in the same premises and using the same facilities while making available special teaching facilities. The Government was committed to spreading education and making it available to all members of society, no matter where they lived, and had increased its coverage of children in remote areas. Oman had no immigration, what it had was workers or experts who came to the Sultanate under a visa for a certain period, and there were international schools to cater for the different nationalities in this regard.

The programme for combating malnutrition started in the 1990s, the delegation said, and there was a significant drop in infant mortality at that time, although malnutrition itself did not drop. In the last five-year plan, a number of studies had been run to determine the cause of malnutrition. Women were strongly encouraged to breastfeed, and the problem appeared to be linked to when children moved on to semi-solid foods. The family in Oman continued to be very close knit, Mr. Al Busaidi said, and to provide for childcare within itself, which resolved the issue of maternity leave being only 45 days in length. There were special kindergartens for foreigners, and the establishment of Government kindergartens would be studied further.

The Sultanate, in cooperation with UNICEF, was carrying out a study to monitor and receive complaints through its hotline, which latter should become fully operational in the next few months and would be able to provide help and solutions to family violence, and work was being done to break the wall of silence surrounding this phenomenon, the delegation said. There was an intended cooperation between various bodies in order to investigate and pursue incidents of family violence, Mr. Al Busaidi said. The penal prosecutor had the right to initiate cases against the perpetrators of violence, and the Department of Family Advice was also mandated to deal with such situations. The interests of a child dictated their admission to centres overseen by the Department of Social Affairs. In cases of children with unknown parents, families were encouraged to adopt the child, including through the traditional form of adoption that provided an appropriate family environment. If these alternatives were not available, then the child was admitted to a childcare centre up to a given age.

There was an interaction between the Convention and legal protections, the delegation said, and care was provided to children on the basis of the law. The Follow-Up Committee believed that violence against children should be clearly defined and set out in legal texts so that these could be acknowledged, and that in society children were defended and protected, and this was clearly acknowledged in all civilised societies. Defending a child in the law in the manner to which Oman aspired would be part of the plans for the future. Regarding child camel jockeys, a special committee had been set up after the submission of the last report, and the minimum age raised first to 15, and then to 18. The activity was now subject to the labour law.

On child trafficking, child pornography and sexual exploitation, Mr. Al Busaidi said that in Oman no cases of child trafficking had been listed, nor was the country a place of transit. No incidents of sexual exploitation had been reported, but it was hoped the Sultanate would be ready to deal with any such cases if they were reported, and if any had been reported to the Committee, then they should pass on the information to the Sultanate so it could investigate them. Pornography and prostitution were illegal and were punished by law, whether they were committed by Omanis or foreigners.

Jobs carried out by children in the Sultanate were limited to fishing and agriculture, the delegation said. The Follow-Up Committee was following these practices, and hoped that after raising the age of employment to 15, these would disappear. However, it was an integrated process, as the Follow-Up Committee could not monitor them directly, but had to do so through various departments such as social services and welfare. The law on juvenile delinquents was about to be completed, and it was hoped after it was promulgated that a certain number of punishments would disappear.

Punishments for delinquents were mostly confined to alternative measures of punishment and not to imprisonment, the delegation said, and in the courts there was a sitting confined to juvenile delinquents outside the framework of the usual sittings of the courts. Children were either accompanied by a parent or represented by a lawyer. Human rights education was given to children so that when they grew up these principles bore fruit. Workshops would be organised specially targeting lawyers and judges as well as other workers in the legal field with regards to the Convention and its implementation.

Oman gave nationality to any child born to an Omani father, Mr. Al Busaidi said. At the present time, this was the law, but discussions were taking place to amend the law so that women could pass on their nationality. If the child had unknown parents, then the child was granted Omani nationality.

Concluding Remarks

HATEM KOTRANE, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Oman, in preliminary concluding observations, said it had been a rich and frank exchange, and the Committee was grateful for the delegation’s composition, as it included people of great efficiency, and the Committee now had a clearer view of the situation of the rights of the child in Oman. A very positive impression of the rights of the child had come out of the discussion, and the Committee had known of this even before the arrival of the delegation. Oman was a country which was friendly to the rights of the child, and was a State of social advancement and education. The natural circumstances were difficult, but, thanks to the will of the men and women of the country, the natural surroundings had been conquered.

Oman had made great accomplishments in only a short period, and these were commended. Some questions, queries and recommendations would be made, including on the reservations, independent monitoring structures, the allocation of resources and health with the aim of helping Oman to develop its achievements even further. The most important recommendations would be on education, health, and vocational training, as well as publicising the rights of the child in educational programmes. Oman would be encouraged to continue its programmes, and to speed up the law on juveniles.

SULTAN BIN YAARIB AL BUSAIDI, Director of the Royal Medical Services and Deputy Chairman of the Implementation Follow-Up Committee, in his concluding remarks, said the Committee was thanked for its interest in Oman. When the delegation had left Oman, it had brought many questions with it, many of which the Committee had raised, as they were also of concern for Oman. Today, during the meeting, the Committee and the delegation had been one team, working on the same side, and this had enlightened Oman’s path, helping it to attain further solutions. Oman’s aspirations for the implementation of the Convention were those of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Oman had many working to entrench the mentality of the protection of human rights and of the rights of the child in particular. Oman would await the Committee’s comments, would take them seriously, and would draw up plans and projects to implement them, as this was Oman’s and the Committee’s common aspiration.
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