23 January 2001
The Desire to Protect and Give the Best to Palauan Children
Pervades Cultural and Traditional Behaviour, Delegate Says
The Committee on the Rights of the Child began its review this morning of an initial report of Palau, questioning a one-member Government delegation on the application of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in domestic law and within the country’s decentralized system.
Introducing the report, Caleb Otto, Director of the Bureau of Public Health of Palau, said, among other things, that his country was the last United Nations trust territory in the world to achieve its political self-determination in October 1994. He said the Convention on the Rights of the Child became in 1995 the first international treaty to be ratified by Palau as an independent State.
Mr. Otto said that Palau’s only natural and precious resources were its islands, the ocean and its people; the environment was as beautiful as it was fragile and Palau's children, who comprised 28.6 per cent of its population today, were as precious as they were vulnerable; the desire to protect and give the best to Palauan children pervaded cultural and traditional behaviour.
Discussion during the meeting focused on implementation measures, definition of the child, general principles, civil rights and freedoms, family environment, alternative care, health, and education.
In the course of their consideration of the report, Committee members queried Mr. Otto on such issues as the decentralization of the State structure and the implementation of the provisions of the Convention; traditional treatment of children; definition of the child; the rate of suicide; and resources to finance projects designed for children, among other things.
As one of the 191 State parties to the Convention, Palau, must submit periodic reports to the Committee on the status of the country's children and on efforts to implement the Convention.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will continue its review of the report of Palau.
Initial Report of Palau
The initial report of Palau (document CRC/C/51/Add.3) enumerates the measures taken by the State to implement the provisions of the Convention which it ratified in 1995. It affirms that in general, the situation of Palau's children is very good. The Palauan tradition affords high priority to nurturing and protecting children and recognizes the principles of the child's evolving capacity and its best interest. Palau's Constitution and legal code affords children most of the legal rights and protection mandated by the Convention and in some instances, provides a higher degree of protection than that mandated by the treaty.
The report notes that infant and child mortality rates are low and the overall health status of children is good with high quality health care accessible to all. Maternal deaths in Palau occur only rarely; only three maternal deaths have been recorded in the past decade, one each in 1989, 1992 and 1994. This favourable situation is due to the overall high status of health among young women, the high quality of parental and obstetrical services, and widespread availability and acceptance of modern contraceptives.
Children are guaranteed free education of reasonable and progressively improving quality extending from kindergarten through grade 12, the report says. In addition, children are afforded a wide range of opportunity within the community for personal enrichment including non-formal education, cultural expression, and recreation. Substantial progress has also been made to secure equal rights for disabled children and to provide them with supportive services necessary to facilitate their integration into the community life.
According to the report, there is a growing concern in some quarters about equal treatment of non-Palauans, especially foreign contract workers and their dependents, despite equality before the law. Ethnic tensions are building because many Palauans feel overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the non-Palauan segment of the resident population, which increased from 4 per cent in 1973 to 33 per cent in 1997. Although the Constitution confers the right to free education and health care only to citizens, in practice coverage encompasses all children. The total population of Palau is 17,225 according to the 1995 census.
Palau has a high rate of mental illness which is almost twice the expected rate based on global data, the report notes. Mental illness strikes predominantly young males and is often associated with alcohol or drug abuse. Alcohol abuse among young males is widespread and associated with a range of social problems ranging from child abuse, spouse abuse, crime and delinquency, and traffic accidents.
Presentation of Report
CALEB OTTO, Director of the Bureau of Public Health of Palau and Co-Chairperson of the National Committee on Population and Children, said his country was the last United Nations trust territory in the world to achieve its political self-determination in October 1994. The Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 became the first international treaty to be ratified by Palau as an independent State.
Mr. Otto said that Palau’s only natural and precious resources were its islands, the ocean and its people. The environment was as beautiful as it was fragile and Palau's children who comprised 28.6 per cent of its population today, were as precious as they were vulnerable. However, the desire to protect and give the best to Palauan children pervaded cultural and traditional behaviour.
