COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD REVIEWS INITIAL REPORT OF BRUNEI DARUSSALAM



25 September 2003

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial report of Brunei Darussalam on how that country was implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Haji Jemat bin Haji Ampal, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, said that his country had progressed significantly on matters relating to children and on the principles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He said the establishment of the Community Development Department of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in July 2002 showed the Government’s commitment to the welfare and well being of the child.
Mr. Haji Ampal said that the establishment of the National Children Council had contributed to the well being of children in the country. Recently, the Council had organized a gathering of 6,000 children aimed at disseminating information on the Convention and the principles embodied in it with regard to the best interest of the child, he added.
Committee Experts, including Ghalia Mohd Bin Hamad Al-Thani, who served as country rapporteur for the report of Brunei Darussalam, said that the State party had not ratified any other international convention relating to children, including those of the International Labour Organization. Questions were raised, among other things, on such issues as the status of the Koranic schools; the rights of children of the foreign community; the situation of arranged and early marriages; the stigma of disabled children; the prohibition of corporal punishment in the family and schools; the increase in the infant mortality rate; the status of sexual and reproductive health education in schools; the right to freedom of expression; the extent of child abuse; and the country’s participation in international financial assistance.
In a preliminary remark, Ms. Al-Thani said, among other things, that the report was blessed with many positive aspects. The Committee would formulate conclusions which reflected the information supplied by the delegation and the content of the dialogue. She said that the Committee would underline the need for Brunei to withdraw its reservations on the Convention, particularly the general reservations. The recommendations would suggest that the State party ratify other international conventions and the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she added.
The Committee will issue its formal, written conclusions and recommendations on the report of Brunei Darussalam towards the end of its three-week session which will close on 3 October.
Brunei Darussalam was also represented by Haja Moriah Haji Kackia, Deputy Director of the Community Development Department; Datin Paduka Lim Meng Keang, Senior Paediatrics Specialist, Ministry of Health; Hjh Zabaidah Hj Kamaludin, Assistant Solicitor General, Attorney General’s Chambers; Hjh Khadijah Hj Akbar, Senior Education Officer, Ministry of Education; Hardi Fahilah Hj Salleh, Legal Syariah Officer, Ministry of Religious Affairs; Jahali Suhaili, Community Development Officer, Department of Community Development; and Norinawati Entunie, Second Secretary, Protocol and Consular Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Brunei Darussalam is obligated to provide the Committee with periodic reports on its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 September, it is scheduled to take up the initial report of Singapore (CRC/C/51/Add.8).
Report of Brunei Darussalam
The initial report of Brunei Darussalam (CRC/C/61/Add.5) provides detailed information on the State party’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention through administrative, judicial and legislative measures. It says that the country acceded to the Convention on 23 December 1995 with an umbrella of reservations on provisions contrary to its Constitution and to the beliefs and principles of Islam, as well as specific reservations on articles 14 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, 20 on protection of the child without a family and 21 on adoption.
The report notes that the system of the extended family whereby parents, uncles, aunts and others live together under one roof is still widely practiced in the country. Government housing schemes and projects are geared towards maintaining the family system by ensuring that families are resettled as near to one another as possible. The extended family system has contributed significantly in enhancing caring values by teaching children to uphold moral and spiritual values and to respect their parents, elders, rulers and leaders as enshrined by the teachings of Islam. This proper upbringing will help the children to be aware of their own responsibilities and their role in the society in the future.
Brunei Darussalam is situated on the northwest coast of the island of Borneo, and it has a population of 338,400 people. It is still very much dependent on revenues from crude oil and natural gas to finance its development programmes. It is the third largest oil producer in South-East Asia and it produced 182,000 barrels per day in 1999. Darussalam means “house of peace or serenity”.
Presentation of Report
HAJI JEMAT BIN HAJI AMPAL, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, said that his country had progressed significantly since the submission of its first report on matters relating to children and on the principles of the Convention. The establishment of the Community Development Department of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in July 2002 showed the Government’s commitment to the welfare and well being of the child. It was recognition of the increasingly growing responsibility of the Government in ensuring the interests and rights of the child were protected.
Mr. Haji Ampal said that another very significant development was the waiver of student fees for children of non-citizens who were permanent residents of the country. Children of citizens had always enjoyed free education up to pre-university level and for those qualified, up to university and postgraduate levels. The establishment of the National Children’s Council had contributed to the well being of children in the country. The Council’s main function was to coordinate child activities organized by the various bodies and agencies in the country and to ensure the principles of the Convention were taken into consideration in the formulation of national policies. Recently, the Council organized a gathering of 6,000 children aimed at disseminating information on the Convention and the principles embodied in it with regard to the best interest of the child.
