CHILDREN’S COMMITTEE EXAMINES REPORTS OF OMAN UNDER OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS ON CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT AND ON CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND SALE



Committee on the Rights of the Child

9 June 2009


The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the initial reports of Oman on how that country is implementing the provisions of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

In opening remarks to the Committee, Sharifa bint Khalfan bin Nasser Al Yaha’eah, Minister of Social Development of Oman, said the Sultanate condemned all armed groups that recruited and trained children. There were no Omani children in armed conflicts, as national law and the Constitution forbade the establishment of armed groups and militias. In view of the widespread nature of these crimes that ran counter international law, Oman also encouraged the fight against the sale of children. The Sultanate was fighting that at all levels and was bringing those responsible to justice. The Sultanate had also made efforts nationally and internationally to fight these crimes and had also ensured that civil society participated in those efforts. At the national level, Oman had enacted legislation to counter the exploitation of children and their sale.

The Sultanate had also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and had established its own human rights commission, Ms. Al Yaha’eah noted. That commission had independence in its activities and it very closely followed the status of human rights and freedoms and whether they were in line with the Constitution and other international treaties to which Oman was a party. They had also established a working group with civil society which was attempting to draw up a law on children, which they would finalize very soon.

In preliminary concluding observations, Committee Expert Awich Pollar, Rapporteur for the report of Oman on the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict, noted that there was a good atmosphere in Oman which had enabled a proactive compliance of the country with the Optional Protocol. A lot had been done. In its recommendations, the Committee would address some of the remaining issues, such as on legal provisions and on the definition of “direct hostilities”.

In additional concluding observations, Committee Expert Rosa Maria Ortiz, Rapporteur for the report of Oman on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said investigations into sale and trafficking of children had shown the involvement of Oman, be it as a country of transit or destination. However, the quantity of legal initiatives taken by Oman was laudable and praiseworthy. As a recommendation, the Committee would ask Oman to approve the planned law on the child; it was an absolutely necessary framework to ensure the application of the Protocol. The next time they met, the Committee would like to hear data that could reflect and quantify the political will of the country, in terms of progress or backsliding.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Oman towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 12 June 2009.

Also representing the delegation of Oman were representatives of the Permanent Mission of Oman to Geneva, the High Court, the Ministry of Family Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Department of Child Affairs.

As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention and a party to its two Optional Protocols, Oman is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of those instruments. The delegation was on hand all day to present both reports and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes in public at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 12 June 2009, it will close its session by adopting its concluding observations and recommendations on the country reports which it has reviewed during the current session.

Reports of Oman

The initial report of Oman under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/OMN/1) states that the minimum legal age for enlistment in the armed forces in the Sultanate is 18 years. The requirement to produce a birth certificate or attestation of estimated age, as issued by the competent government authorities, is a legal precaution that ensures compliance with this age limit. Enlistment is voluntary, not compulsory. Also, there are no military or paramilitary organizations in Oman. Oman’s Basic Law says that the State alone shall establish the armed forces, public security organizations and any other forces. They all belong to the nation and their task is to protect the State, defend its territorial integrity and guarantee citizens’ security and safety. No institution or group may establish military or paramilitary organizations. Further, the law in force in the Sultanate does not allow for the participation of children in armed conflict, and Omani traditions derived from Islam – a source of legislation – protect children in the event of armed conflict and wars.

According to the initial report of Oman under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/OMN/1), the laws in force in Oman guarantee protection of children’s rights, including the prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Omani Criminal Code contains provisions which criminalize anyone who incites others, including children, to engage in prostitution or acts of depravity. The Code increases the penalty for such offences where the victim is under 18 years of age. The Code also defines slave trafficking as a criminal offence. Further, the Children’s Act provides legal protection for children to enable them to apply to the courts to seek protection of their interests and to submit complaints against their legal guardian. However, the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography is not a perceptible phenomenon in the Sultanate, since Omani society has a conservative Islamic or Arab culture that encourages affection, respect and protection for children.

Presentation of Reports

SHARIFA BINT KHALFAN BIN NASSER AL YAHA’EAH, Minister of Social Development of Oman, thanked the Committee for its efforts in examining the reports of Oman on both Protocols and in protecting children from economic and sexual exploitation in addition to their recruitment in armed conflicts and their sale. Those were crimes and were forbidden by religion and international human rights law and international law in general. Oman supported the work of the Committee and fully respected international instruments as a member of the United Nations.

It was clear that sometimes the lack of development and the consequences that could have on countries and on the foreign debt had favoured wars and armed conflicts and the worsening of the sale and recruitment of children. The Sultanate condemned armed groups that recruited and trained children, Ms. Al Yaha’eah said. There were no Omani children in armed conflicts as Omani national law and the Constitution forbade the establishment of armed groups and militias.

