Committee on the rights of the child examines the report of the Central African Republic

| January 23, 2017

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of the Central African Republic on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Flavien Mbata, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Keeper of the Seals of the Central African Republic, introducing the report, said that the Central African Republic had harmonized its legal framework with international norms in the domain of children's rights, and had adopted the law on worst forms of child labour, raised the age of criminal responsibility to 13, and limited the pre-trial detention of minors to 10 hours. The ratification of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in October 2016 was very timely as some 10,000 children had been demobilized from the armed forces, despite the crisis gripping the country. The efforts in the health sector focused on reducing maternal and infant mortality, and mortality of children under the age of five, while wide-ranging measures to combat the occupation of schools by armed forces had been undertaken in May 2016 to ensure that children had access to schools. In order to address allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by United Nations peacekeepers, bilateral judicial agreements had been signed with several troops contributing countries.

Committee Experts recognized the challenges that the country faced as it exited the conflict and was laying the foundations of peace and stability, and welcomed the drafting of the child protection bill which was a crucial piece of legislation. What would be done to bring it in full compliance with the Convention, particularly in terms of protection from discrimination and explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings? Violence against children in all its forms was a great source of concern, with hundreds of children killed, mutilated, maimed, forcibly recruited and sexually exploited by armed groups. What measures were in place to protect children from violence and prosecute perpetrators, including United Nations peacekeepers, for the alleged sexual abuse of girls and boys? What measures were being taken against police officers accused of torturing children in detention? Experts urged the Central African Republic to more effectively protect albino children, children accused of witchcraft, and children with disabilities from violence and discrimination, and to urgently address early and forced marriages which represented more than 60 per cent of marriages in the country. The delegation was asked about measures to eradicate worst forms of child labour which affected 27 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls aged five to 14, and also about strategies to address trafficking of children for labour and sexual exploitation.

In concluding remarks, Jorge Cardona Llorens, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, recognized the situation in the country, complex challenges it faced, as well as the lack of resources and the dependence on international support. The Committee's recommendations would include issues which needed to be urgently addressed.

Ms. Mbata in her concluding remarks reiterated humanitarian, legal and health challenges and said that among key priorities were tackling the situation of internally displaced persons, fighting against impunity through the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, and data collection, including birth registration.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Chairperson, stressed in his closing remarks the importance of understanding what could be done within the existing circumstances and that children become central in the prioritization exercise.

The delegation of the Central African Republic included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Keeper of the Seals, Ministry of Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Cassation Court, and the Permanent Mission of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

When it reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 24 January, at 10 a.m., the Committee will consider the combined second and third report of Serbia (CRC/C/SRB/2-3).

Report

The second periodic report of the Central African Republic can be read here: CRC/C/CAF/2.

Presentation of the Report

FLAVIEN MBATA, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Keeper of the Seals of the Central African Republic, noted with regret that the situation of children in the Central African Republic had considerably deteriorated because of the 2012-2016 crisis and stressed that the protection of human rights of vulnerable groups, especially children, was among the chief priorities of the new Government. The legislative and institutional reform had ensured the harmonization of domestic laws with international norms and standards on the rights of the child, under which the law on the worst forms of child labour had been adopted, the age of criminal responsibility had been raised to 13 years of age, and pre-trial detention of minors had been limited to 10 hours. In addition, the Central African Republic had ratified the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons, and the African Charter on the Rights and Wellbeing of Children. The ratification of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict in October 2016 was very timely as some 10,000 children had been demobilized from the armed forces, despite the crisis gripping the country.

The National Plan for Recovery and Peacebuilding 2017-2021 had been adopted, and rested on three pillars: peace, security and reconciliation; social contract between the State and the people; and economic recovery and resumption of productive activities. The efforts in the health sector focused on reducing maternal and infant mortality, and mortality of children under the age of 5, as well as improvement of access to basic health care. Wide-ranging measures to combat the occupation of schools by armed forces had been undertaken in May 2016 to ensure that children had access to schools, and other measures had been taken to protect schools from attacks. Bilateral justice agreements had been signed with a number of countries to ensure the prosecution of former United Nations peacekeepers accused of sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic.