Prior to its accession to the Convention, Brunei Darussalam had started drafting laws to enhance the position of children in many areas, Mr. Haji Ampal said. After acceding to the treaty, the Government had passed the Children Order 2000 to further protect the interest of children, particularly the abused and neglected. The Order provided that the best interest of the child should always be the paramount consideration when any question was raised with respect to the welfare of the child. The Islamic Family Law was also passed in 1999, which provided for matters pertaining to maintenance and guardianship of children of Muslim families. The Islamic Adoption of Children and Adoption of Children Orders 2001 made provisions to regulate adoption of children in the country.
Mr. Haji Ampal said his country worked closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with regard to the Convention in particular and matters relating to children in general. Several seminars and workshops, including a regional consultative meeting, were held jointly with UNICEF in Brunei Darussalam in 1996. A number of senior Government officials had attended courses, seminars and workshops organized by UNICEF abroad. The cooperation with UNICEF and other regional and international organizations had proven beneficial to the country.
Brunei Darussalam continued to enjoy good health status with the latest medical provisions provided free for the citizens and permanent residents, the Permanent Secretary continued. The trend in infant mortality rate had remained low in the last several years, fluctuating between 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 1999 and 8.3 per 1,000 live births in 2002. Childhood mortality rate had significantly declined and had remained low at 0.4 per 1,000 of 1 to 4 year age group in 1999. The infant and under-5 mortality rates indicated enormous improvement over the last 20 years. Continuous efforts were being made to sustain that good health status among children. The child immunization rate was above 95 per cent and the country was free from all major and minor communicable diseases; and 99 per cent of the population had access to clean and safe fluorinated water.
In conclusion, Mr. Haji Ampal said that while Brunei Darussalam enjoyed a high level of education and health for the children, it continued its effort by giving attention, among other things, to the establishment of juvenile courts; nationwide parenting programmes for newly married couples and for parents to educate them on family life; preventive education to those involved in anti-social activities; and to encourage youth in entrepreneurship skills so that they did not rely on salaried jobs.
Discussion
GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur for the report of Brunei Darussalam, said that the report, although three years late, was well written and contained detailed information. The State party had not ratified any other international convention relating to children, including those of the International Labour Organization. She said she was worried about the two types of reservations made by the State party: general reservations vis-à-vis the Constitution and the principles of Islam, and specific reservations on certain articles pertaining to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protection of a child without a family and adoption.
Ms. Al-Thani said the report referred to “Protector” but did not specify its role and functions. Who was that protector, and what were its activities? Workshops had been organized for judges, which was a measure essential to the sound functioning of the judiciary. What concrete measures were taken to train law-reinforcement agents, teachers and social workers? She also wanted to know if there was discrimination between boys and girls in the absence of legislation that would enable children to complain and have their voices heard.
ROSA MARIA ORTIZ, the Committee Expert who acted as country co-rapporteur for the report of Brunei Darussalam, asked how the family functioned as an institution; about the attitudes of adults towards children; and if practised, the role of the polygamous family system with regard to children. She also asked if the State party was planning to establish national human rights institutions with the functions of monitoring the implementation of the Convention. What role did non-governmental organizations play in the country? How many of them operated in the territory? Did they receive State support in their activities? Were they appreciated for their work?
Other Committee Experts also raised a number of questions under the main subjects of the general measures of implementation; definition of the child; and general principles. The Experts asked about the different age criteria in various areas; the manner in which coordination of activities relating to children was done; the absence of students’ councils in all schools; the measures undertaken to satisfy the special needs of children; the status of the Koranic schools - - Madrassas; the rights of children of the foreign community; the competence of the National Children Council; the situation of arranged and early marriages; the stigma of disabled children; and the State party’s participation in international treaty drafting, among other things.
Responding, the members of the delegation said that since Islam was the main principle on which the country was based, the reservations made were in accordance to the Islamic doctrine as well as to its Constitution. However, the Government had not failed in its efforts to promote and protect the rights of children.
There was committee composed of people from different professional backgrounds working on a national plan of action for children, the delegation said.
Children of migrants under 12 years could attend government schools free of charge, the delegation said. Those who attended private schools were obliged to pay fees. Children admitted to paediatric clinics could also receive medical treatment free.
The country did not have a law protecting children from discrimination, the delegation said. Since there was no discrimination, even against women, there was no need to enact legislation to that end. No one was complaining of discrimination in the country and it was difficult to draft a bill for a society free of discrimination.
A woman married to a foreigner could transmit her Brunei nationality to her child, the delegation said.
There was no discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims, the delegation said. Non-Muslims were not expected to fast.
The Muslim Adoption Order was applied only to children of Muslim families, the delegation said. Non-Muslim individuals could not apply for adoption in Sharia courts; they had to apply for adoption in civil courts.
Non-governmental organizations were active in the country working on the promotion and protection of child rights, the delegation said. The Brunei Graduate Women’s Association, for example, was taking care of disabled children.
