COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD OPENS THIRTY-NINTH SESSION

Committee on the
Rights of the Child

17 May 2005


Hears Address by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights;
Begins Consideration of Report of Saint Lucia


The Committee on the Rights of the Child opened its thirty-ninth session in Geneva today by adopting its agenda and programme of work, electing its bureau and hearing an address by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee also began its consideration of the initial report of Saint Lucia on how that country has been implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting was Mehr Kahn Williams, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, who noted that the Secretary-General, in his report "In Larger Freedom: towards development security and human rights for all", stressed that the international community must advance the causes of security, development and human rights together, otherwise none would succeed. He also set out proposals to reform the three central pillars of the United Nations human rights system – the treaty bodies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights. The Secretary-General had requested the High Commissioner to submit a plan of action by 20 May with concrete recommendations as to how the Office may become more effective for the promotion and protection of human rights. In that regard, considerable efforts were under way, Ms. Khan Williams added.

Introducing the initial report of Saint Lucia was Jon Odlum, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health of Saint Lucia, who stated that among the most serious of the problems in Saint Lucia was the fact that its children under 13 years of age had become an endangered species as a result of child abuse, incest and carnal knowledge with little evidence of abatement. These problems were fostered by the increase in single parent families, run by mothers, most times young inexperienced mothers. Strong and concerted efforts were being put in place to target these issues and the drivers of them. Saint Lucia had embarked on strong legislative and operational management aimed at improving a legislative framework on which a strong policy change could rest.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Alison Anderson, who served as Co-Rapporteur for the report, thanked the delegation of Saint Lucia for its expert handling of the questions posed by the Committee. The legal reform process was most welcome, in particular with regard to the definition of the child, the family environment and alternative care for children. The presentation of the initial report, however, was disappointing in that it reflected a lack of action in civil society on child rights issues which was hampering that movement. A specialized national strategy was needed to address the promotion and protection of child rights with increased non-governmental organization engagement. Among other things, she noted that key areas of the Government that addressed children issues were poorly resourced.

Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions pertaining to the State party's legislative reform in terms of the protection and promotion of the rights of children; the juvenile justice system, family law and the age of criminal responsibility; birth registration; corporal punishment; child abuse; children participation in the decision-making process; education services; health services and HIV/AIDS; child labour; and the family environment.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Saint Lucia towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 3 June.

The delegation of Saint Lucia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Attorney General.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Saint Lucia 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.

After having adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session, the 18-member Committee, at the opening of the meeting, swore in four new members and elected its bureau. The new members are David Brent Parfit (Canada), Awich Pollar (Uganda), Kamal Siddiqui (Bangladesh) and Jean Zermatten (Switzerland). Committee Expert Jacob Egbert Doek (the Netherlands) was re-elected as Chairperson. The elected Vice Chairpersons are Joyce Alouch (Kenya), Moushira Khattab (Egypt), Yanghee Lee (China) and Norberto Liwski (Argentina). Nevena Vuckovic-Sahovic (Serbia and Montenegro) was elected as Rapporteur.

When the Committee reconvenes in public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 May, it will begin its consideration of the second periodic report of the Philippines (CRC/C/65/Add.31).

Statement by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

MEHR KAHN WILIAMS, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, while referring to the report of the Secretary-General "In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all", noted that in the report the Secretary-General stressed that the international community must advance the causes of security, development and human rights together, otherwise none would succeed. He set out proposals to reform the three central pillars of the United Nations human rights system – the treaty bodies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights. The Secretary-General also reaffirmed the ideas put forward in his report of 2002, "Strengthening the United Nations: an agenda for further change", in which the modernization of the treaty system was identified as a key element in the United Nations goal of promoting and protecting human rights. In his new report, the Secretary-General requested that the "harmonized guidelines on reporting to all treaty bodies should be finalized and implemented so that these bodies can function as a unified system". Draft guidelines on the expanded core document would be considered next month by the fourth inter-Committee meeting and the seventh Committee of Chairpersons from 20 to 24 June 2005. The Secretary-General had also requested the High Commissioner to submit a plan of action by 20 May with concrete recommendations as to how the Office may become more effective for the promotion and protection of human rights. In that regard, considerable efforts were under way.

The Deputy High Commissioner also drew attention to the recommendation by the Secretary-General to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a smaller standing Human Rights Council. This proposal was discussed during the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights and would be considered during the High-level Summit in New York in September. Regarding child rights, the Commission discussed the request of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to draft United Nations guidelines for the protection of alternative care of children without parental care and recognized the need for such guidelines.

