Committee on the Rights
of the Child
29 May 2008
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Sierra Leone on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in that country.
Teresa Vamoi, Chief Social Development Officer and Head of the Delegation of Sierra Leone, in her opening remarks, said that she was hoping for a fruitful dialogue with the Committee for the improvement of the protection of the rights of children in Sierra Leone.
Responding to questions, the delegation of Sierra Leone said that concerning birth registration, there was a policy which provided for free birth registration. After six months, a penalty fee was imposed. There was a lack of child friendly budget allocation to the relevant ministries and agencies. The Government was committed, but the limitation of budgets was the main problem in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government provided counterpart funding to funding by donors. There was no discrimination by law, but through cultural beliefs and practices. In many regions, women were not allowed to take part in decision making processes. Concerning girls’ right to go to school, there was no discrimination, with the Constitution providing for the right of everyone to education. The problem here was the lack of money in families.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Lucy Smith, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone, thanked the delegation for its willingness to give the Committee all the answers they had, and said the Committee looked forward to soon receiving the answers that had not been given in the meeting. The Committee recognized all the efforts made by the State party. The recommendations of the Committee would possibly focus on advice to the Government to allocate more resources for the protection of the rights of the child. Many issues, including social welfare, required more resources.
At the beginning of the meeting, Ms. Smith noted that Sierra Leone had achieved successes with regards to child soldiers and other post-war issues. The most impressive achievement was the Child Act 2007, which she described as a comprehensive child law meant to supersede other child laws. She also stated that there seemed to be insufficient political will to prosecute child rights offenders.
Awich Pollar, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Sierra Leone, said that the Committee was fully aware of the hardships facing Sierra Leone as a consequence of the 10-year war, and congratulated the delegation on the achievements made by the Government since the end of the war. He asked the delegation to update the Committee on the implementation of the Child Bill, what kind of enforcement mechanisms existed and was the State party considering a review of existing laws to ensure their compliance with the Convention and the Child Bill?
Main concerns of Experts centred, among other things, on cooperation between ministries on child issues; the establishment of a national commission for children; the Human Rights Commission; implementation of the Child Rights Act and harmonization of other national laws and customary law; data collection; involvement of NGOs; budgetary allocations for the protection of child rights; discrimination against children, in particular girls; child labour; health and welfare issues, in particular in light of infant and maternal mortality; nationalization and birth registration; violence against children; the juvenile justice system; school enrolment and training for staff working with children; and the fight against child poverty.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Sierra Leone towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on Friday, 6 June.
The delegation of Sierra Leone included representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
When the Committee next reconvenes in public, at 3 p.m. on Friday, 30 May, it will take up the initial report of the Philippines on the Optional Protocol under the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict.
Report of Sierra Leone
The second periodic report of Sierra Leone (CRC/C/SLE/2) covers the period from 1996 to 2005. Considering that the Government of Sierra Leone is still grappling with the dual effects of poverty and a devastating civil war, the latter having only been officially declared ended in January 2002, a detailed and all-embracing report on child rights and welfare situation has been delayed until full stability and peace has been attained. The report begins with an outline of the general child rights and welfare situation within political, economic, social and demographic contexts; and considers specific areas within the Committee’s reporting procedures and guidelines including general measures of implementation, which in turn cover national law and policy relative to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, policy coordination and monitoring, child participation and publicizing of the Convention within the country.
The report discusses general principles of child rights and welfare as standardized by the Convention, noting in particular the principle of non-discrimination, best-interest principle, right to life, survival and development of a child, and respect for the views of children. Another crucial area included in the report is environmental protection and its impact on child welfare and survival. Issues such as the right of children to a safe and healthy environment, child mining and other forms of child labour, and the protection of street children and other disadvantaged children are discussed under this topic. The commitment of the Government to implementing the Millennium Development Goals, its vision for sustainable development as outlined in the country’s long-term objectives set out in its Vision 2025 policy document, as well as the Government’s recent Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper are noted as essential benchmarks for the healthy survival and development of children in Sierra Leone.
