Committee on the Rights of the Child
15 September 2010
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the initial reports of Sierra Leone 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, Brima Rogers, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said the past conflict had caused many casualties, mostly children and women, and the impact of the war persisted even today. Central to the country’s planned development trajectory was improving the delivery of health care, education and water services, which would contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In its pursuit to improve service delivery, the Government had been reforming its public sector institutions through a Public Sector Reform Unit and the conversion of the former Establishment Secretary’s Office into the Human Resource Management Office. The ongoing reform measures, which focused on streamlining the prevailing structures and ensuring personnel competence, would result in a Social Welfare Ministry that would be more effective in coordinating and monitoring child protection. The Government had also enacted new child-focused legislation, amended older legislation, and was currently drafting and considering other pieces of legislation such as the Adoption Act and the Anti-Human Trafficking Act.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Azza El Ashmawy, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, said a lot of useful information had been received and the Committee highly appreciated Sierra Leone’s efforts and positive developments to combat child pornography and the sale of children.
Providing additional concluding remarks, Committee Expert Awich Pollar, serving as Rapporteur for the reports of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, highlighted that even peaceful States had obligations under the Protocol. The Committee was interested, even eight years after the war, to see the resettlement of the children affected and hoped that its recommendations would be helpful.
Regarding Sierra Leone’s report on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, the Committee raised a number of questions, including about the mandate, future plans and policies for the National Commission for Children; how the Government intended to collect data on child sale, prostitution and pornography; and what measures had been taken to effectively implement and enforce the Anti-Human Trafficking Act. Experts further wished to know whether all adoptions were covered by the Sierra Leonean adoption moratorium and whether Sierra Leone intended to accede to the Hague Convention.
With regard to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the Committee asked whether the Ministry of Social Welfare really had enough human and logistical capacity; who registered complaints of violations with regard to the Protocol; what data collection system Sierra Leone had been using for the Optional Protocol; and whether the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy were recruiting children. Experts further wished to know whether the State had been receiving any assistance to implement the recommendations from the Committee and whether the National Human Rights Institution had been involved in the report preparation.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Sierra Leone towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on Friday, 1 October 2010.
The delegation of Sierra Leone was comprised of two representatives from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone.
As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention, Sierra Leone 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 today to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 September, it will begin consideration of the initial reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/BIH/1) and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/BIH/1) in Chamber A. In Chamber B the Committee will consider the second periodic report of Burundi (CRC/C/BDI/2).
Reports of Sierra Leone
The initial report of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/SLE/1) notes that there is no statistical information on these crimes in Sierra Leone, but preliminary assessments indicate that child trafficking is frequent and an issue of concern in the country. Its prevalence is pre-conditioned by poverty, ignorance, corruption, porous borders, and the decade-long war. Although trafficked children are invisible to the eye of data collectors and child protection agencies, the Government has established the Human Rights Commission in 2006 and enacted the 2005 Anti-Human Trafficking Act as well as the 2007 Child Rights Act. The fundamental thrust of these legislations is the prohibition of violation of human rights and, in the case of the Child Rights Act, the emphasis lies on the maximisation of the wellbeing of all persons under the age of 18 in Sierra Leone. The Child Rights Act is all encompassing and includes punitive measures for child rights violations.
The initial report of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/SLE/1) says that at the end of the final phase of disarmament in January 2002, the country had successfully demobilized a total of 6,845 children who were associated with the fighting forces. Following Sierra Leone’s ratification of the Optional Protocol in May 2002, nationwide sensitization and education on the prevention of recruitment and involvement of under 18s in the armed forces resulted in the revision of the RSLAF Recruitment Policy. This policy established the minimum age of enlistment into the army at 18 years. Furthermore, the Children’s Policy (2006) and the Child Rights Act (2007) unconditionally protect children from armed conflict, and the Act criminalizes the recruitment or enlistment of any child for the purposes of engaging him/her in armed conflict within Sierra Leone. When the war ended in Sierra Leone the army was disbanded and a new one was formed with the help of the international community.
Discussion on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
Presentation of Report
BRIMA ROGERS, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, apologized for the delay in reporting to the Committee and explained that a minister of Sierra Leone would join the discussion this afternoon, while the third delegate had been unable to travel to Geneva due to administrative issues.