The Government had developed a zero draft national law on the application of the International Labour Organization Convention 189 and the realization of the rights of indigenous children, in particular the right to education, health and protection from forced labour. The new Constitution reaffirmed the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against women, and protection of the rights of the child and the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. An agreement had been signed in 2014 with 10 armed groups that were signatories of the Brazzaville accord, in which they had committed to stop the recruitment of children and to demobilize those already in their ranks. In conclusion, Ms. Mbata noted that the greatest challenges to the effective protection of children were the lack of the presence of specialized police forces in provinces dealing with juvenile justice; the insufficient capacity of juvenile detention centres; the lack of programmes for the reintegration of children in conflict with the law, children accused of witchcraft, and children victims of sexual violence; as well as the absence of comprehensive programmes against early marriages.

Questions from the Experts

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, commended the political commitment of the authorities to put child rights at the centre and the commitment to the implementation international standards in this regard.

What plans were in place to support the powers and performance of the Ministry's department in charge of implementing the Convention, and how was the work of the various agencies involved in the implementation coordinated?

What was the impact of the national programmes for the rights of the child which had lapsed in 2015? Data gathering was problematic, which made it impossible to design and review strategies and programmes � what was being done to improve data collection?

The delegation was asked about collaboration with civil society, actions taken to address discrimination in practice through education and awareness raising, and measures to ensure the full respect and implementation of the best interest of the child.

Hundreds of children had been killed and mutilated in the war that was gripping the country � what was being done to prosecute perpetrators and fight impunity for those heinous acts? What was being done to reduce the mortality of children under the age of five and improve their nutritional status?

What system was in place to address the systematic sexual violence against children, perpetuated also by the United Nations peacekeepers, protect the children and provide care and support for survivors?

JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, recognized the challenges that the Central African Republic faced as it exited the conflict and laid the foundations of peace and stability, and said that the aim of the Committee was to support the country on this path.

The Central African Republic had ratified two Optional Protocols to the Convention, on the sale of children and on the involvement of children in armed conflict � what were the intentions concerning the ratification of the third Optional Protocol on a communication procedure?

What was the status of the bill on the protection of the child, which was a crucial piece of legislation, but which seemed not to be fully in harmony with the Convention, particularly in the area of protection from discrimination? What would be done to ensure that the family code was in tune with the Convention?

Did the national strategy for the protection of the rights of the child receive necessary financial resources from the public budget, or was its implementation dependent on donors' contributions only?

Mr. Cardona LLorens inquired about the system in place to ensure that the activities of mining and extractive industries did not infringe on the rights of the children, and about measures taken to address early and child marriages.

Other Experts commended the Government for the measures to promote the registration of births and make it free for children born during the conflict. A concern, however, remained about the continued low rate of birth registration, and the differences between rural and urban areas. What was being done to expedite the registration of all children throughout the country, including by removing the costs and extending the deadlines?

What was being done to ensure that children could effectively exercise their right to peaceful assembly and the right to be heard, including through the creation of children's parliaments and children's clubs?

It was possible to address various forms of violence against children even in conditions of conflict, said an Expert, who asked about the protection of children from torture in police stations, and actions to protect albino children, children accused of witchcraft, and children with disabilities from violence. What progress was being made on protecting children from sexual violence, and prohibiting corporal punishment?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions related to the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against children, the delegation stressed that during the conflict, serious crimes had been committed throughout the country; unfortunately, the resources of the judiciary were limited and the security situation posed challenges to investigating those armed groups that were actors of violence. In order to ensure accountability and fight impunity, the Special Criminal Court had been set up, which was tasked with investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of serious crimes committed since 2003, including sexual violence and crimes against children. International judges were being recruited, while a special prosecutor had been hired. The Office of the Prosecutor would start with its investigations in 2017, which would be followed by trials. Ordinary courts were in charge of prosecuting crimes which did not fall under the remit of the Special Criminal Court.

Turning to the investigations of allegations of sex crimes committed against children by United Nations peacekeepers, the delegation stressed that countries which had sent their troops were responsible for the prosecution. Authorities from France and Georgia had started investigations, and the Central African Republic was in contact with other troop-contributing countries, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others.