Introduction of the Report
TERESA VAMOI, Chief Social Development Officer of Sierra Leone and Head of the Delegation, in her opening remarks, said that she was hoping for a fruitful dialogue with the Committee for the improvement of the protection of the rights of children in Sierra Leone.
Questions by the Committee Members
LUCY SMITH, the Committee Expert Serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Sierra Leone, welcomed the delegation, and said that the Committee was very glad that the delegation was with them, ready to provide the Committee with more information. Sierra Leone was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. The initial report had been submitted in 1996. Until 2002, Sierra Leone had been grappling with a civil war, which had delayed the submission of its second report. The present report did not cover the latest developments, so the Committee would have a lot of questions to ask today. Successes had been achieved concerning child soldiers and other post-war issues. The country was one of the poorest countries in the world, with 70 per cent of the population living on less than one dollar a day, and it was therefore heavily dependent on international aid. However, the political situation was stable, and federal elections had been held last year.
Ms. Smith highlighted as the most impressive achievement the Child Act 2007, which she described as a comprehensive child law meant to supersede other child laws. Concerning budget allocation, a growing awareness in Government circles focused on children’s issues, with funds being given by various international organizations. However, there was no Government budget for support programmes for children in families, an area which was mainly supported by NGOs. This was a violation of the child’s right to life and development as enshrined in article 6 of the Convention, and gave the impression that children were almost forgotten in the peace building process. Would it be possible to allocate more resources to the Ministry? She also stated that there seemed to be insufficient political will to prosecute child rights offenders.
The Ministry of Social Welfare was mandated to deal with child activities, assisted by UNICEF; however, this Ministry was seriously understaffed and underfunded. Did this Ministry have any cooperation with the Ministries of Health, Education and Finance? Had a national commission for children been established according to the mandate of the Ministry of Social Welfare, and had it started its work? To what extent did the Ministry of Social Welfare have contact with regional committees and in particular the Child Protection Committees? Which state was the Human Rights Commission in, was it already functioning or was it still in the institution-building stage? Turning to child participation, Ms. Smith stated that the Child Act fully implemented the provisions of the Convention. However, how was the actual implementation in practice being done? How was the right of the child to be heard provided for in school decisions, court proceedings, and adoption procedures?
AWICH POLLAR, the Committee Expert Serving as Co-Rapporteur for the Report of Sierra Leone, said that the Committee was fully aware of the hardships facing Sierra Leone as a consequence of the 10-year war, and congratulated the delegation on the achievements made by the Government since the end of the war.
Mr. Pollar asked the delegation of update the Committee on the implementation of the Child Bill; what kind of enforcement mechanisms existed and was the State party considering a review of existing laws to ensure their compliance with the Convention and the Child Act? On legislation, what did the State party think of the apparent parallel application of customary laws and state practice, and the harmonization of the legislation and legal practice? Concerning data, he pointed out that the report did not include a lot of data. Country wide baseline information was still missing; did the State party intend to collect and publish more data for the better protection of child rights? Turning to the question of cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), he stated that NGOs were involved in the drafting of the report, as well as in the monitoring in the country. Did the State party intend to further involve NGOs in the holistic monitoring and evaluation of the situation in the country?
Further questions on the first four clusters of the Convention raised by the Experts related to the need for more information on the national laws, including the question of whether the principle of best interest could be implemented in customary laws; informal processes in the judiciary; budget preparation reference to the best interest test; sporadic training for professionals working with children and the lack of implementation of children’s rights in school curricula; the promotion of children’s rights in the media; lack of resources allocated for the dissemination of the Convention; discrimination against children, in particular the girl child, such as seen in enrolment levels, female genital mutilation and domestic violence which showed a highly compromised status of the girls; the lack of registration at birth and measures to increase birth registration; requirements for nationalization for children born on Sierra Leone soil; means to counter the trend of violence against children, in particular in light of legislation allowing corporate punishment, for example hitting children with whips; cruelty to children below 16 years of age applied in prisons; the lack of legislative protection of children between 16 and 18 against violence; was there training of staff concerning violence; and implementation of the Child Act. Concerning the implementation of various laws related to the protection of the child, what was the procedure, funding allocation, and advocacy in order to ensure best implementation?