Providing some background information on Sierra Leone, Mr. Rogers said Sierra Leone was a small country of approximately 27,000 square miles which had fought a brutal war for about 11 years. The conflict had caused many casualties, mostly children and women, and the impact of the war persisted even today even though the President had made many attempts to address this challenge.
On 8 Sept 2000 and 15 May 2002, Sierra Leone had signed and ratified, respectively, the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2007, Sierra Leone had had a change of Government. Fundamentally, a large number of developmental policies, particularly with regards to children, remained the same. However, the thrust of the new Presidency was “attitudinal and behavioural change”, which was the underlying principle of the Government’s agenda for change and required concerted effort by all Sierra Leonean citizens so as to adopt a positive attitude towards the “emancipation” of the country from poverty and marginalisation.
Central to the country’s planned development trajectory was improving the delivery of health care, particularly maternal and child health, as well as education and water services.
This would contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals while also enhancing the country’s ranking on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index.
In its pursuit to improve service delivery, the Government had been reforming its public sector institutions. This has been done through a Public Sector Reform Unit in the Office of the President as well as the conversion of the former Establishment Secretary’s Office into the Human Resource Management Office. These reform measures had largely been supported by foreign donors.
Mr. Rogers went on to say that several public agencies had been reworked in the context of the reform process, notably the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA). The ongoing reform measures, which focused on streamlining the prevailing structures and ensuring personnel competence, would result in a Social Welfare Ministry that would be more effective in coordinating and monitoring child protection. As part of the re-structuring process, the Ministry had been rationalising its staff list, for example by ensuring that staff retired at the correct age. As a result, the number of staff - both at the central level and in the field - had been reduced, senior level positions had been advertised, and five directorates had been established, including one that specifically focused on children’s affairs. That directorate would complement the National Commission for Children, which was in the process of being established.
The United Nations Children's Fund and other partners such as the United Nations Fund for Women, the United Nations Population Fund, the Justice Sector Development Programme, as well as international and national NGOs continued to provide much-needed support and collaborated with the Ministry for ensuring the effective delivery of services to Sierra Leonean children.
Mr. Rogers underscored that new child-focused legislation had been enacted, older legislation had been amended, and other pieces of legislation were currently being drafted. For example, the Child Rights Act had been enacted in 2007 and was a domestication of the Convention and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Also, the Domestic Violence Act had been enacted in 2007, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act had been enacted in 2007, and discussions on the harmonisation between this Act and the Child Rights Act had been ongoing with regards to the age of marriage, Mr. Rogers said. He added that the Adoption Act was currently awaiting parliamentary consent and the Anti-Human Trafficking Act was before Cabinet.
Questions by Experts
AZZA EL ASHMAWY, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone, said the country had suffered a history of political unrest following the war. The hostilities had damaged Sierra Leone’s already weak institutions, generated poverty, affected the development of the physical and social infrastructure, and hindered Sierra Leone’s economic development. It was nevertheless significant that Sierra Leone had been able to hold its third democratic election in 2007 in relative peace, leading to the first peaceful handover from one party to another in post-independence history.
Sierra Leone had also been able to implement considerable measures of relevance to the Optional Protocol, the Rapporteur went on to say, notably the enactment of the Child Rights Act, the adoption of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, as well as the training of law enforcement officials, non-governmental organizations and service providers, and the creation of a Trafficking in Persons Task Force.
However, it remained unclear what the “reunification package” that was provided depending on individual circumstances consisted of, and whether follow-up monitoring of such children was being conducted. And what were the mandate, future plans and policies for the National Commission for Children concerning the implementation of the Protocol, the Rapporteur wondered. She further noted that no statistics were available on child sale, child prostitution and pornography, as well as recipients of recovery assistance and compensation. Could the delegation therefore explain the measures taken to collect data on the extent of these phenomena?
The Rapporteur further wondered whether Sierra Leone had any intentions to harmonize the Child Rights Act with the Optional Protocol, what measures had been taken to effectively implement and enforce the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, and whether civil society and the broader community had been able to transparently participate in the amendments of the Child Rights Act.
What measures had been taken to draft coordinated plans to tackle the issues covered by the Optional Protocol, to designate roles and responsibilities to effectively prosecute and punish traffickers, to better assist and support child victims, and to strengthen border measures so as to prevent transnational trafficking, the Rapporteur further asked. She also asked for information on prevention efforts to address the root causes of trafficking and improve the economic situation of families, especially women, with a view to eliminating their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. And did Sierra Leone intend to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplemented the Palermo Protocol?
