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Committee on the Rights of the Child hears reports of Burkina Faso on Sale of Children and on Children and Armed Conflict

Committee on the Rights of the Child

21 January 2013

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the initial reports of Burkina Faso on the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Dieudonné Marie Désiré Manly, Technical Advisor, Ministry for Social Action and National Solidarity of Burkina Faso, introducing the report presented under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said that the 2009 project on child labour in artisanal mines and quarries had removed more than 11,000 children working in the mines.  The Government had launched a help line for child victims of violence in 2011 and had adopted the national plan for combating the worst forms of child labour in 2012.  Burkina Faso had drafted a general bill on the definition and prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, while a General Code for the protection of children was being elaborated. 

Concerning the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Mr. Manly said it was important to note that Burkina Faso was not a conflict or post-conflict country and no armed groups operated in the country.  Many of the issues relative to the involvement of children in armed conflict, such as recruitment by armed groups or reinsertion and reintegration of children involved with armed groups, were not applicable in Burkina Faso.  Since 2012, Burkina Faso had been receiving refugees escaping the conflict in Northern Mali and in October 2012, some 35,000 had been hosted in six Burkinabe provinces, most of them children under the age of 17.

In the discussion on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Committee Experts noted that the legislative efforts undertaken by the State party were rather limited in nature, while no reform of the criminal legislation had taken place, and asked whether the legislation currently being drafted would include the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  The Committee expressed concern about the widespread practice of child labour and about some customs and traditions that opened the door to the harmful treatment of women and girls and led to their exploitation and abuse, including early and forced marriages, polygamy, inheritance and land ownership and others.

On the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Committee Experts welcomed the peace in Burkina Faso and cautioned that the situation in neighbouring Mali might cause the recruitment of children in armed conflict.  The delegation was asked about the ongoing revision of the Criminal Code and whether it would criminalize the conscription of children, about prevention of the recruitment of children on Burkinabe territory, further information about military schools and academies, a mechanism to identify children involved in armed conflict in Mali among the arriving refugees and the training of border officials to this effect, and the services offered to the children.

In concluding remarks, Hatem Kotrane, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, noted that very little reform of penal and civil legislation had been undertaken and that all the crimes and offences mentioned by the Optional Protocol must be included in the domestic legislation. 

Bernard Gastaud, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the report under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, noted the efforts made by Burkina Faso in dealing with the influx of Malian refugees and reiterated the concern about the lack of criminal legal provisions in line with international standards. 

Also in concluding observations, Mr. Manly of Burkina Faso, expressed satisfaction with the discussion and reiterated the openness of Burkina Faso to receive and consider recommendations of the Committee to improve the rights of children in the country.

Yanghee Lee, the Committee Vice-Chairperson, in closing remarks said that Burkina Faso knew where the challenges were and emphasized that the Optional Protocol on the sale of children went beyond the narrow scope of trafficking and expressed hope that the delegation would go back to Burkina Faso with that understanding.

The delegation of Burkina Faso consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Social Action and National Solidarity, the National Council for Survival, Protection and Development of the Child, the Directorate for the management and protection of children and adolescents, the Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Promotion, and the Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Tuesday, 22 January at 9 a.m. when it will consider the initial report of Niue (CRC/C/NIU/1) via teleconference.

Reports

The initial report of Burkina Faso under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography can be read here: (CRC/C/OPSC/BFA/1) and Burkina Faso’s initial report under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict can be read here: (CRC/C/OPAC/BFA/1).

Statements by the Delegation

DIEUDONNE MARIE DESIRE MANLY, Technical Advisor, Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity of Burkina Faso, said that both reports presented by Burkina Faso had been prepared as per the Committee’s technical guidelines and in a participative manner. 