Answers by the Delegation
Responding to these questions and others, the delegation of Sierra Leone said that there was a limited budget line for child protection. There were cross-overs between ministries and when it came to social services, there was a lot of competition for the budget. However, there were big partners such as UNICEF which helped. Without those partners, there would be no report. The delegation therefore appealed further to partners to help with the implementation of the rights of the child in Sierra Leone.
Coordination existed, with well established committees, including a steering committee for the Convention on the Rights of the Child mandated to deal with all issues concerning the preparation of the report. There was also a committee comprising of representatives of all ministries dealing with child related issues. There was no committee on trafficking, however, a task force had been established. The Government was trying to incorporate the Child Rights Act into the school curricula, and as such had established a discussion with the head of schools.
Turning to discrimination, a focus on girl child education had been implemented all over the country, but there were still a lot of girls out of school. The Government could not do everything and look after all the “nitty gritty details”. The Government had managed to increase the age of marriage for the girl child, but one had also to take into account cultural differences, such as in the north of Sierra Leone, and attitudes could not be changed overnight.
A Human Rights Commission had been established and was being activated together with UNICEF. The Commission had had one complaint about violence in schools, and that case had been settled. The Commission was operational, with all the staff in place. However, a little time was needed for them to fully come into place. They had been very active in the peace building commission. The Human Rights Commission handled cases in an efficient and effective manner.
Concerning birth registration, the delegation said a policy existed, which provided for free birth registration. After six months, a penalty fee was imposed. A pilot phase in the north had been successful, with the free birth registration policy now being implemented all over the country. The process was being monitored.
On child participation, children were fully involved in issues that affected them through a policy of hearing the voice of the child and other measures by the Government. Concerning poverty, several acts dealing with domestic violence, property evolution, customary marriage and HIV/AIDS had been established to help families affected by poverty.
With regards to the best interests of the child in cases of marriage and divorce, after the death of a father, the marriage and divorce act stated that the children received a bigger share (60 per cent) of the inheritance than the wives. The delegation pointed out that there was a lack of child friendly budget allocation to the relevant ministries and agencies. The Government was committed, but the limitation of budgets was the main problem in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government provided counterpart funding to funding by donors. The monitoring of programmes was not done only by the Ministry of Social Welfare, but the activities had been mainstreamed in the run up to the preparation of the report. Different budgets had been given to different ministries, and these ministries did their own monitoring and provided reports to the Ministry of Social Welfare, which oversaw the overall monitoring activity.
Concerning the human rights approach, a training of agencies on a human rights approach of programming had been conducted recently, and though not all staff of all the ministries had benefited of that training, this was an attempt to deal with the issue.
On the issue of corruption, the incoming Government had recently made more efforts to improve the national strategy against corruption. It had given the power to prosecute to the attorney general’s office. Other measures had been put in place, such as officials being prosecuted from crimes which acted as a deterrent for others.
There had been efforts to facilitate the development of a national strategy on statistics, including the decision of where to locate the statisticians for the Ministry of Social Welfare. However, so far the Ministry of Social Welfare had not been able to follow up on the proposed activities. Data might be collected but not disaggregated accordingly. A study on data collection was planned for the next year, which was hoped to give additional information on the improvement of the data collection system.
There was no discrimination by law, but through cultural beliefs and practices. In many regions, women were not allowed to take part in decision making processes. Concerning girls’ rights to go to school, there was no discrimination, with the Constitution providing for the right of everyone to education. The problem here was the lack of money in families.
The delegation said the Child Right Act alone could not end the discrimination, so the Government had started an initiative to go to the local communities to talk to them about the rights of the child, which had showed some positive effects with regards to the enrolment of children.