The mandate of the Commission for the Monitoring of the Rights of the Child had lapsed in 2006 and had not been renewed; the Government intended to examine the working of the Commission and take steps to revive it. The National Council for the Protection of the Child at the Office of the Prime Minister had been created to coordinate all government agencies working on children's rights issues.

Sectorial databases were in place at the moment, for example on gender-based violence; comprehensive data gathering would be put in place in 2017.

The new draft law on the protection of the child had been amended to harmonize it with the Convention, and it had been sent back to the National Assembly for adoption.

Culturally, the views of children were not taken into account, but there was more awareness about the need to listen to children, and first steps were being taken in this regard. Awareness raising was ongoing through religious structures and by the National Youth Council.

A toll-free telephone line for victims of violence was in place, but was primarily used by women and not so much by children. Corporal punishment in schools and the family was virtually no longer permitted, and there were awareness campaigns promoting positive parenting. In cooperation with civil society organizations, campaigns were in place to raise the awareness of women on the dangers of female genital mutilation.

Forced and early marriages represented 60 per cent of all marriages, and the Government was undertaking activities to raise awareness on this issue. It was pressing to address birth registration and ensure that all children were registered and had birth certificates: the family code was being amended, while the Ministry was working on extending the deadline for registration and finding a way to issue certificates of birth to all children in the country.

The phenomenon of accusing children of sorcery was a growing problem in the Central African Republic, and in Africa in general; children who confessed to being sorcerers were mob lynched, killed and harassed by the communities.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

Following up on the answers provided by the delegation, Committee Experts asked for clarification about the Government's intention concerning the Commission for the Monitoring of the Rights of the Child, how the comprehensive data gathering system would be established, and about measures to ensure that the toll-free number was fully accessible to children and was fully staffed with trained personnel.

The delegation explained that the toll-free number had been put in place for people to report emergency situations, and stressed that the poor state of infrastructure in the country must be kept in mind. Not everyone had access to a telephone, particularly children, and it was therefore important to tailor responses to the reality and put in place an effective system to respond to situations of violence against children.

The delegation was further asked about the status of the child protection bill; the plan, projects and strategies to address the hot issue of early marriages; and if the Government would pass the law governing international investments in the framework of the revival of the national economy and how that process would address the rights of the child.

Responding, the delegation said that a Commission had been set up to re-draft the bill on the protection of the child and submit it to the National Assembly. The most effective way to address the issue of early marriages in the context of the Central African Republic was through awareness raising, as the law alone was not sufficient. The Government was making an effort to restore the legal and security environment for businesses, and was aware that the sector needed clear regulations, especially because many investments would be made in the mining sector where the space for the abuse of children and forced labour was ample.

Another Expert asked about the plans to make the National Commission against female genital mutilation operational again, and whether corporal punishment would be expressly prohibited in the child protection bill.

On the right of children to be heard, the delegation said that in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund, a guide had been developed for the participation of children in peace and reconciliation, while mock governments had been set up in some schools which allowed children to express their views.

The national commission against female genital mutilation had not been operational since 2012/2013; currently, there were reflections on reactivating the work of this commission and extending its work to provinces, where the practice of female genital mutilation continued. There was a plan to look into the explicit prohibition of corporal punishment.

Questions from the Experts

On the subject of the family environment, HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, noted the predominance of gender-based clicheacute;s and stereotypes in families and their negative impact on the development of boys and girls. There were many children who were deprived of the family environment because of the conflict and poverty. The Government had a preference towards the deinstitutionalization of children and their placement with extended or foster families.

What was the plan to reduce the prevalence of gender-based stereotypes? What was being done to implement the 2015 minimum standards for the care of children who were deprived of a family environment?

The situation in the educational sector was bleak and very worrying: what was being done to improve the quality of education and lack of trained teachers? Was primary education in State schools free of charge and what was being done to ensure that it was free and mandatory? Which proportion of the education budget was covered by international cooperation?

JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, raised concern about the grave and serious situation of children with disabilities whose numbers had increased with the conflict. Their situation must be improved through data gathering, the establishment of early screening services, and setting up of an inclusive education system. Some data showed that 67 per cent of children with disabilities did not go to school. What were the intentions and concrete measures with regards to inclusive education?