Following the successful Committee on the Rights of the Child sub-regional workshop in Bangkok last year, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights decided to organize similar follow-up workshops this year in Qatar from 19 to 21 June and in Argentina from 28 to 30 November, she said. Another activity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in this area was the one related to the project, funded by the European Union, which sought to raise awareness of the human rights treaty body system among non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions and the media. One national workshop was just organized in Sri Lanka where representatives of the Government and the civil society examined treaty bodies systems focusing on the concluding observations on Sri Lanka.

Last week, Ms. Khan Williams added, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights convened in Geneva the fourth in a series of workshops on the implementation of treaty body recommendations, which included participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mauritius, Thailand, Uganda and Zambia. These countries were going to be reviewed soon by the Committee. Moreover, the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children was now entering a crucial phase with the nine regional consultations that were organized worldwide. The first one took place in Trinidad and Tobago in March this year and was attended by the Chairperson of the Committee and another member. Paolo Sergio Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Independent Expert on the Study, would report to the General Assembly at its next session in the fall and submit his final report to the Commission on Human Rights during the spring of 2006, she added.

Report of Saint Lucia

The initial report of Saint Lucia (CRC/C/28/Add.23) presents both descriptive and analytical summaries of the legislative framework to support the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the actual state of implementation of the Convention in Saint Lucia. Since Saint Lucia ratified the Convention in 1993, several regional initiatives have been introduced to which Saint Lucia has been a party or indirect beneficiary. Recently, there has been a wave of legal reform initiatives within the country, some of them intended to directly impact upon the administration of justice to families and children, and to enhance the protection and welfare of all children. Notable among these are the OECS/CIDA [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States/Canadian International Development Agency] Judicial and Legal Reform Project, the OECS/UNICEF/NCF [National Community Foundation] Family Law Reform Project, and the Saint Lucia Civil Law Reform Project.

Beyond the judicial processes that are on going, there have also been national efforts in prioritizing the needs of children and significant advances in areas of education and health as a result of the Government's increasing support to these two strategic social sectors. An expanded climate of social awareness and appreciation of child rights as a human rights component has also been generated, with the consequence that there has also been an increase in advocacy for emphasis to be accorded systematically upon recognizing the rights of children, and to facilitate through structures, policies and opportunities, the expression of children's views. The role and responsiveness of the Government to advocacy, in policy, programming, resource mobilization and allocation, has been regarded as critical in moving forward the process of placing children as central in the national agenda, the report adds. Moreover, in 2002, the Government of Saint Lucia, in collaboration with several non-governmental organizations and representatives of the private sector, endorsed and launched the Saint Lucia Chapter of the Global Movement for Children. This initiative subsequently gave birth to the official designation of November 2003 – October 2004 as the Year of the Child.

Presentation of Report

JON ODLUM, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health of Saint Lucia, said the children of Saint Lucia, even in its smaller islands, were exposed to much defective knowledge over television programmes, and the ill effects of migration. Young males in Saint Lucia constituted 75 per cent of the male community in State prisons. In recent years, the State had experienced a radical change in the habits of its youth, which had repercussions in every sector of society. Among the most serious of the problems in Saint Lucia was the fact that its children under 13 years of age had become an endangered species, via child abuse, incest and carnal knowledge routes with little evidence of abatement. These problems were fostered by the increase in single parent families, run by mothers, most times young inexperienced mothers. Strong and concerted efforts were being put in place to target these issues and the drivers of them. Saint Lucia had embarked on strong legislative and operational management aimed at improving a legislative framework on which a strong policy change could rest.

Since 2003, there had been rapid legislative development in family law in the Caribbean sub-region, which had a direct impact on the rights of the child, he said. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, of which Saint Lucia was a part, had sought through 2003 and 2004 to undertake consultations educating its people on the limitations of existing domestic family law legislation, and through these consultations had sought the views of communities on the process of change to adopt in order to map the way forward in harmonizing domestic legislation with Saint Lucia's international obligations. At the local level, the Government of Saint Lucia had continued the process of change by continuing the consultation and engaging non-governmental organizations in dialogue designed to ensure that what emerged of its domestic legislation was truly reflective of the needs of the people of Saint Lucia.

The reforms of the family law specifically addressed the concerns of children, Mr. Odlum said, and related to their maintenance, status, care and participation in social life. In the area of criminal law, the Criminal Code of 2004, which came into effect in January 2005, had created more stringent and harsh, clear and concise penalties for the offence of child abandonment, exposure, stealing, and the concealment of children. To compliment the provisions of the Code, the Ministry of Human Services had established an at-risk database for the monitoring of children subjected to abuse or potentially subjected to abuse. Funds had also been sourced and the Government had committed itself to an in-transit home for abused children at risk.