In view of the widespread nature of these crimes that ran counter international law, Oman encouraged the fight against the sale of children. The Sultanate was fighting that at all levels and was bringing those responsible to justice, Ms. Al Yaha’eah stressed. The Government had also made efforts nationally and internationally to fight those crimes and had also ensured that civil society could participate in those efforts.

At the national level, Oman had enacted legislation to counter the exploitation of children and their sale, Ms. Al Yaha’eah observed. The Government had also ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and had established its own human rights commission. That commission had independence in its activities and it very closely followed the status of human rights and freedoms and whether they were in line with the Constitution and other international treaties to which Oman was a party.

Ms. Al Yaha’eah also highlighted that the Government had established a working group with civil society to draw up a law on children, which was expected to be finalized very soon.

Ms. Al Yaha’eah said that Oman respected the minimum age of 18 for the recruitment of children, a limit which had already been adopted before Oman had joined the Optional Protocol. Moreover, recruiting children under 18 in the armed forces was a crime in Oman.

Oman had chosen to adopt both Optional Protocols because it was a step forward at the international level, said Ms. Al Yaha’eah. She also stressed the need for all States to cooperate with both Optional Protocols.

Discussion on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

AWICH POLLAR, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Oman on the involvement of children in armed conflict, began by commending Oman for remaining a beacon of peace in the region. Turning to questions and concerns, regarding the drafting of the report, had children and adolescents been involved and had the contents of the report been disseminated to the media and the wider public?

On refugee children, what measures were in place to identify children coming to Oman who had been involved in armed conflict as child soldiers? Had the State come across such children? Mr. Pollar also asked what would happen to a person who recruited an Omani child inside or outside Oman? What criminal provision would the State invoke in such a case? He also asked about the number of military schools in Oman, and their set up, and whether there were any legal provisions prohibiting companies in Oman from exporting arms to areas where children were involved in armed conflicts.

Other Committee Experts, observing that the conflicts in Iraq, Palestine and other countries in the region had led to many displacements, asked what measures Oman had taken to ensure that displaced or refugee children were not recruited or involved in armed conflicts? It was also asked for clarification on information that children between ages between 15 and 18 could volunteer in a limited number of branches of the armed forces. Other questions included whether the national committee tasked with monitoring the Convention was also responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Optional Protocols; and whether the public was aware of the Optional Protocol and the State’s commitment to its provisions.

Experts also asked a number of questions on the military structure of the Sultanate. It seemed that some 4,000 persons were enlisted in paramilitary structures. What were these paramilitary structures? Were there any children in them? Other areas of focus were the status of birth registrations, so as to guarantee the age of recruits into the army; what special training was done on both Optional Protocols in the army training curricula; whether Oman had ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (under which recruitment of children under 15 is considered a war crime); and concern over information that children between the ages of 14 and 16 were being trained in marching and rifle shooting by the police.

Response by Delegation

Responding, on the preparation and dissemination of the report, the delegation said that there was an organ in Oman that was tasked with follow-up to the Committee’s recommendations and with the preparation of the reports. This national committee included experts in family affairs and children’s rights, and also included legislative and civil society experts. They had no reservation with regard to distributing the report to the media, as that reinforced the position of the Sultanate.

It happened that children from regions of armed conflict came to Oman. But they were not considered to be political refugees, the delegation stressed repeatedly.

Further, no child or family had been returned to an area of armed conflict. People coming to the country were treated and cared for in a humane way in Oman. Psychological help was also provided to them when needed. The law on foreigners stipulated that any foreigner entering Oman had to fill out a form stating the reason they had entered the country. That form gave an idea whether the person came from an area of conflict or not. In the case of a child coming from a conflict region, he would receive every needed help and psychological counselling. The best possible care was provided to the child.

With regard to the dissemination of both Optional Protocols in schools or associations, the delegation said that it was included in all school curricula at the basic level. Since adhering to the protocols, four years ago, they had been working with the Ministry of Education to raise awareness about the Optional Protocols.

On the national human rights committee, the delegation said that its structure was consistent with international criteria. It was independent and reviewed human rights and freedoms in the Sultanate. It had a wide mandate and all governmental and private entities could be included in the comments the committee issued. The committee had been established seven months ago. There had been a delay in naming the experts and the committee had not yet started its work. It could also be possible that the committee would create a sub-committee on children’s rights.

The committee on follow-up to the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child had been established when Oman had become a party to the Convention, the delegation noted. It had a technical coordinator assigned to it and there was a special budget within the Ministry of Social Development that was reserved for all programmes that were being proposed by the committee.

Omani legislation sanctioned recruitment of children below 18. It was considered as a crime, said the delegation. This would also remain true in a case of war or state of emergency.