The age of criminal responsibility was between 15 and 16, set out in the Child Right Act. The Government had been very open for consultations with relevant international organizations and relevant national authorities.
The issue of nationality was very complicated, but there was an act to be adopted soon, which would clarify all the questions of the Committee. At the moment, no law existed, and so all children born in the country automatically became nationals of Sierra Leone.
Further Questions by the Experts
The Committee Experts asked questions related to the standard of living in light of the high level of malnutrition in the State party; maintenance provided for mothers and single mothers; concerns about landmines still existing as a result of the former conflict; and counseling for children for war traumas. The Experts also asked the delegation to clarify measures taken with regard to juvenile justice; the State party’s position towards training programmes targeted at policy, probation and social work officers and the need to establish a special training center; regular visits and monitoring of children’s institutions; laws related to children in conflict with the law, in particular the issue of bail; the number of children documented as child miners in the report and further investigation in this regard; the lack of laws criminalizing female genital mutilation; the combat against trafficking, in particular trafficking of women and children; the conflicting numbers of street children in the report and measures being done to combat that problem; the small budget allocated for education and the use of that budget; corporate punishment in schools; school enrolment; recreational facilities and physical education for children; the high number of 40 per cent of children not living with their parents, the question of where these children lived and measures in social welfare and family support to address this problem; the non-committing role of the father in the family; the lack of foster homes; and the intention of the State party to deal with customary law and customary courts. Concerning basic health and welfare in light of the high infant and maternal mortality rate, what was the funding for basic health services, and was the funding adequate and dedicated to infant and maternal health?
Committee Experts requested more information on HIV/AIDS and prevention and care measures; maternal health services; training of doctors, midwives and nurses; ratification of the Hague Convention; the existence of a child helpline; early childhood education in governmental education strategic plans; the Government policy concerning the enrolment, inclusive education and attitude towards children with disabilities; the alarming situation of children of asylum seekers who were forced to work as miners or in prostitution; and sexual abuse of refugee children.
Answers by the Delegation
Concerning the issue of child labour, the delegation said that there was a problem in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso regarding child labour. In general, children could be given tasks to perform, as long as this did not affect their health and well being. The definition of child labour presented a lot of problems in Burkina Faso, however, the current Government in Sierra Leone did not think they had a problem in this regard. Children were sent to school and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supported the families to send their children to school.
The first generation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers needed to be re-assessed to consider what actually happened. The State party had been able to mobilize funds for such an assessment. In Sierra Leone there was no longer a difference between children born in wedlock and outside wedlock, such as in their right to inherit from their parents. The Government was trying to fight to improve the situation of women who were separated from their husbands or had children without being married and who were not being supported by their husbands or the fathers of their children. When the Ministry could not reach a compromise with the men, they filed a court case, and so far, in all cases, a solution could be found. The delegation had no statistics on child casualties caused by the war or on children affected by the conflict. The delegation stressed that these children had gone back to school, and were reintegrated into the society, with full support by NGOs. Good results of the reintegration had been noted. Turning to the juvenile justice system, the delegation said this was a process. After a child was questioned by the police, the child was charged in court only in cases of serious crimes. Agencies and support officers always attended these court hearings to support the child. A child was only in severest cases put into detention.
A training proposal for the judiciary and other court and police personnel had been approved and would be implemented. There were also training centers for junior staff on basic social work and the issues of juvenile justice. In former times, the age of criminal responsibility had been 10. This had been revised and discussed by parliament, and was now set at the age of 14 in the Child Rights Bill. Children between 10 to 14 were dealt with by a child panel within the family courts in cases of serious crimes. Children between 14 to 18 were not left out but were also advocated for by the Child Rights Bill. The death penalty was still an issue among the Government and human rights activists. Until now, it was still implemented under the Constitution, but civil society groups were lobbying for the removal of capital punishment. If a child was convicted, it was placed in special children facilities, which resembled homes, not prisons, and from where they attended normal schools, as there was a lack of funds for special schools.
