23 January 2001
Calls, in Preliminary Remarks, for Interpretation of Customary Laws
in Line With Provisions of Convention
The Committee on the Rights of the Child completed its public review this afternoon of an initial report of Palau, calling in preliminary remarks on the country to find a new way to interpret its customary laws and traditional values so as not to contradict the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On behalf of the Committee, an Expert praised the report of Palau, calling it exemplary. The dialogue with the one-man delegation was fruitful. The Expert said that the idea of considering children as partners and subjects of rights should be concretized in Palau.
Another Expert said that Palau should ratify other treaties pertaining to child rights such as the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Palau should also combat discrimination against children born to foreign parents; and it should continue its process of implementation of the provisions of the Convention; the Government had so far done a good job of that since it had ratified the treaty in 1995. And progress should be made in the field of adolescent mental health by appointing at least one psychiatrist to improve the situation.
Formal, written conclusions and recommendations on the initial report of Palau will be issued towards the end of the three-week session which will conclude on 26 January.
Palau's report was presented this morning by Caleb Otto, Director of the Bureau of Public Health of Palau, who spent the day responding to questions put by Committee members. The discussion this afternoon centred on the subjects of basic health and welfare; education, leisure, and cultural activities; and special protection measures.
Palau is among the 191 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and as such it must provide the Committee with periodic accounting of Government efforts to implement the treaty and of steps taken to improve the situation of children. Palau is a country composed of 340 islands dispersed in the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 17,225 inhabitants.
Before adjourning its meeting, the Committee met in private to discuss its draft conclusions on the initial report of Lesotho which it considered last week. When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 January, it will begin its consideration of an initial report of the Dominican Republic.
Discussion over the course of the afternoon focused on the general subjects of basic health and welfare; education, leisure, and cultural activities; and special protection measures.
Mr. Otto continued to respond to questions raised by Committee members during the morning meeting. The delegate said that concerning corporal punishment, some parents complained that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was taking away their right to rear their children in a disciplined manner. Since the practice of corporal punishment was prohibited under the Convention, parents were worried that if they used corporal punishment, they would be taken to court.
For adoption, the standard required by law was "the best interest of the child", the delegate said. Most matters pertaining to the family were not handled by the courts, but by the family and clan; decisions of clan elders with respect to family law were granted legal recognition; and the best interest of the child could only be safeguarded in the context of the best interests of the larger family to which the child belonged.
Palau's health-care system was well developed and of a high standard, the delegate said; combined with high levels of sanitation, education and an evolving material standard of living, the health system had resulted in control of most communicable diseases; however, the use of alcohol and tobacco had generated an epidemic of non-communicable diseases among middle-aged Palauans.
The children of Palau had enjoyed high rates of immunization against common childhood diseases for many years, the delegate said. In 1997, almost 94 per cent of two-year old children and 99 per cent of six-year-old children were fully immunized against polio, tetanus, measles, hepatitis B and meningitis, among other things. The Government of Japan had generously contributed in that area.
The Committee members continued querying Mr. Otto on various issues, including sexual commercial exploitation which was emphasized by an Expert. Did the Government of Palau punish persons involved in sexual exploitation? Did it enact a law prohibiting such practices?
Another Expert asked about the situation of teenage pregnancy, the status of children born out of wedlock, criminal responsibility of a child, and the handling of juvenile offenders. Were parents punished for crimes committed by their children?
Responding to questions raised by Committee members, the delegate said that there was no special scholarship or grant for children with disabilities. They were considered equals with other normal students in their studies either in lower classes or higher studies. In addition, an awareness-raising programme was being launched by the Government on the acceptance of disabled children in the society and in schools.
There was no legislation concerning the prohibition of pornography, the delegation said. However, the community and the Government were aware of the need to enact a law in order to protect children from being exposed to such phenomenon which were not yet rampant in the society.
Teenage pregnancy occurred in Palauan society and the children were born out of wedlock, the delegate said; the children were not discriminated against by the society.
The chance of executing the death penalty was rare, the delegate said. However, the provision of capital punishment was left in the law books as a deterrent.
No parent served sentences in place of his or her children who committed crimes, the delegate said.
Asked about the situation of street children, the delegate said because of Palau's traditions, there were no "street children" as such; there was however, a small group of children -- only seven -- who chose to live on the street as a matter of personal choice because they were unwilling to shoulder responsibility within their families. The case was referred to social workers for assistance to reintegrate them into their respective families.
Palau had no trade unions nor employers' unions, Mr. Otto said. However, freedom of association and peaceful assembly were rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the law without age distinction.
Over-eating of junk food and consumption of fizzy drinks were problems which had led to obesity among Palauan children, the delegate said. Programmes concerning balanced nutrition were not yet widely available.
The imposition of a curfew until 8 in the morning was aimed at keeping children at home and it was also a way to protect them, the delegate said. The curfew was also aimed at unruly drunks to oblige them to be at home as early as possible.
On behalf of the Committee, an Expert said in preliminary remarks that the report of Palau was exemplary. It fully followed the Committee's guidelines and it should be considered as a model of a country report. The dialogue with the delegate was fruitful.
The Expert said that Palau should keep continuing to bring a balance between the law and customs with emphasis on the best interest of the child. It should find a new way to interpret its customary laws and traditional values so as not to contradict the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The idea of considering children as partners and subjects of rights should be concretized; children should enjoy the present and the future; they should be involved in activities concerning the society; they should be made responsible citizens and partners in the society; and Palau should be encouraged to implement the plan of action with modification as discussed during the consideration of the report.
Another Expert also said that Palau should ratify other treaties pertaining to child rights such as the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. It should also combat discrimination against children of foreign parents; and continue its process of implementation of the provisions of the Convention; Palau had so far done a good job of that since it ratified the treaty in 1995; and progress should be made in the field of adolescent mental health by appointing at least one psychiatrist to improve the situation.
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