The law on arms and munitions also criminalized the acquisition of arms. To purchase a firearm, someone had to be 20 years old.

Responding to the possibility that children between 15 and 18 years old could volunteer in certain branches of the armed forces, the delegation said that a law passed in 2008 had eliminated that possibility.

Regarding concerns about birth registrations and guarantees that children were not accidentally recruited, the delegation noted that the age of a child without a birth certificate could be assessed by medical experts.

On the issue of terrorism, and terrorists of Omani nationality residing abroad, the delegation said that the law on terrorism established a 10-year prison term for those who trained others in terrorism. Those who provided weapons to terrorist groups were also sanctioned. The law also provided for sanctions against all people on Omani territory encouraging conflicts between different states.

Concerning paramilitary forces, the delegation said that the Oman Constitution stated that the Sultanate was responsible for training its security forces. No other institutions were capable of creating paramilitary groups. There were no paramilitary groups in Oman. Certain groups of the armed forces were considered as paramilitary, because they were carrying out non-military missions, such as administrative tasks, and they were sometimes wearing civilian clothes. Those groups received military training, but all the members of such groups were over 18 years old.

Turning to the definition of armed conflict, the delegation said that direct armed conflict was not governed by any text in Omani legislation. On the use of daggers, they were often worn during celebrations. Children fewer than 14 were not allowed to bear a dagger and a child over 14 had to be with its father when carrying one. It was a cultural symbol and was not being used as a weapon.

On the draft law on children, the delegation said that it should be passed very soon and would contain very clear provisions, in line with the Convention and both Optional Protocols.

Regarding weapons export, Oman did not produce any weapons. The law on weapons and munitions also made the trading of weapons sanctionable unless there was a licence to do so.

Preliminary Concluding Observations on Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

In preliminary concluding observations, Committee Expert AWICH POLLAR, Rapporteur for the report of Oman on the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue. He noted that there was a good atmosphere in Oman which had enabled a proactive compliance of the country with the Optional Protocol. A lot had been done. However, the Committee would, in its recommendations, address some of the remaining issues, such as on legal provisions and on the definition of “direct hostilities”.

Discussion on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

ROSA MARIA ORTIZ, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Oman on Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, observed that several legislative advances had been made since the last time Oman had appeared before the Committee, such as the adoption of the criminal responsibility law, the adoption of the law against trafficking and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women. The Committee also congratulated Oman for its collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons during her visit to the country.

Ms. Ortiz said that a lot of information was missing in the report. It contained a lot of legislative information, but the Committee would have liked to have more practical information about the situation on the ground. The problems covered by the Protocol often started with the attitude at the family and community level, such as abuse or lack of dialogue. The Committee wanted to know how much progress had been made in building a system of comprehensive protection in the rights of boys and girls in Oman. When did they plan to pass the draft law on children and to launch the plan of action on children? In what specific way did the committee on the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child work in order to fulfil its mandate? How come that committee had not yet addressed the withdrawal of Oman’s reservations to the Convention and the Optional Protocols?

Ms. Ortiz was also concerned to know the results of measures to address the issue of child camel jockeys .

Regarding the major foreign community residing in Oman and the so-called “omanization” of foreigners, how did that affect children? Ms. Ortiz asked in particular about the situation of foreign children who had no documents and no nationality. With regard to sexual exploitation, which could be easily linked with trafficking, Oman seemed to be a country of destination and transit for countries from the South Asian region. Those children were often forced to work, did not receive any pay, their documents were withheld and they were often victims of sexual abuse, with all contact with their parents broken.

What was the legal regime in Oman to punish and prosecute the sale of boys and girls? What measures were being taken to identify such perpetrators? And how were these crimes being investigated and prosecuted, Ms. Ortiz asked?

Other Committee Experts then asked questions and raised concerns on a number of topics, including how the provisions of the Optional Protocol were reaching foreign children living in the country; how Oman was ensuring that cases of child prostitution did not remain hidden; what was the status of child victims of or witnesses to child prostitution and child pornography; whether there were video conferencing facilities in court proceedings to avoid a face-to-face confrontation between child victims and the perpetrators; and whether the police used audio or video tapes during their investigations.

Other questions included under what law was the sale of children criminalized; whether the dissemination or exposure of children to pornography was specifically criminalized; whether possession of pornographic material was clearly criminalized; and what measures had been taken to address the root causes of the vulnerability of children towards child prostitution. On camel racing, the minimum age for camel jockeys was to have been raised to 18 by 2009. What were the mechanisms to supervise the implementation of that law?

Experts also asked about the average marriage age in Oman; how immigration staff were trained with regard to children; whether there a hotline for children to lodge complaints; what the situation was with regard to the Internet; whether Oman was envisaging passing a law criminalizing the sale of children; what role civil society was playing with regard to the Optional Protocol; and whether Oman extradited foreigners who had committed crimes on Omani territory.