Concerning the report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Burkina Faso had launched in 2009 a project on child labour in artisanal mines and quarries, which had allowed for the removal from the mines of more than 11,000 children.  It had also launched a help line in 2011 for child victims of violence.  The Government had adopted a national plan for combating the worst forms of child labour in 2012 and had implemented several campaigns on the sale and exploitation of children.  The data collection system currently in place could not provide all the data required by the Optional Protocol, but it was known that in 2012, there were 1,910 children victims of trafficking.  A number of laws had been adopted to enable the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol, including the decree on conditions to open centres for children in distress, the decree on the placement and monitoring of children in institutions and foster families, and the decree of 2010 on the creation of a central adoption agency.  Information campaigns to disseminate the provisions of the Optional Protocol had targeted cinema and Internet café managers, persons working in the area of children’s rights, persons in charge of child victims of violence, and students.  Burkina Faso had drafted a general bill on the definition and prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, while a General Code for the protection of children was being elaborated.  The country was part of the regional cooperation process to combat trafficking in children, and was scheduled to sign a cooperation agreement with Côte d’Ivoire on the fight against cross-border trafficking in children this January. 

Turning to the report presented under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Mr. Manly said that the recruitment of children into armed forces had already been prohibited in Burkina Faso and that the age of recruitment had been increased to 20 years in 2012.  The National Council for the Survival and Development of Children had a permanent secretariat which played a key role in disseminating the provisions of the Optional Protocol and played a coordinating role in its implementation.  Some legal texts had been adopted to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol in domestic legislation, such as the 2012 decree on the organization of operations following contingency calls.  Burkina Faso was not a conflict or post-conflict country and there were no armed groups operating in the country; therefore the reinsertion of children involved in armed conflict or recruitment of children by armed groups was not an issue.  Since 2012, Burkina Faso had been receiving refugees escaping the conflict in Northern Mali and in October 2012, some 35,000 had been hosted in six Burkinabe provinces, most of them children under the age of 17.

The implementation strategy of the two Optional Protocols was inscribed in the global framework for the promotion of the rights of the child.  A clear political commitment to children’s rights was evident in a number of key policy documents, such as the 2010 Accelerated Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy and in child policies adopted by the Ministry for Children.  The country faced a number of difficulties in achieving the set goals in the promotion and protection of children’s rights, such as the lack of resources, lack of domestic standards to implement the provisions, and the lack of legal norms for the implementation of certain provisions.  In closing, Mr. Manly reiterated the importance of continued technical assistance and international cooperation to ensure an environment conducive to the growth and development of children in Burkina Faso.

Examination of the Report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Questions by Experts

HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and the Rapporteur for the Report of Burkina Faso under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, expressed the satisfaction of the Committee with the fruitful relationship with Burkina Faso which was very punctual in submitting its reports.  The Country Rapporteur noted the participative method in the preparation of the reports and asked the delegation to provide more information about the measures undertaken to disseminate the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  The legislative efforts undertaken by the State party were rather limited in nature, while no reform of the criminal legislation had taken place.  The provisions of the Optional Protocol were not directly applicable in the domestic law in Burkina Faso.  Did the legislation that was currently being drafted, such as the general bill on the definition and prohibition of sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the General Code for the Protection of Children, include the provisions of the Optional Protocol?  Did the Criminal Code explicitly prohibit and punish child pornography and child prostitution, and how was a child considered to be a victim of prostitution?  Acts committed outside of the State party were not criminalized in domestic law; were there plans to amend this legislation and ensure it was in line with the Optional Protocol?  How would the criminal legislation be amended to bring it in line with the provisions of the Optional Protocol?

Another Expert asked what campaigns were envisaged or carried out to ensure that the provisions of the Optional Protocol were well known by the population, which was in large part illiterate.  Activities undertaken to combat early marriage made quite a long list, said another Expert, and asked whether there were any plans to increase the minimum age of marriage and how the laws on early marriage and forced marriage were implemented in practice.  Could the delegation provide more information about the help line, how it was resourced, managed and operated and how many calls it received?

The Committee was rather concerned that the knowledge about the two Optional Protocols among the population was rather low, particularly among girls who were the principal victims of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  There was little research and data gathering on those issues that affected the Burkinabe children and the implementation of the two Optional Protocols was rather inadequate. What concrete measures were being undertaken to increase the knowledge of the Protocols among the population?

Some customs and traditions had opened the door for the harmful treatment of women and girls, such as polygamy, marrying brothers of deceased husbands, inheritance, land ownership and others that led to the abuse and exploitation of girls.  What was being done in practice to change norms and legislation and to bring about cultural change in the understanding of the role of women and girls?  How did legislation regulate the private sector to ensure that their actions did not have a negative impact on the rights of children, including in protecting children from child labour? 