Other experts then underscored, among other things, the lack of information on the monitoring of Government activities, and that prevention and treatment strategies must be adapted to activities such as forced marriages. They also wished to know what measures had been taken to combat poverty, ignorance and corruption; whether the Government had been going through all existing laws as part of its revision process; whether the Penal Code included the definitions of crimes that the Optional Protocol dealt with, such as pornography and transfer of organs; and whether measures had been taken to ratify the Hague Conventions.
Another issue related to the Criminal Code was whether it allowed for the prosecution of companies for crimes under article 2 and 3 of the Optional Protocol. If that was the case, what were the sanctions, could such companies be prevented from trading, and could their assets be seized?
Could the delegation comment on attempts to regulate Sierra Leone’s tourism industry; provide information or data on the sexual exploitation of children by foreigners; and explain whether the Government intended to conduct awareness raising campaigns in the various local languages?
In terms of extraterrestrial prosecution, did Sierra Leone recognize the Optional Protocol as a sufficient basis for extradition, or did it simply refer back to its bilateral and multilateral agreements, mostly those with its neighbouring countries?
Another Expert noted that over 50 per cent of Sierra Leonean children were not registered at birth, often due to a lack of knowledge, and asked whether awareness-raising programmes had been implemented to sensitize the population about the importance and process of birth registration, and whether mobile registration teams went out into communities or whether they merely took on a passive role.
Response by the Delegation
BRIMA ROGERS, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said the birth registration system had been improved considerably thanks to extensive training of health care workers and support from the United Nations Children's Fund. Birth certificates were issued by trained registrars and other measures had been implemented, including television campaigns.
As for the sale of children, Mr. Rogers said Sierra Leone had all encompassing criminal laws. Perpetrators would be judged according to these laws and, in the future, according to those that were still pending approval from Parliament. The Government had been making every effort to punish culprits. The Committee followed-up by asking whether Sierra Leonean courts had ever prosecuted cases of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Responding, Mr. Rogers said an international non-governmental organization had been involved in trafficking Sierra Leonean children. In response to this, the Government had drafted the piece of legislation that was currently pending approval.
Turning to data collection, Mr. Rogers said few statistics were currently available, but the Government and several international organizations had been working on this. Responding to requests for more information, he added that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs had built a data collection center and that a directorate had been established to participate in research.
Mr. Rogers went on to say that a National Children’s Commission had been set up under the law on the Rights of the Child, working in complete independence from the Government. Asked whether the Child Welfare Committees that existed at the village level were related to the National Children’s Commission, Mr. Rogers said these organs worked in collaboration, but independently.
Mr. Rogers confirmed that the Ministry had harmonised the Child Rights Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act regarding the age of marriage which now stood at 18 years instead of 9 years as before.
As to how extraterrestrial extradition was being dealt with, Mr. Rogers said Sierra Leone had acceded to the Convention of the Economic Community of West African States, and extradition had been possible ever since Sierra Leone had acceded to the Optional Protocol.
As to whether all adoptions were covered by the Sierra Leonean adoption moratorium, and whether the country intended to accede to the Hague Convention, Mr. Rogers said the Government was particularly concerned about international adoptions. Many Sierra Leonean children had been promised the opportunity to study abroad, but this had often not been the case. For this and other reasons, all international adoptions had been banned through the aforementioned moratorium. The Hague Convention would also soon be ratified by Parliament as the political will was there and the Government, who had the majority in Parliament, was committed to this cause, as it was to signing the Palermo Protocol.
Experts said information on the prevention of child rights abuses and its root causes, such as poverty, would be welcomed. Responding, Mr. Rogers said thousands of international non-governmental organizations had been present in the country during the war, many of which had been involved in the exploitation of children for food, particularly hungry girls, who were especially vulnerable. In response to this, laws had been drawn up to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes would be brought to justice. Sierra Leonean law currently did not include provisions to prosecute companies, but this was being looked into.
In response to these explanations, an Expert said the State Party’s report underscored that poverty and ignorance contributed to the sale of children. The children were given as wards for the better upbringing in cities or overseas, which inhibited Sierra Leone’s ability to meet the requirements set forth by the Convention. This cause needed to be focused upon in prevention activities, the Expert said, and asked what measures could bring about a change in attitudes.