Response by Delegation

Responding to Experts' questions, the delegation said that the committee on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child had also been responsible for the drafting of the report on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The delegation indicated that offences committed by a minor were dealt with in an entirely different manner to those committed by adults. The employment law did not differentiate between citizens and foreigners.

On camel racing, it was a national sport and part of Oman’s cultural heritage. They had put in place laws amending the minimum age for participation in such races to 18 years, to ensure that the practice was in line with the Convention. Moreover, the committee mandated with ensuring the application of the Convention was working together with the Omani horseracing federation to ensure that no minors were included in this sport.

Concerning the nationality of minors and the passing of nationality, that was a thorny and controversial matter, which was being discussed by experts in all parts of the world and in all jurisdictions. In the Sultanate, nationality was passed through the father’s line, the delegation said. They also wanted to make sure that there were no stateless children. The Government was therefore trying to put in place a law to ensure that all children would be covered. The current Omani law said that children from an Omani mother with an unknown father could also get Omani nationality.

Concerning child trafficking, the law on trafficking in persons covered all aspects relating to the exploitation of children. Children were very well protected in terms of their human rights. All aspects of exploitation were considered as criminal offences.

Concerning the way the investigations were conducted, the delegation said that hearings were held with the help of a video camera and they always tried to ensure that the child was not in the vicinity of the perpetrators. There was a particular unit in the Prosecutor’s Office dealing with such offences. One of the parents, a lawyer and social worker could be present with the child. The child could benefit from a trial or hearing aimed at protecting and shielding it as much as possible. The minor was not forced to be present during the prosecution. The child was also free to express its opinion during the proceedings.

Omani society was very much protected against violence and they had a zero tolerance policy in cases of violence against children, the delegation noted. There was working group made up of representatives of institutions from diverse ministries, the police, the Prosecutor’s Office, media and the civil society which looked into all cases of violence against children. The number of cases of violence against children had been extremely limited to date. A teacher striking a child could be punished, and any teacher or social worker that verbally attacked a child could also be punished.

There was currently a project to open a home for children without parents or whose family could not be found. The Ministry of Social Development had a hotline to deal with family affairs in general and thus was able to receive any complaints.

The delegation wished to stress that family ties were very close in Oman. A study had shown that Oman was maybe the sole Arab country which had a true family unity. Thus violence did not exist in Oman as was the case in other countries.

Regarding sex tourism, the delegation noted that Oman had a law regulating the area of tourism. Concerning the criminalization of certain acts, such as sexual exploitation, which were not covered by the law on tourism, those were covered by criminal law.

The delegation said that there were no children working as domestic workers in Oman. It asked for any information the Committee had received showing the contrary. The majority of domestic workers were women of a certain age.

On the report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, the delegation said that she had been afforded a very detailed programme of visits and she had herself asked to visit certain places. Oman valued her report and they had responded to questions in the report when it had been published. In addition, the United Nations Children's Fund had a regional office in Oman and the country was open to any visits by other international organisations.

Regarding the involvement of children in fishing and agriculture, the delegation said that children were fishing with their families in the coastal region where fishermen were residing. This was not done for a salary, children were doing this with their fathers; it was a tradition.

The minimum age for marriage was set at 18 in Oman. A marriage needed the verbal consent of the male and the female; it could not be arranged by families. Further, the Penal Code criminalized slavery and the sale of children. In order to combat trafficking in persons, the law against trafficking in persons stipulated that premeditating or planning a crime would receive the same punishment as though the act had been fulfilled.

Regarding juveniles who had committed offences, each situation was studied on a case-by-case basis. Small thefts and other petty crime were pardoned in view of the young age of the offender and the child was then directed to undergo psychological counselling. On child pornography, the law on communication criminalized the acquisition of such material and impeded the acquisition of such material. There were also provisions against those that had facilitated the acquisition of child pornography.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

In preliminary concluding observations, Committee Expert ROSA MARIA ORTIZ, Rapporteur for the report of Oman on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, thanked the delegation for its participation in this dialogue and for its answers. It seemed that Oman wanted to comply with all its commitments with regard to children’s rights. Investigations into sale and trafficking of children had shown the involvement of Oman, be it as a country of transit or destination. However, the quantity of legal initiatives taken by Oman was laudable and praiseworthy. As a recommendation, the Committee would ask Oman to approve the planned law on the child; it was an absolutely necessary framework to ensure the application of the Protocol. The next time they met, the Committee would be interested to hear more about the application of the legal provisions in this area, but also would like to hear more data that could reflect and quantify the political will of the country, in terms of progress or of backsliding.

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