The delegation was asked to elaborate on the implementation of the national action plan to combat the worst forms of child labour, the findings of the national study into the causes and nature of sexual exploitation and child pornography in the country, coordination on the implementation of the Optional Protocol, measures to address deep rooted traditions concerning talibé children, child labour, early marriage and others, exercising of extra-territorial authorities, international adoptions, and birth registration and the reasons why rates were low.

Mr. Zermatten, Committee Chairperson, asked about criminal responsibility of legal persons for crimes of child pornography and child prostitution, for example companies that manufactured and sold this kind of material.  Could the current laws on the media ensure the adequate protection of the image of children?

What resources were being dedicated specifically to meet the requirements of the implementation of the Optional Protocol, either through the National Poverty Reduction Plan or through some other mechanism?

Response by Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said the various provisions of the two Optional Protocols were spread out in various texts which condemned the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution, and the involvement of children in armed conflict.  Burkina Faso had never interrupted international adoption in course and had strengthened the local capacity by setting up a central authority in charge of international adoption in line with the provisions of the Hague Convention.  The authorities were not aware of adoptions taking place outside of the legal framework; all adoptions had to take place through the State structures and using the Hague procedures.  Illegal practices in international adoption were considered as criminal offences and were punishable under the criminal code.  The Government was providing support to orphanages and foster parents, who received some compensation.  When a child was intercepted as a victim of trafficking, he or she was taken to a care centre prior to a reunion with the parents.  The child had to have a lawyer and depending on the age of the child and nature of the offence, proceedings could take place in public or could be filmed by camera, and the judge could also decide upon the need for the victim to face the perpetrator. 

Civil society was a partner of the Government and their efforts to promote the rights of children were well appreciated, as were the activities to disseminate and raise awareness about the Convention and the Optional Protocols.  The Government was very open to participation and input of the civil society, which was involved from the start in the preparation of the reports.  Mines did not employ children under the age of 18, but children could be involved in small-scale gold washing activities in remote areas. 

Child labour was widespread in the country and child labourers had even formed associations to further their interests.  Many forms of hard labour were prohibited by law and the Government was investing efforts in protecting children from exploitation and worst forms of labour.  There were parents who sent their children to work in the fields of Côte d’Ivoire, but this was an illegal practice which was considered as a form of sale of children and trafficking in children.  Distinction needed to be made between child labour in the country and abroad, as those were considered differently under the law.  “Confiage” was a traditional practice of sending the children to paternal or maternal grandparents to take care of them but with increased school enrolment rates this practice was about to die off.  There had been cases of trans-border trafficking of children to Mali and Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso was aware of the need to strengthen regional cooperation to successfully tackle this problem.  

The minimum age for marriage was 17 for girls and currently there was a draft law which would bring the minimum age to 18 for both girls and boys.  The call to abolish polygamy had caused a public outcry and it would not be possible to do away with this practice overnight.  The hotline for child victims of violence was operational and was manned with trained multidisciplinary teams which operated 24/7.  A person who received the call made a complaint and contacted the intervention team directly.  Those working with children had a duty to report, but it was usually other professionals or other people in contact with children who reported violence.  In known cases of forced marriage, sentences were handed down to perpetrators; but this phenomenon often took place inside the family and it was very hard to identify the practice and undertake legal action.  Legally, forced marriages did not exist in Burkina Faso, but forced free unions existed.

School drop out rates for girls were rather high and were mainly due to girls being kept home to take care of household chores.  The Government and its partners had increased assistance for school enrolment and retention for girls, and school drop out rates were now decreasing.  In 2010, Burkina Faso had been involved in drafting the General Protection Code for Children, but had been told that it did not comply with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The general code had been abandoned and had been turned to the code on children in conflict with the law.

The Committee Experts noted that forced marriage, even if did not exist in the law, was a practice and a reality for children and asked what were the intentions of the Government to address this problem.  Responding, the delegation said that it was usually the parents who arranged the early marriage or union.  As a part of reviewing the Family Code, the age of marriage for boys and girls would be raised to 18 years of age.  The schooling rates were on the rise and the young people themselves often reported that they would be married off.  It was hard to change these practices and it would take time.  Awareness raising on early and forced marriages was being undertaken with traditional and customary authorities and sensitisation was undertaken for people in remote areas.