Concerning orphanages, there was a number of orphanages, and the Government planned to do investigations and had developed standards for placing children into these institutions and on the treatment and reporting requirements.
Corporal punishment was still an issue, but Government agencies and NGOs were monitoring the situation of children in this regard.
On the issue of female genital mutilation, this issue was not yet included in the Child Right Bill. A study on persons who carried out female genital mutilation did not produce clear results; however, the Government was committed to tackling this problem. The problem was based on economic interests, and the Government intended to address the underlying poverty to improve the situation. However, the delegation stressed that the situation had already improved in the country.
The first generation Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers was child mainstreamed and included specific children budget allocations. These budget allocations had been protected by the Government to ensure that the issues which needed to be addressed were addressed. Activities included text books and school uniforms provided by the Government to primary school students as well as free medical consultation for mothers. Thus, a lot happened, and the planned impact assessment would be providing the Committee with exact details of the results.
On the issue of social security, orphans received benefits according to where their parents had been employed, through the national social security trust, which covered people employed in the public and private sector. A lot of people however, in particular the informal and independent sector, still fell outside the social system, and activities were undertaken to encourage people to sign up with the trust. There was no punishment for parents who did not send their children to school, but the Government had tried to encourage parents by paying the school fees for their children. As this had not proved to be feasible, the Government now used a small credit scheme for parents.
Committee Experts suggested a free and compulsory primary school education system as a solution for that. The delegation stressed that there was a free and compulsory primary education system in Sierra Leone, though books and school uniforms had to be covered by the parents.
Turning to the issue of disability, the delegation said that there was no disability policy in the country. However, the World Health Organization had promised to help with the development of such a policy, but this was not forthcoming at the moment. The Government was doing what it could to improve the situation of disabled persons and in particular children.
Concerning refugee children, the Government tried to handle those through the United Nations Refugee Agency and more recently through the National Commission for National Action, ensuring that children were given proper services and were not abused. Concerning trafficking, Sierra Leone was doing fine. The Government had involved all people which could help with the eradication of trafficking, with a focus of internal trafficking. Everybody in Sierra Leone knew about trafficking, and any incident was reported to one of the many existing trafficking centers.
The Adoption Act from 1998 was meant to be reviewed. The Act stated that a foreigner who wished to adopt a child from Sierra Leone had to stay in the country for 6 months, making it literally impossible for any foreigner to adopt a child.
The delegation did not know if the Government had signed or ratified the Hague Convention, but they promised to find out about this upon their return. The Adoption Act required the local authorities to be involved in the adoption process, and to ensure all details of the child’s environment were provided for in the adoption decision.
Preliminary Concluding Remarks
LUCY SMITH, the Committee Expert Serving as Rapporteur for the Report of Sierra Leone, in preliminary concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for its willingness to give the Committee all the answers they had, and said that the Committee looked forward to soon receiving the answers that had not been given in the meeting. The Committee recognized all the efforts made by the State party. The recommendations of the Committee would possibly focus on advice to the Government to allocate more resources for the protection of the rights of the child. Many issues, including social welfare, required more resources. If the Government was willing to allocate more resources, UNICEF would also be willing to raise more money for these issues, and it should be up to the Government to set the agenda. Another recommendation would certainly be the necessity of a high level, powerful body for the coordination of all child issues. It was necessary for the Government to sort out which of the existing bodies should be playing the coordination role and which one should carry out the monitoring. Also, the relationship between customary law and the new Child Rights Bill had to be taken into account in the years to come. Decentralization was a core issue for the Government, which would make the implementation of the Child Rights Bill more effective.
TERESA VAMOI, Chief Social Development Officer of Sierra Leone and Head of the Delegation, in her concluding remarks, stressed the importance of more funding for the further implementation of child rights, as the Government was under many constraints in terms of budget. She thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue and hoped that the answers provided for in the meeting and afterwards would satisfy the Committee.
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