Turning to the health sector, Mr. Cardona Llorens noted with great concern the very high child mortality and child malnutrition rate, and asked about the results of the national health strategy. What was being done to promote and increase the very low rate of breastfeeding?

Some 80 per cent of the health centres were destroyed during the conflict, further compounding the critical situation of the health of the population. How was the Government contributing to the rehabilitation of the health infrastructure?

What strategies were in place to counter the spread of HIV/AIDS?

Some 76 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty - what concrete strategies were in place to address poverty, particularly in light of specific needs, such as access to drinking water?

What was the situation of children of incarcerated parents?

Committee Experts also raised the issue of adoptions and asked about the status of the Adoption Committee, which had been disbanded. What had been done to re-establish this Committee or to put in place procedures which would ensure the legality of international adoption procedures? Were there intentions to ratify the Hague Convention on international adoptions?

The Committee was greatly concerned by the recurring conflict and fighting between rival armed groups in which children suffered to a great extent of violence, forced recruitment, and use as sex slaves. What measures would be adopted to effectively implement the peace agreement signed with the armed groups, ensure that the protection of children lay at the heart of those agreements, stop forced recruitment, and prosecute perpetrators of violence against children? What strategies were in place to ensure disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children associated with armed forces?

It was estimated that some 27 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls aged five to 14 were in worst forms of child labour and this was a great source of concern to the Committee. What was being done to protect children from the worst forms of labour and ensure their reintegration into communities?

The Committee was very worried about the high number of children trafficked for purposes of forced labour in mines and agriculture, and for purposes of sexual exploitation. What was being done to protect children from sale, trafficking, abductions and exploitation?

Organized criminal armed gangs were targeting camps of internally displaced persons and abducting boys and girls for purposes of sexual trafficking and abuse. In addition to passing the laws, what was being done to protect internally displaced children, and ensure care and support to victims of trafficking and abuse by those criminal gangs?

What was being done to address alleged torture of children by the police, and torture of children in camps?

The juvenile justice system did not exist in practice � what was being done to set up the system, pass the law and train judges, prosecutors and the police, and consider alternative forms of punishment?

Responses by the Delegation

There were plans to build a rehabilitation centre in the vicinity of Bangui in order to provide comprehensive care, rehabilitation and reintegration of children associated with armed groups.

The national school for the training of the judiciary provided both ongoing and continuing training. In partnership with the European Union, a training programme in juvenile justice had been set up and was up and running. There were no specific juvenile detention centres in the country, and this was a great problem. It was hoped that with the support of partners, specialized youth detention centres would be set up in Bangui and in provinces.

In response to questions about the education system in the Central African Republic, the delegation noted the decline in the quality of education over the past three years due to the crisis. About 74 per cent of public schools had been opened in the 2015/16 school year; and 98 per cent in the current school year, except in three provinces where problems persisted. More than 900 schools out of the 1,100 received support from the programme aimed at improving the quality of education, which was supported by the European Union and the World Bank. Education was free of charge, and internally displaced children had been reintegrated into schools in their communities without any charges.

Data was not available about the situation of children with disabilities and the Government was aware of the need to have reliable data to tackle the problem effectively. There were hardly any special schools in the country which could provide education and care to children with disabilities.

Children of incarcerated parents aged one to four were cared for by the specialized centre, while older children were placed in orphanages or institutions; in Bangui prison, mothers could bring their infants with them, especially if they were still breastfeeding.

The Government was harmonizing national legislation with international norms and standards on the rights of the child, and this would also include harmonization of the definition of the child, and the age bracket for child labour.

There were non-governmental organizations which provided support to children with psycho-social disabilities.

Of the 38 prisons in the country, 31 had been destroyed during the conflict; the remaining prisons did not have the possibility to accommodate children with their incarcerated parents and in such cases the extended family provided support.

Responding to questions concerning immunization activities in light of the destruction of health centres during the conflict, the delegation said that immunization activities were continuing with the support of Meacute;decins Sans Frontiegrave;res and other non-governmental organizations.