Mr. Rogers said he himself had been brought up by close family members in the city which had enabled him to go to university. The phenomenon therefore was not only negative, but Mr. Rogers agreed that the exploitation of children from poor families was of concern. However, this mostly applied to international adoptions, where children were taken away from the country and would never see their parents again.
Discussion on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Questions by Experts
AWICH POLLAR, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone, noted that Sierra Leone had ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002 and should have reported to the Committee two years after that ratification. However, after two years no report had been submitted, which was understandable considering what had been going on in the country at that time, most of which was connected to the Optional Protocol.
Sierra Leone had seen a number of positive developments regarding the Optional Protocol, Mr. Pollar went on to say. This not only included collaboration with non-governmental organizations that provided support to former child soldiers, the holding of truth and reconciliation hearings, and the development of plans for payment of reparations to war victims. The Government had also endorsed the Paris Commitment to Protect Children from recruitment into armed forces, completely banned the use of weapons except by armed forces, and implemented the ECOWAS Protocol on the proliferation of small arms, along with many other positive developments.
While Sierra Leone had made many achievements, more issues remained for discussion. For example, the Rapporteur wondered whether the National Human Rights Institution had been involved in the preparation of the report, how the administrative regions had contributed to the preparation, and whether the report had been disseminated in the country.
In terms of coordination, the Committee understood that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs monitored the Protocol’s implementation. But did that Ministry really have enough human and logistic capacity to fulfil this role; were the budgetary allocations adequate; what formal mechanisms had been put in place for monitoring and evaluating the Protocol; and who registered complaints of violations with regard to the Protocol? In terms of data, what data collection system had Sierra Leone been using for the Optional Protocol?
Turning to the prevention of recruitment by non-state forces, the Rapporteur noted that the 2007 Child Rights Act was very elaborate with an objective of protecting children from recruitment. But what sanctions were provided in contravention, and could the Committee be assured that the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy was not recruiting children in the eastern province, as had allegedly been the case five years ago? And could the Committee assured that there were no children in training camps in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, contrary to past reports? Also, could the delegation comment on the holding of children by the prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone who had been indicted by this court?
Other experts then noted that Sierra Leone’s report referred to dissemination work on the Optional Protocol. Could more information be provided on that and on activities to guide local actors and protect adolescents from being recruited by armed forces? The Committee Member also asked whether programmes were implemented in schools and communities to systematically teach children's rights, and whether the Protocol had been translated into local languages.
Obviously, Sierra Leone had many development partnerships, the Expert went on to say. But had the State been receiving any assistance to implement the recommendations from the Committee and those from the Security Council?
The Optional Protocol obliged States to set the age of voluntary recruitment at 18 years, another Committee Member noted. But what happened in Sierra Leone if recruitment nevertheless took place? From the report it looked like this had only been criminalized but that perpetrators were not being prosecuted. Also, was legislation for extraterritorial jurisdiction in place?
Response by the Delegation
Returning to questions raised under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, particularly regarding legal provisions against sex tourism, the delegation said that sex tourism was not a major issue in Sierra Leone and child pornography was not widespread. While these crimes may happen, there were no reports on any such cases. In any case, this was prohibited and would be acted upon if detected.
The sale of children was also illegal, but police had assured the delegation that no such cases had been reported. The Government had nevertheless looked at the sale of children in the context of child trafficking, against which a bill was currently before Parliament. Reception centres for such victims were available, mainly in border areas, and included non-governmental organization staff and focal points that exchanged information and coordinated actions with the police and INTERPOL. The building of safe-homes was also planned in order to provide psychosocial counselling.
The Committee noted that child pornography might exist but was not permitted. But was Sierra Leonean law, particularly the penal law, in conformity with the definitions of articles 2 and 3 of the Optional Protocol, and what steps had been taken following the ratification of the Protocol?
Responding, the delegation confirmed that Sierra Leonean legislation was compatible with the Protocol and asserted that the definitions were incorporated into the Sexual Offences Bill. The delegation explained that the major activity after signing the Protocol had been awareness-raising in order to ensure that the population was conversant with the law and that coordinators were aware of their obligations.
The delegation went on to say that the amendments of the Child Rights Act had been made to render that piece of legislation more efficient and actionable. Previously, the Act had stipulated that every village should have a village welfare committee, which had been amended as it was simply impossible due to a lack of human and financial resources. Further amendments related to the election process of the chief of welfare committees and the collaboration between the National Commission and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
Although Sierra Leone has not yet signed the Hague Convention, it had enacted a moratorium on adoption so as to reflect the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption. Nevertheless, the Hague Convention would be signed and ratified shortly.