In matters of custody after divorce, a seven-year old child was asked before the courts whether he or she wanted to stay with the mother or the father, the delegation said. Children under seven years remained with the mother.
Every new birth should be registered in Brunei Darussalam, the delegation said, adding that a law on that issue existed. Since there were clinics in small villages of the country, no birth could escape from registration, even among migrants.
There was no minimum age for marriage under Brunei’s legislation, the delegation said. Before the solemnization of a marriage, a special procedure had to be followed. The couples should receive permission from the registrar and they should follow a pre-marital course before the solemnization of the marriage.
Committee Experts continued to raise questions under the main issues of civil rights and freedoms; family environment and alternative care and basic health and welfare. They asked, among other things, about the content of the pre-marriage courses; the prohibition of corporal punishment in the family and schools; the increase in the infant mortality rate; information on breastfeeding; the status of sexual and reproductive health education in schools; the right to freedom of expression; the privacy of children; the extent of child abuse; the country’s participation in international financial assistance; the functioning of the foster family system; and the status of the Koranic schools.
Responding, the members of the delegation said that Brunei Darussalam had no juvenile justice system; however, it was working to develop one in the near future. Offences committed by children were very few and mainly they concerned causing minor injuries, petty thefts and vandalism. In 2002, only 66 child offences were committed while in 2001, 78 offences were committed. The number of cases of drug abuse by children was also very low.
The Government had continued to take preventive measures against HIV/AIDS, which was not a major concern to the health officially, the delegation said. The country was not immune from the disease and every caution was taken to control its expansion. With regard to adolescent health, efforts were also made to make the population aware of the health of children.
Concerning ill-treatment and child abuse, a medical practitioner should report to the police if a child patient was suffering from physical or emotional maltreatment, the delegation said. The school head master should also report any case of ill-treatment of children to the competent authorities.
Abandoned children were sheltered in places especially prepared to host them, the delegation said, adding that in such foster homes there were only a few children due to the extended family system that took care of such children.
Asked if cases of incest occurred, the delegation said that whenever the family homes were not safe for children, they were placed in homes designed for victims of sexual abuse, rape, incest and neglect. Perpetrators of incest were male adults and criminal charges were taken against them.
Women were not whipped in Brunei, the delegation said, adding that in schools only light whipping as a form of disciplinary measure was used against boys. Only the courts could hand down whipping and prison sentences against young males who were convicted of committing serious crimes like rape or serious offences against the drug law. In the past, corporal punishment used to be part of disciplinary measures but now things had changed.
Marriage between a Muslim and non-Muslim could not take place in Brunei, the delegation said. A non-Muslim engaging in marriage with a Muslim should first convert to Islam. Ethnic groups of the same religion could get married under the law.
Each community leader had to report to the Minister of Home Affairs on the current situation in his community and particularly if a child was not enrolled in a school, the delegation said. That system allowed every school age child to be in school.
The fact that children assisted their parents in their businesses or farms did not impede them from going to school regularly, the delegation said. Traditionally children should participate in family affairs, which was not considered as a remunerating labour.
The so called Koranic schools or madrassas, which were now called religious schools, were run under the Ministry of Education, the delegation said. In order to harmonize the religious and Government-run educational systems, the Government had taken measures to integrate religious schools in the State educational programmes. Religious lessons were also part of State school teachings.
Pre-marital courses included teaching of Islamic teachings and the principles to follow during the life of the couple, the delegation said. The future wife was made conscious of her rights under the country’s laws and her obligations with regard to the Islamic laws. The future husband was also told to respect his wife and treat her as his equal.
Preliminary Remarks
GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur for the report of Brunei Darussalam, thanked the delegation for the wealth of information provided during the dialogue. The report was blessed with many positive aspects. The Committee would form conclusions which would reflect the information supplied by the delegation and the content of the dialogue. The Committee would underline the need for Brunei to withdraw its reservations on the Convention, particularly the general reservations. The recommendations would also suggest that the State party ratify other international conventions and the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Ms. Al-Thani said the Committee would express concern on the age of early marriage and children’s entry into the labour market; the de facto discrimination against children; the lack of respect for children’s opinion; and the use of corporal punishment.
Concluding Remarks by Delegation
HAJI JEMAT BIN HAJI AMPAL, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, expressed his sincere thanks to the members of the Committee for their frank opinion and remarks on his Government’s efforts to further improve the welfare and protection of children as embodied in the Convention. Throughout their involvement with the Convention, the members of the delegation had recognized the strengths and weakness in issues relating to the Convention and their task now was to take home the Committee’s comments and remarks with the view to further develop the weaker areas. The Brunei families recognized that those young children were their assets and their future leaders and they would continue to strive for excellence in line with the principles of the Convention.