8 May 2002
Delegation Responds to Queries on Prison Conditions,
Housing and Medical Services
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon concluded its consideration of a second periodic report from Trinidad and Tobago with an Expert congratulating the Government for bringing the poverty rate down to 21 per cent of the population.
However, according to another Expert, 10 per cent of the population was living in extreme poverty in which it was unable to win its daily bread. Other Committee Experts also said, among other things, that acts of flogging and whipping of men, allowed by courts, were a sort of institutional violence perpetrated by the agents of the State.
An Expert underlined that two-thirds of deaths concerning women between 15 and 25 years of age in Trinidad and Tobago were either murders or acts of suicide; while another Expert asked if the culture of violence was an impediment to the enjoyment of women's and children's rights enshrined under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Responding to questions raised by the Committee Experts, the members of the delegation said, among other things, that there was no manifestation of racial violence in the country and the Government had successfully managed to promote harmony among the different cultures; and that there was a degree of racial integration within the society.
The delegation also said that there was a drive to improve the prison conditions and for that purpose a committee had been established to recommend ways to improve the situation; the regulations used at the present time were from the colonial period and new legislation was being drafted towards reforming prison regimes; and other measures were also envisaged to ameliorate the food supply and other services in prisons.
The Committee will release its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Trinidad and Tobago at the end of its three-week session on 17 May.
As one of the 145 States parties to the International Covenant, Trinidad and Tobago must provide the Committee with periodic reports on its activities to give effect to the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Friday, 10 May, it will meet in private for the whole day. At 10 a.m. on Monday, May 13, it will hold a day of general discussion on article 3 of the Covenant on the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant.
Response of Trinidad and Tobago
The delegation of Trinidad and Tobago continued to provide responses to questions raised and remarks made by the Experts of the Committee this morning. The members of the delegation said that the 1993 survey had indicated that 16 children between the ages of 0 to 14 and 44 persons between the ages of 15 and 24 had been found living on the streets. No recent studies had been carried out on homeless children. The Government had set up centres for street children under the age of 15 years, where counselling, remedial education and primary medical care were provided. There were also plans for the establishment in 2002 of a centre for young women at risk.
The Committee Experts continued to raise questions on the main subjects of the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to health; the right to education; and the right to take part in cultural life.
An Expert congratulated the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for bringing the poverty rate down to 21 per cent of the population. However, according to another Expert, 10 per cent of the population was living in extreme poverty in which it was unable to win its daily bread.
Courts were allowing the flogging and whipping of men, remarked an Expert, asking how the State could be silent on that sort of institutional violence perpetrated by the agents of the State itself.
An Expert underlined that two-thirds of deaths involving women between 15 and 25 years of age in the country were attributed to either murders or acts of suicide. What was the reaction of the delegation on that situation?
On the issue of prisoners, an Expert said that their conditions did not meet the required minimum standards, and although the right to freedom of movement was restricted, their other human rights should be respected. Was the Government aware of the bad conditions of prisoners? Were there measures envisaged to tackle the problem? The same Expert also said that very few figures were available to indicate adequate living standards; what Government agency was handling the indicators on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
The rate of mortality had been reduced from 110 per 1,000 in the 1940s to 18 per 1,000, which was good progress, an Expert said; however, the number of doctors for a population of 1.2 million and the number of hospital beds made available were very small. The lack of staffing of health facilities had been a problem, and the Government was attributing the problem to the brain-draining of the population. The immunization programme had been a success, but the country, whose population was living by the sea, had been affected by problems of the circulatory system and malignant tumours. It was also unacceptable that 68 per cent of deaths of women were attributed to acts of homicide or suicide.
An Expert asked if there existed a special regime that protected traditional knowledge and if there were measures undertaken to promote indigenous intellectual property.
The rate of suicide between 1971 and 1998 had increased by more than two and half times, an Expert said, asking the delegation for the causes of such acts of desperation. Were hospitals accessible to people from the rural areas? Why was the number of students attending secondary schools three-and-half times higher than those completing elementary schools? What was the reason for that phenomenon?
An Expert asked if the Government had conducted an assessment on the quality of teaching in private schools; was there a system of scholarship to allow students to pursue their studies in universities? What were the results of the measures taken to preserve the cultural values of the Amerindians or others such as those of African or Indian origin? Another Expert asked if the Rastafarian movement was well implanted in Trinidad and Tobago.
An Expert asked if the culture of violence was an impediment to women's and children's enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Covenant. With regard to maternal mortality, what proportion of unsafe abortions ended in death?
In response to the questions, the members of the delegation said that in order to prevent squatting of houses, the Government had spent a lot of money to regulate the situation and many people had been provided housing facilities in order to ease the difficulties. Further measures were taken to give land titles to persons residing in places for more than 16 years.
With regard to flogging, new legislation had prohibited the sentencing of children under 18 who were involved in cases invoking such sentences, the delegation said.
Employees receiving low incomes were exempt from any form of taxation, the delegation said.
There was a drive to improve the prison conditions and a committee had been established to recommend ways to improve the situation, the delegation said. The regulations used at the present time were from the colonial period and new legislation was being drafted for prison regimes. Other measures were also envisaged to ameliorate the food supply and other services in the prisons.
It was the Central Statistics Office that was taking care of disaggregated data on all economic and social aspects, the delegation said. The agency employed about 300 workers. It was also working with international institutions in order to design mechanisms for establishing indicators. For example, it was now working with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to set up a child monitoring system.
Asked about the problem of teenage pregnancy, the delegation said that the Government had recognized that childbearing in the teenage years represented an obstacle to sustainable development as it seriously compromised the young mothers' educational, economic, and personal development.
The Government's policy with respect to education was free secondary education for all, the delegation said; as of September 2000, 29,065 students who passed the entrance examination had been placed in secondary schools.
The delegation said that HIV/AIDS was on the increase; however, the Government had taken significant measures to control the situation. A system of screening had been put in place to assist pregnant women and to detect any disease which necessitated anti-retroviral drugs.
There was no manifestation of racial violence and the Government had successfully managed to promote harmony among the different cultures, the delegation said. There was a degree of racial integration within the society.
The country had no legal protection for its intellectual property, the delegation said; however, it was participating in international fora on that issue aimed at developing protection regimes appropriate to the needs of each country.
There was no indigenous population in the country, the delegation said. No measures were required to preserve anyone's language as indigenous heritage. However, besides English, people continued to speak various languages.
The delegation said that despite the unlawfulness of abortion and its criminalization, the practice of abortion had continued to take place -- 20,000 illegal abortions per year. Legal abortion was permitted in the event that the life of the mother was in jeopardy.
In conclusion, the delegation said the Government had presented its periodic report 12 years after it presented its initial one. The delegation was of the view that the discussion had been more of an inquisition rather than a dialogue. The country had implemented a number of measures relating to the rights inscribed in the Covenant, and it had no intention of denouncing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Chairperson of the Committee briefly responded to the delegation by saying that the Committee was only doing its job in monitoring the implementation of the Covenant by raising issues which required responses from the State party's delegation.
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