12 November 2012
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that briefed it on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Tanzania, Ecuador and Mauritania, whose reports will be considered during the session.
On Tanzania, an NGO representative said with very few exceptions, the Tanzanian Government had largely left the promotion of sexual and reproductive health information in schools to NGOs. It was no surprise that nearly 44 per cent of girls in Tanzania had either given birth or were pregnant by the age of 19. A particular concern was that mandatory pregnancy testing began as early as 11 years of age according to research.
Turning to the situation of economic, social and cultural rights in Ecuador, NGO representatives raised issues related to child labour, underlining its close link to poverty, and noted that human rights defenders have been increasingly prosecuted in recent years. Several NGOs were concerned about sexual abuse in Ecuador, with educational institutions being the primary setting, and it was noted that access to emergency contraception was insufficient.
Regarding economic, social and cultural rights in Mauritania, an NGO representative noted with satisfaction the initial report and welcomed the commitments that Mauritania had entered into, while encouraging the Government to enhance the protection of women and children and expressing concern at the trafficking in people and child slavery. Hopefully Mauretania would also increase its efforts to ensure the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of women.
Representatives of a non-governmental organization pointed to guidelines on family separation, which had been adopted by the General Assembly, and encouraged Committee members to consider the added value of reference to these. The guidelines identified some causes of family separation – including harmful traditional practices and poverty, among others – and outlined what could be done to avoid the abandonment of children or their separation from their parents.
Bulgaria and Iceland will also present reports to the Committee next week and a similar briefing by NGOs will be held on Monday, 19 November. The Committee will also review the situation in Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo in absence of a report.
Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations took the floor this afternoon: Centre for Reproductive Rights, Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos, FIAN International, Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos, CEPAM Guayaquil, Frente Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de los Derechos Reproductivos, Centro de Derechos Reproductivos, OCAPROCE International and the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 November, when it will begin consideration of the initial to third periodic report of Tanzania (E/C.12/TZA/1-3).
Centre for Reproductive Rights said with very few exceptions, the Tanzanian Government had largely left the promotion of sexual and reproductive health information in schools to NGOs, which had limited resources and reach and could not adequately promote systemic changes. It was no surprise that nearly 44 per cent of girls in Tanzania had either given birth or were pregnant by the age of 19. A particular concern was that mandatory pregnancy testing began as early as 11 years of age according to research.
An Expert thanked the Centre for Reproductive Rights for its instructive contribution and wondered on what factual basis their arguments were grounded.
All information was factually sourced through the Tanzanian Women and Lawyers Association, the representative answered. Overall, 8,000 girls were expelled from school every year for being pregnant. The issue was that testing was mandatory and those refusing it were being expelled.
Asked whether abortion was legal or not, the representative said abortion was highly criminalised in Tanzania except to save the mother’s life.
Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos expressed concern at the situation of child labour in Ecuador. In rural areas up to 10.2 per cent of all minors were working, with the figure being lower in urban areas, standing at 3.2 per cent. Child labour was a source of concern because it was closely linked to poverty. According to official statistics, 1.6 million youth were living in poverty and rural populations and women were impacted the most.
FIAN International noted that human rights defenders have been increasingly prosecuted in recent years and urged the Committee to recommend that Ecuador take measures to end this phenomenon. The Committee should also ask Ecuador when the planned law on water, land and biodiversity would be adopted and encourage it to ensure that human rights were given due consideration.
Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos said the Constitution promulgated in 2008 was among the most innovative in Latin America as it stipulated that Ecuador was a plurinational and intercultural State. However, the current situation totally countered what the Constitution and international treaties said. In fact, the Government had unilaterally put in place fossil fuel and mining extractive policies which undermined the right of indigenous people to self-determination. In one region, for instance, five large-scale mining projects had been put in place without the consultation of the people.
CEPAM Guayaquil said while Ecuador’s laws guaranteed emergency contraception, efforts to ensure that women could access this service were insufficient and there was often no interest in circulating such information. The costs were born by the victims – the cost of forced pregnancies and the risk of losing one’s life through unsafe abortion or suicide. The NGO called on the Committee to recommend that Ecuador ensure emergency contraception, particularly for victims of rape.
Frente Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de los Derechos Reproductivos said a 2010 census had revealed that 3,684 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were already mothers, with 289 of them already having two children. It had also been found that 12 per cent of all adolescents with disabilities between 15 and 19 years of age had already given birth. It could not be denied that these numbers reflected sexual abuses of girls. A new Criminal Code was currently being drawn up, the NGO noted, and encouraged the Committee to ask Ecuador how it intended to do away with this issue and to facilitate access to these services.
Centro de Derechos Reproductivos said NGO studies conducted between 1995 and 2005 estimated that between 22 and 63 per cent of Ecuadorian girls were victims of sexual abuse, with educational institutions being the primary setting. The impact of sexual violence in schools was compounded by Ecuador’s failure to provide access to emergency contraception, which violated the right to health and the right to non-discrimination.
An Expert said the unemployment figures quoted by an NGO were very low. What kind of unemployment did this refer to – were people working in the informal sector counted or not? Responding, an NGO representative said only workers in the formal sector were included; those working in the informal economy were not reflected in the figures.
Consultation within the mining industry was a veritable issue. Many of Ecuador’s people were part of indigenous populations, the Expert noted, asking whether legislation provided for general consultation for mining projects and whether any legislative amendments were in the pipeline. An NGO representative responded that the Constitution allowed for pre-legislative consultation of affected people and the consultation of the general population, but in practice this was not always complied with.
A Committee member asked for clarification as to whether emergency contraception – the day after pill – was banned or legal in Ecuador. Civil society representatives explained that emergency contraception was legal and part of available health and reproductive services. However, health staff handing out this service often objected on conscientious grounds and thereby violated the right of women, particularly victims of rape. The State did nothing to prevent healthcare staff from acting in this way. Emergency contraception still required a doctor’s order and authorities were scared about letting people know that this was a legal right. The Church certainly also played a role in this regard.
Could there be a religious explanation for the conservative and hostile perspective of the Ecuadorian State on sexual issues, an Expert wondered. If women were empowered, these issues would not exist and the questions must therefore not be addressed in isolation; it must be seen in a broader context, for example in terms of empowering women and increasing their representation in decision-making bodies. A civil society representative responded that women did have rights. Unfortunately, however, these rights were not always enjoyed in practice, notably due to a lack of information, and women did suffer in Ecuador. There was a law providing for a 50 per cent representation of women, for instance, yet in practice things were quite different. The discrepancy between rhetoric and reality was particularly remarkable regarding sexual and reproductive rights.
OCAPROCE International noted with satisfaction the initial report submitted by Mauretania and welcomed the commitments it had entered into, while encouraging the Government to enhance the protection of women and children. Trafficking in people – particularly regarding women and girls – remained an area of concern, along with the fact that children were forced into all types of slavery. Mauretania should also ensure that the law guaranteeing non-discriminatory was being applied and hopefully the country would increase its efforts to ensure the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of women.
NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child pointed to guidelines on family separation which had been adopted by the General Assembly and encouraged Committee members to consider the added value of reference to these. The guidelines identified some causes of family separation – including harmful traditional practices and poverty, among others – and outlined what could be done to avoid the abandonment of children or their separation from their parents.
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