The Government was also working towards the implementation of universal health care and to improve the quality and care to adolescents, he said. A book scheme would also be introduced making books available to every school child free of charge. Moreover, the Ministry of Education was presently designing a study to assess the situation concerning the increase in truancy and drop outs in Saint Lucia. Among other steps taken, the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, who was the Chairman of the National Council of a five-year World Bank Project to combat HIV/AIDS, made a financial allocation of 200 Eastern Caribbean Dollars to every child living with the virus as well as to children whose parents had died as a result of HIV/AIDS. The Ministry of Health was also working on developing a child and adolescent health policy. Furthermore, Saint Lucia was at present conducting a child study with support from UNICEF which sought information on children, their parents, caregivers and services available for their optimum growth and development.

Discussion

AWA N’DEYE OUEDRAOGO, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur on the report of Saint Lucia, noted that Saint Lucia was a country exposed to natural disasters, and had a high rate of poverty and unemployment. The report, although late in its submission, was well-written and analytical. As to general measures for implementation, despite the amendments to the national legislation, the legislation was not altogether in conformity with the provisions with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In that regard she asked whether the proposed reforms called for bringing this legislation more in line with the Convention.

The Rapporteur also sought information on the establishment of a National Plan of Action on Children and about what role non-governmental organizations had in implementing child rights in the country. She also noted that there was no independent structure for monitoring the implementation of the Convention and asked whether there was a national commission on human rights and whether it took into consideration complaints by children. Information was also sought on corporal punishment and violence and whether these issues had been the subject of national debates and whether steps were envisaged to remedy these acts. The Rapporteur also asked for information on instances of police brutality against minors in Saint Lucia.

ALISON ANDERSON, Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur on the report of Saint Lucia, asked what steps were being taken to harmonize the various definitions of the child that existed in Saint Lucia. Under the general principles and right to life, survival and development, concern was raised about Saint Lucia’s international trade policies and what impact they had on the development of children and the rate of poverty in general, especially with regard to the banana industry. She also asked what percentage of the total births were being captured by the birth registration programmes of the State and what steps were being taken to ensure that all children born in Saint Lucia were registered at birth.

Another Expert asked whether the Education Act of 1972, which had legitimized corporal punishment, was being reviewed to reverse that policy. Other Experts raised questions with regard to the State’s intention to ratify the ILO Convention on Minimum Age; the National Plan of Action on Children; the reduction of birth rates in Saint Lucia; the age of criminal liability; and the role of non-governmental organizations in child rights.

An Expert asked for more information on the new Criminal Code adopted in January this year in terms of its provisions concerning minors. Another Expert asked for information on juvenile courts in Saint Lucia and whether they applied the provisions of the Convention.

Response by Delegation

On the questions raised on child abuse, the delegation noted that child abuse was on the rise for a number of factors, some of which included the increase in migration trends whereas children were left unattended in the home. School counsellors were those who could receive complaints about child abuse and the media was also reporting such cases so as to promote awareness about this problem.

As to the best interests of the child, the delegation said a policy and legislative committee was recently created to review all draft legislation to ensure that it adequately reflected the best interests of the child. The committee also played a role in raising awareness about child rights.

With regard to corporal punishment, the delegation said the Government recognized that the Education Act was in contravention of the Convention in terms of corporal punishment. Efforts were being made to promote zero tolerance for this practice and the State was envisaging an amendment to the Education Act to prohibit corporal punishment. Moreover, the Act only recognized corporal punishment in rare circumstances and could only be authorized by the Minister of Education.

Concerning birth registration, the delegation said mechanisms were in place to catch parents who were not registering their children at birth. Parents had to provide a birth registration for their children to be enrolled in schools and to receive medical care.
A central database registry was also set up to ensure that all children were registered at birth. With regard to the declining birth rates, the delegation noted that as a result the population over the age of 18 had reached over 40 per cent.

In response to a question, the delegation said the Convention in particular and child rights in general were being discussed in the State's school system.

Concerning the family law in Saint Lucia, the delegation said the family court was assigned specific legislation to adjudicate on and deal with matters related with juvenile offences as well as family matters which were not necessarily criminal by nature. The court also dealt with matters to determine the parental rights of illegitimate children and dealt primarily with the affiliation ordinance.