Returning to questions raised under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the report had been written by the Social Welfare Ministry without consulting non-governmental organizations, the delegation admitted, but said its content was not a secret. The Protocol had not been translated into local languages and Government had not undertaken any formal training on the Protocol, but all relevant actors had been trained on children's rights following the conflict. Children's rights had also been integrated into the curricula of the armed forces and the police, human rights were taught in school and at universities, and the Children’s forum network, non-governmental organizations, journalists and community leaders had also been conducting sensitization activities on issues related to the Protocol.
Regarding recruitment by non-State forces, the delegation said the war had ended in 2002 and since that time there had not been any armed groups in the country. Nevertheless, the Child Rights Act criminalised the recruitment and enlistment of children. It further stipulated that every child had the right to be protected from involvement in armed or other conflicts. The Child Rights Act did not cover recruitment by armed groups distinct from the armed forces, but that was covered by other legislation.
It was clear that the law prohibited recruitment of children into armed forces, the Committee said, but did it also provide the means for prosecuting potential offenders? Some countries were at peace, and then suddenly war broke out and children were being recruited by armed groups without there being any legal provisions for punishment. That was a good point which would be looked into, the delegation responded.
The term “direct participation” referred to children who held arms and were engaged in combat activities, as well as those who had served as porters or “bush wives”. However, the special court of Sierra Leone had recognised that children who had participated in one way or another in the armed conflict were victims. Therefore, children had not been tried or charged, whether they had been directly or indirectly involved. Rather, the court had been established to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian and Sierra Leonean law. Child combatants or children otherwise involved in the war had received financial assistance by the Government.
The delegation was not aware of any legislation which specifically linked the recruitment of children to arms trade, but other laws addressed this issue and stipulated that it was illegal to possess arms without a licence.
Sierra Leone’s birth registration system had improved considerably through training of personnel on how to complete the necessary forms to register new births. While there was no system in place for older children, the date of birth could retrospectively be estimated with the help of community leaders in order to issue identification cards.
As to whether there was any monitoring system to determine whether children were still falling victims to recruitment by armed groups, the delegation explained that children in school had been monitored. Although primary education was free, not all children went to school and those who did not attend school, such as street children, were reached through special programmes or reintegration projects. The full effect of these programmes remained to be seen, but the Government was hopeful.
Experts then returned to issues pertaining to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and asked what mechanisms were in place to control transnational trafficking to other African countries and how the law on domestic trafficking was being enforced. The delegation pointed out that the adoption moratorium inter alia aimed at making it difficult for trafficking to occur, but trafficking still remained of concern and the law had been amended to address this problem. This was also being tackled through awareness-raising and reducing the potential for children to be extracted from their surroundings. Victims were being cared for in the aforementioned safe-homes, of which more would be built with the help of the International Organization for Migration so as to meet the demand. Family tracing and reunification services had also been made available to victims and the 2011 Government budget would take into account services for victims of trafficking.
A Committee Member asked whether child victims were being reintegrated into their families even when a member of the family was involved in the crime. This was not the case, the delegation asserted. In such instances, none of which were known to have occured, children would be cared for in foster families or institutions.
The Bill on Sexual Offences recognised that child prostitutes were victims and should be provided psychosocial services rather than being prosecuted.
There had been many instances of girls who were pregnant with the children of their torturers. In many cases psychosocial services had been provided although it had certainly not been possible to assist all victims.
Turning to the protection of child victims during trials, and specifically whether courts were obliged to have the victim appear in court with the perpetrator or whether such confrontations could be avoided, the delegation said the former still happened, but this would be looked into.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
AZZA EL ASHMAWY, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, in preliminary concluding observations, said a lot of useful information had been received and the Committee highly appreciated Sierra Leone’s efforts and positive developments to combat child pornography and the sale of children.
AWICH POLLAR, Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the reports of Sierra Leone under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, also in some concluding observations, highlighted that even peaceful States had obligations under the Protocol. The Committee was interested, even eight years after the war, to see the resettlement of the children affected and hoped that its recommendations would be helpful.
SOCCOH KABIA, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said it had been a pleasure to be present today. Everything Sierra Leone had been undertaking was aimed at protecting its children. The country was facing challenges, but with the commitment and support of its partners improvements could be made and perpetrators could be brought to justice.
For use of the information media; not an official record