The National Human Rights Commission could receive complaints of violations of the rights of the child.  The new Commission had been established as a national human rights institution under the Paris Principles in 2010; it was independent in terms of financial resources and its management, and could monitor the activities of the Government and undertake the necessary investigations.  The Commission had the Chamber for the Rights of the Children which was in charge of children’s rights and their violation.

Birth registration rates were on the rise thanks to the increase in the number of health centres, the 2007 sensitization campaign and the issuing of the replacement birth certificates for voters without one.  Children under the age of 13 could not be prosecuted.  Children offenders were placed in protective custody and were assisted throughout the process.      

Legislation on the media protected human rights and penalties had been established, for example in December 2012 a daily had been suspended because it had published pictures of children living in the streets.  Measures taken by the Government showed the commitment to avoid publishing and using any images that might compromise the rights of children. 

On the legal basis for decisions on extradition for offences against children, Burkina Faso adhered to international legislation; extraditions were undertaken for acts considered offences under international legislation and the Criminal Code.  This excluded the principle of dual criminality.  One of the failings of the system was evident in this, if someone committed an offence towards a child abroad, and the country where the offence took place did not criminalize that act or did not ratify the Optional Protocol, then it was very difficult to extradite.  In case of female genital mutilation for example, heavy sanctions were accorded by the domestic legislation, and so the transnational aspect of the practice was on the increase, with the people going abroad.  If a perpetrator was a national of Burkina Faso and committed a crime abroad, domestic courts could deliver sanction upon return to the country; the problem was in establishing the facts of the crime and identifying the perpetrator.

Legal entities had the obligation to protect children from exploitation, and in the tourism sector the Government sensitized both legal and physical persons about the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  There were no specific budget lines allocated to combating violence against children, but the financial and technical resources were provided thorough the budget of the Ministry for Children.

Trafficking of children was clearly defined in the law and the Government worked with its partners to operate the helpline.  One of the priorities of the Poverty Reduction Strategy was child protection, and given the numbers of young people in the population, the child was a focus for the Government.  The Ministry for Social Action was the focal point for all the child protection activities of the Government.  Caring for the taléb children was part of the activities for children living in the street and the Government had established a technical committee for their protection. 

Concerning the legislative framework, it was important to say that there was an inter-ministerial Committee looking into the overhauling of the Criminal Code to bring it in line with international instruments that Burkina Faso had ratified.  With regard to coordination issues, the National Council for the Survival and Development of Children was an intern-ministerial unit composed of all the ministries that had rights of children in their mandates, while members of civil society were involved as technical and financial partners.  The Council conducted the National Children’s Forum which took place every three years to look into children’s issues, and held regular meetings at the national and regional levels.  The Council was in charge of coordinating the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols and the African Charter on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child. 

Examination of the Report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

Questions by Experts

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, welcomed the progress in Burkina Faso, a country that lived in peace, but situations in several neighbouring countries, such as Mali at the moment and earlier Côte d’Ivoire, should be observed.  According to the law, conscription into the army or foreign armed groups was a crime, but it was not sufficiently defined in the law.  What was the status of the revision of the Criminal Code and would it define those elements?  The conflict between the armed groups and the national army in Mali made it very likely that children would be recruited.  How would Burkina Faso prevent any recruitment of the children on its territory?  What measures were being taken and what means were been mobilized to strengthen the knowledge of children’s rights?  Children aged 11 and older could be schooled in military-type schools, could the delegation provide more information about this?

Other Experts asked the delegation about the mechanism to identify children involved in armed conflict in Mali among the arriving refugees, training of border officials to this effect and the services offered to the children; the increase in the involvement of girls in the military schools; and the training of peacekeepers in the two Optional Protocols.

Response by Delegation

Le Prytanée Militaire de Kadiogo (PMK) was a military school that had the authority to recruit children coming out of the primary school, aged 11, and provide them with an education for both military and civilian careers.  At the end of their schooling, they had to pass a test to join the military.  There had been no cases of abuse in those settings.  With regard to the presence of women in the army, the Government was promoting recruitment of both young men and young women and training them according to international standards to ensure they could be sent to other countries.  The Unit for Children’s Rights was in charge of training and dissemination of the Convention and the Optional Protocols among the soldiers. 