As to the age of criminal responsibility, the delegation said the Criminal Code set the age at 12. Many of the crimes reported in Saint Lucia were being committed by children under 12. In response to a related question, the delegation said that if a juvenile committed a crime and was sentenced to a juvenile home, when they turned 18 in the juvenile home they were transferred to an adult prison. Moreover, a child at the age of 16 could be sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the legislation reform intended to change the age of criminal responsibility. A person was considered an adolescent until the age of 18. Moreover, under the Civil Code of Saint Lucia, any marriage under the age of 16 was void and any marriage between 16 and 18 required parental consent.

Adoptions were regulated by the Adoption Ordinance of Saint Lucia which took into account the best interests of the child, the delegation noted in response to a question. More interaction was needed with social services in this regard. Children could be adopted by relatives without stringent measures but if a non-relative overseas wanted to adopt a child, the child had to reside with the adopting parents for at least three months in Saint Lucia.

The Education Act of 1999, the delegation said in response to a question, allowed all children to express their views on decisions taken concerning them. The National Youth Council, which had participated in much of the reform process in Saint Lucia, was a mechanism for youth to express themselves, as well. A number of youth programmes were also present, many of which were through the mass media. Moreover, all schools in Saint Lucia had been undertaking awareness programmes to ensure that minors were aware of the reform measures being implemented or planned that affected them. Among other things, the State also had instituted a child help hotline which was open 24 hours a day to receive their complaints and offer advice.

In response to a question, the delegation said although education was free and compulsory, costs for transportation, lunch and books posed problems for some families. There was a school assistance programme to help in this regard, namely the one mentioned in the introduction on the provision of books free of charge. Some 90 per cent of the children in Saint Lucia attended primary school. Moreover, to address the shortage of places in secondary schools, the State had constructed two additional secondary schools which would accept students as of September 2007. There was also a well-established early childhood education programme in the country.

While noting the State's National Strategy to combat HIV/AIDS, an Expert asked whether the Government had adopted policies with regard to the pandemic, given that two per cent of pregnant women were HIV positive. The delegation said a project on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, funded by UNFPA, was underway in Saint Lucia with the aim of reducing the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS rates in the country. There was also a non-governmental organization called AIDS Action Foundation which was working closely with adolescents on HIV/AIDS matters.

Concerning the training for the police on child abuse, the delegation said there were workshops held on child abuse to which police sent representatives.

Regarding emergency situations and provisions for children in the Natural Disasters Act of 2000, the delegation said there was a well organized disaster prevention and preparedness programme by which each school was asked to produce their respective natural disaster plans.

As to budget allocations for children issues, the delegation said the way in which the national budget was organized was that children services were spread throughout various Government offices and departments. There was a need to invest additional funding in social services.

Concerning child labour, the delegation said the Education Act prevented children under the age of 15 from engaging in full time employment. There were two exceptions whereby children could engage in summer employment and in any school-based assessment programme. There was no legislation preventing children from performing hazardous work since this was not considered to be a relevant issue in Saint Lucia. While noting that some 50 per cent of adolescents under 18 were unemployed, an Expert asked what measures the State was taking to provide job opportunities. In response, the delegation noted that unemployment was a problem for all ages. A lack of special skills led to the high unemployment rate for youth and to address that issue the Government had been conducting specialized vocational training.

In response to a question, the delegation said pre-trial incarceration was possible for up to 72 hours for investigative purposes only and before any charges had been made. If the 72 hour period elapsed, either the person was charged and brought before the courts or released.

As to the family environment, the delegation noted that over 80 per cent of the families in Saint Lucia were single families and of them some 40 per cent had illegitimate children. Among other things, steps were being taken by the Government through social services to encourage absent fathers to provide care and attention to their children. Adequate provisions had not been made for these children, the delegation added.

Concerning drug abuse and rehabilitation centres, the delegation said there was one facility for drug rehabilitation for both adults and children in Saint Lucia. There was also a substance abuse secretariat which was part of the Ministry of Health.

Preliminary Observations

ALISON ANDERSON, Committee Expert who served as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Saint Lucia, thanked the delegation for its expert handling of the questions posed by the Committee. The presentation of the initial report was disappointing in that it reflected a lack of action in civil society on child rights issues which was hampering that movement. A specialized national strategy was needed to address the promotion and protection of child rights with increased non-governmental organization engagement.

The Co-Rapporteur also noted that key areas of the Government that addressed children issues were poorly resourced. The legal reform process was most welcome, in particular with regard to the definition of the child, the family environment and alternative care for children. It was recommended that more international assistance be sought as well as best practices utilized. More information was also needed on special protection measures. Additional measures were needed to improve the juvenile justice system and to enhance training for professionals in areas covered by the Convention.

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