Psycho-social support to children who were victims of violence was being provided through a number of non-governmental organization-run programmes, and there were plans for the setting up of a centre which would provide comprehensive interdisciplinary care and support.

Pregnant women were systematically screened for HIV/AIDS during their pre-natal consultations, and if they tested positive were then placed in programmes aiming to prevent mother�to-child transmission.

Poverty reduction efforts had been ongoing before the armed conflict, and had since been largely focused on humanitarian relief; with the arrival of peace, the focus was on rehabilitation and economic revival, which would contribute to combatting poverty.

The programme on combatting maternal mortality was in place and was free of charge for pregnant women who came for pre-natal consultations, and also provided antenatal care to mothers and their children.

Before the conflict, the Central African Republic had had in place a strategy to care for children living in the street, who were among the most vulnerable.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

In their follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked about measures taken to control the sale of small firearms, school drop-out rates and the support provided to girls to attend school, services available to children addicted to drugs, the programme to fight malaria, the fee of 600 francs required by teachers and the impact of non-payment on school enrolment of the children, and the efforts to bring birth registration services closer to people and communities.

Was there any intention to establish a joint programme with the United Nations Children's Fund on breastfeeding?

Responding, the delegation reiterated that school was free of charge and that children whose parents could not pay the 600 francs fee would still get to attend the school.

The State had signed relevant instruments for the control of small arms, but the problem was their implementation. The Government was conducting periodic monitoring in order to determine whether there were small arms in circulation, and to remove them. More work was needed on securing and patrolling the borders to limit the entry of small arms into the country.

It was true that the birth registration fee was a burden on the family and that many parents would simply not register their children; the truth was that the State needed revenue and could not offer the service for free. Once the registration deadline expired, parents needed to go to the court, and visit a doctor to determine the age of the child, and then file that certificate in the archives � the process was costly and delayed and many parents did not go through it, resulting in a significant number of children without birth certificates.

There was a real need for trained psychologists to provide expert care and support to all children who were victims of violence, as well as children addicted to drugs.

Children were provided with free of charge malaria treatment, and there were programmes in place to distribute mosquito nets. In addition, people received information on the elimination of mosquito breeding places around their houses.

A Committee Expert noted that the age of marriage was set at 18 years of age, and asked the delegation to explain the exceptions to this provision and the role parents played in marrying their children off before the age of 18.

The delegation explained that there were two exceptions to the legal provision setting the age of marriage at 18: with parental consent or by the authorisation of the public prosecutor. This was an open door which enabled parents to marry off their children; the code, which also enshrined polygamy, was being revised. In the Central African Republic, it was felt that if parents gave consent for the marriage, it was in the interest of their children. The agreement of the public prosecutor was needed if a girl was pregnant, in which case the perpetrator had an obligation to marry her.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson, in follow-up questions, asked for an update on the situation of children who had been sexually abused by the United Nations peacekeepers and the state of investigations and prosecutions. What progress was being made in protecting schools and health structures from attacks?

The delegation said that criminal procedures were underway, and were complex and rather lengthy. The perpetrators were foreigners, and the contributing countries were in charge of the investigations and prosecutions. Ideally, victims would appear in courts to give testimony and demand compensation. Victims of abuse were receiving psychological support by a Senegalese doctor.

At the present time, attacks on hospitals and schools had ceased, the delegation said.

Concluding Remarks

JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, said that the Committee was aware of the situation in the country and the consequences of the conflict, as well as the lack of resources and the dependence on international support. Challenges were many and complex, and this was the key point in time for the stable situation to emerge. The Committee's recommendations would include issues which needed to be urgently addressed.

FLAVIEN MBATA, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Keeper of the Seals of the Central African Republic, agreed that multifaceted support was needed for the country to emerge from the situation, in which women and children were the first victims. The difficulties were in the humanitarian, legal and health fields. The issue of internally displaced persons must be tackled, and the Special Criminal Court must be made operational to tackle impunity for violations. Data collection was another priority, and in this birth registration was essential.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson, said that it was important to understand what could be done within the existing circumstances and that children become central in the prioritization exercise.

Source: United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).

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