The National Committee on Population and Children had worked very hard to bring awareness of the Convention to all sectors in the Palauan community, and to enlist assistance in making the required changes in attitudes, legal reforms and practical living, Mr. Otto said. However, it seemed that the more one worked, the more one saw things that needed to be done in order to make the needed changes. Palau realized the need to change attitudes and behaviour, especially those that were grounded deeply in traditions and the culture. The Government was constrained and limited by a lack of resources, an appropriate organizational infrastructure and funds to sustain momentum.
Mr. Otto told the Committee that Palau had just inaugurated its new Government last week and the Head of the State and his Vice President had been supportive of programmes designed for children. In his inaugural speech, the President had indicated that he would give priority to family values and child rearing. It was hoped that one of his first acts would be to create the Office of Children and Family Support which was recommended in the National Committee's Plan of Action.
The discussion during the meeting focused on implementation measures, definition of the child, general principles, civil rights and freedoms, family environment, alternative care, health, and education.
An Expert said that money-laundering activities had allegedly aspired available resources to foreign countries. In addition, the National Committee on Population and Children reportedly had no staff nor a designated budget to carry out its objectives; how could the committee function?
How did Palau run its governmental affairs within its 16 states, asked another Expert. Did the decentralization process succeed in tackling problems concerning children? Besides the defence agreement of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, were there other aspects covered by that agreement?
Palauan tourism activities and fishing business were run by foreigners, an Expert noted. Did the fishing business, which was run by Japanese, pay fees to the Government? How did the Government collect taxes to finance its projects?
To whom did children channel their complaints to in the absence of an Ombudsman or similar institutions, asked an Expert. What measures had been taken against the high percentage of mental illness among children and the increasing rate of suicide? What was the legal minimum age for medical consultation, sexual consent and employment? What was the reason for the decrease of the budget allocation for social affairs concerning children?
Responding to questions raised by Committee members, Mr. Otto said many of the programmes and activities related to children were financed and assisted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF-Pacific).
The Convention was the only international treaty signed by Palau, the delegate said; as a new nation, much was expected from it and he would draw the attention of his Government and particularly the Foreign Service to this issue.
According to Palau's customs, no one should be poor, and a system of solidarity through family ties was entrenched in the society, Mr. Otto said. Children found in difficult situations were taken care of by the extended family.
Both customary and written laws were accepted by Palauan courts, Mr. Otto said. It was difficult to distinguish which provision prevailed over the other because of the equal validity of both laws.
Mr. Otto said that in addition to defence affairs under the Compact of Free Association with the United States, Palau made use of the US postal system and the dollar as its national currency.
There was no separate body to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mr. Otto said. Budgetary allocation for children's welfare was provided for by each state.
The definition of the child was different for each area in which the child was involved, the delegate said; an unmarried person was considered to be a child and unable to take responsibility; at 18 years of age, a child could vote, but could be elected only at 35 years; at 19 a child could buy cigarettes; and at 21 he or she could purchase alcoholic beverages.
The policy on immigration was defined under the Palauan Constitution which stipulated that "no land could be bought by anyone who had no Palauan blood", Mr. Otto said. However, as a developing nation, foreigners could embark as migrant workers.
Committee members continued to query the delegate on a number of issues. An Expert said that Palauan law stipulated that non-Palauan children adopted by Palauan parents were not entitled to the same rights as Palauan children. Since that situation was inconsistent with the international norm on adoption, how could the Government of Palau reconcile this situation?
Other Committee members also asked questions concerning child abuse, corporal punishment, the impact of financial restructuring on child rights, and treatment of foreign workers, among other things.
The delegate of Palau, responding to questions raised by Committee members, said that unequal treatment of non-Palauan children adopted by Palauan parents did not necessary lead to discrimination.
Asked why education was free for all while health was not, the delegate said that the situation was attributed to the issue of finance in which the educational sector was fully subsidized while the health sector was not.
There was a provision which provided for the separation of abused children from their parents and placing them with foster families or in institutions, the delegate said. In addition, the chief of the community could remove an abused child from the parents and place the child under his custody; any member of the village could also intervene when a child was abused.
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