Concerning the prevention of recruitment of children beyond the borders, the delegation said that a committee had been set up to work with the regions where a problem was identified to assist them in ensuring that the rights of children were not violated and that cross-border conscriptions did not take place.  Schools had been set in refugee camps to ensure that they continued their education and to provide a more secure environment for the children.   

The ratification of the Rome Statute meant the overhauling of several legal statutes and the inter-ministerial Committee had set up a special law to implement the Rome Statute.  There were no cases of Burkinabe children conscripted into armed conflict in the country or abroad.  Armed forces were trained in international humanitarian law and on the Optional Protocols; training was done in universities, while various training activities were organized by several ministries.  An inter-ministerial Committee on international humanitarian law was in place and was in charge of providing training courses in the subject matter.

The Committee Experts asked about a complaint mechanism that children or their parents had at their disposal to report the involvement of children in armed conflict; whether the recruitment of children was a crime under the law; and the means and resources for providing care for refugees.  

The delegation said that it would be very difficult to be certain that there was no cross-border recruitment of children.  The crisis in Mali was still ongoing and it shared 2,000 kilometres of border with Burkina Faso.  The law on the implementation of the Rome Statute was being drafted at the moment and it was important to disassociate the provisions of the Rome Statute and look separately into the offences.

No one had brought to the attention of the Government the presence of Burkinabe children in any armed forces.  Caring for refugees started with the National Refugee Council identifying them and providing basic services such as food, shelter and health, as well as psychosocial services.  School aged children were sent to school and those of university age were sent to the capital and enrolled in public universities.  Concerning punishment of those found guilty of the recruitment of children in armed conflict, the delegation said that the international provisions needed to be transposed in domestic laws and that was one of the purposes of the ongoing revision of the laws. 

Burkina Faso intended to apply a holistic approach to children’s rights, including those guaranteed by the Optional Protocol; budgets were not allocated specifically for this purpose, but budgetary lines existed in relevant ministries, and some resources were being provided by partners such as the United Nations Children’s Fund.  

The responsibility for the prevention of the recruitment of children for the conflict in Mali had been devolved to the provinces which had been informed of measures they could undertake, and about the ways to deal with the refugees.  Provincial authorities were supported by partners such as the United Nations Children’s Fund.  With regard to the monitoring of the cross-border recruitment, the military was involved as well, and its officers had received training in children’s rights and had in place the military security mechanism to protect civilians in times of crisis.

In addition to social protection measures for refugees entering Burkina Faso, there were sensitization activities for refugees and the local population on a number of subjects.  Assisting refugees was not a simple undertaking, from their identification and registration, to the identification of children in special circumstances.  Measures were effective but were not enough given the number of refugees and the scope of the crisis.  The staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were working on sites in the north of the country and assisting the authorities in providing services and assistance to the refugee population.

Concluding Remarks

HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and the Rapporteur for the Report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said that Burkina Faso was making significant efforts to align its legislation with the spirit of the Convention and the Optional Protocol, but the fact was that the very little reform of penal and civil legislation had been undertaken.  All the crimes and offences mentioned by the Optional Protocol must be included in the domestic legislation.  The focus must be on prevention too, in the tourist industry, international adoption and alternative care, children living in the street and other areas.  The Committee recommended further efforts in sensitization and awareness raising among the population on children’s rights and the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, noted the efforts made by Burkina Faso in dealing with the influx of Malian refugees given the scarce resources the country had, and reiterated the concern about the lack of criminal legal provisions in line with international standards. 

DIEUDONNE MARIE DESIRE MANLY, Technical Advisor, Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity, expressed satisfaction with the discussion with the Committee and reiterated the openness to recommendations of the Committee to improve the rights of children in Burkina Faso without any discrimination.
 
YANGHEE LEE, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that Burkina Faso knew where the challenges were and emphasized that the Optional Protocol on the sale of children went beyond the narrow scope of trafficking and expressed hope that the delegation would go back to Burkina Faso with that understanding.

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