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Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Tuvalu

Committee on the Rights of the Child  

20 September 2013

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered, via videolink, the initial report of Tuvalu on how the country was implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

Presenting the report via videolink, Esealota Apinelu, Minister of Education, said that Tuvalu had ratified the Convention in 1995 but, as a small island nation with very limited human and financial resources, had faced significant challenges in its implementation.  Tuvalu did not have an independent mechanism for children, but did have a National Advisory Committee for Children which was part of the Ministry of Education.  Despite the challenges faced, Tuvalu had adopted a Human Rights Road Map in line with its National Strategy for Sustainable Development.  Health and education were core components of that strategy and measures were taken to ensure its progressive implementation.

During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts said that they understood the serious challenges Tuvalu faced and commended its efforts.  Experts also addressed, among other issues, climate change, data collection, birth registration, and the need to amend existing laws in order to bring domestic legislation in line with the Convention.  Questions were also asked about health and education, sexual violence, measures to improve the situation of girls and children with disabilities, and restrictions placed on the freedom of religious belief.

In concluding remarks, Hiranthi Wijemanne, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tuvalu, reiterated that the Committee fully understood the challenges facing Tuvalu and noted that despite those challenges Tuvalu was working to safeguard children's rights.

Also in concluding remarks, Esealota Apinelu, Minister of Education, said that Tuvalu remained fully committed to protecting the human rights of its population despite its vulnerabilities, especially the rights of its children; and was counting on help and support from the international community.

The Delegation of Tuvalu included representatives from the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office for Childhood.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place on Monday 23 September, at 10.00 a.m., when the Committee will consider the combined third and fourth periodic report of Lithuania (CRC/C/LTU/3-4). 

Report

The initial report of Tuvalu is available here: CRC/C/TUV/1.

Presentation of the Report

ESEALOTA APINELU, Minister of Education of Tuvalu, presenting the report via via videolink, said that Tuvalu had ratified the Convention in 1995.  There had been significant challenges in its implementation because the country was a small island nation with very limited human and financial resources.  Tuvalu was the second smallest member of the United Nations in terms of population, and the fourth smallest country in the world in terms of territory.  It consisted of nine islands which were isolated both from each other and from the rest of the world.  It took at least one day to travel from one island to another, and some of the islands were only accessible by boat.  Its geographic situation hindered consultations on international instruments and human rights treaties.

Tuvalu heavily relied on the Office of the Attorney General and there were only nine lawyers in the country, despite an increased need for legal expertise and services.  The country's eight Ministries, which contained various departments and units, were all understaffed.  For example, only seven staff members worked in the Ministry of Education.  Tuvalu did not have an independent mechanism for children but did have a National Advisory Committee for Children which was part of the Ministry of Education.  There was a need to foster and further develop the Advisory Committee in order to address child-related issues more effectively. 

Other developments including an increase in community policing by the Police Department, which also provided counseling to minors found in breach of the law, as well as their parents.  Tuvalu strongly believed in the strength of its values and cultural traditions and promoted respect for the elderly, community life, harmony and peace.  Geographic and social characteristics were a source of vulnerability and affected Tuvalu’s capacity to fully implement its obligations under international instruments.  The outer islands by far faced the most serious challenges.

Despite all the challenges faced, Tuvalu had adopted a human rights road map in line with its national strategy for sustainable development.  Health and education were core components of that strategy and measures were taken to ensure its progressive implementation.  Furthermore, the appointment of a Chief Ombudsman and a Commission were in progress.  Tuvalu remained fully committed to putting in place the right foundations for the development of its children, who were the future of the country.       
 
Questions by Experts

HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Tuvalu, commended the establishment of a National Committee for Children and asked whether it had led to the adoption of a national plan of action that would facilitate the implementation of the Convention.  He asked whether such a plan would address data collection issues as well.  Concerning the definition of “child”, Ms. Wijemanne noted that Tuvalu's Constitution contained no clear definition of the age of majority.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Expert acting as Country Co-Rapporteur for Tuvalu, asked what was Tuvalu doing to raise awareness about climate change issues.  An examination of its legislation showed that laws contained non-discriminatory codes but the Constitution did not.  A clear prohibition of discriminatory behaviour against girls, in particular, should be included in the constitution.  It was also necessary to look for provisions in its legislation which might run counter to human rights, and to make all necessary amendments.  The legislation concerning unmarried mothers and children born out of wedlock also needed to be reviewed. 

Experts noted that the law appeared to authorize the use of corporal punishment with a cane.  If that was a cultural issue and could not be changed immediately, could Tuvalu at least take immediate action to inform its population about the disadvantages of corporal punishment for the development of the child?  There seemed to be no specific legislation concerning juvenile justice, could the delegation comment on this matter?

An Expert asked whether there were conferences, workshops or meetings for children to promote awareness of the Convention.  How well did officials and children in the country know the Convention?  To what extent did Tuvalu have the best interest of the child in mind when introducing new laws, and did courts take the best interest of the child into account?  Were the voices of children heard at all, for example, as part of the process of drafting new laws?

Experts noted that an act which placed restrictions on the freedom of religion had been adopted, could the negative consequences of this act be mitigated?  The Committee had received information suggesting that children were sometimes forced to participate in religious practices at school, regardless of their own religious beliefs.

Did children and adolescents have the opportunity to voice their opinions about the education they received; and, if so, how were these opinions used in subsequent decision-making? 

Concerning Tuvalu’s legislation regarding violence, Experts inquired whether different types of violence were punished differently.  Were punishments different for boys and girls?  When it came to dealing with climate change-related issues, were there special emergency measures for children and adolescents?  Information suggested that fewer girls than boys completed their education, what was Tuvalu doing to address that gender inequality?   

Regarding sexual abuse, Experts noted that reporting was very low and no specialized rehabilitation service was available for children.  Were children informed about this or was poor reporting due to a lack of awareness?  One of the Experts indicated that the rape of boys was not adequately covered in the legislation, did Tuvalu plan to address that issue?  Moreover, rape cases involving female and male victims were not punished in the same way.

Elementary school pupils seemed to have difficulties passsing the national ‘year eight’ examination to enter secondary school: less than half of primary school students qualified to attend secondary school.  What was being done to ensure that children continued their education?  What type of training did teachers receive and what was done to sharpen their teaching skills?

Experts asked whether Tuvalu's report had been prepared after consultation with children and civil society, and about the specific mandate of the National Advisory Committee for Children and whether had it been involved in government policy vis-à-vis children?

There seemed to be no specific legislation protecting the rights of children with disabilities.  Given the circumstances of Tuvalu, what could be done to assist children with disabilities?   

Experts noted that child mortality was high and asked what measures were being put in place to address emerging health concerns.  Experts asked what could be done to improve the birth registration situation, especially in the outer islands, because birth registration was crucial to children's rights and access to services later in life.  Refering to the health system, it was noted that children were often flown out of Tuvalu for treatment, which was very expensive and the money could have been used for the provision of better primary care in Tuvalu.  Had the Government considered that matter with the view to finding a solution soon? 

Obesity related to eating habits was a major health concern in Tuvalu.  Also, it was not clear whether adolescents had access to reproductive health services and education.  Moreover, despite a ban on alcohol for minors, 40 per cent of adolescents were known to consume alcohol. What methods could be used to tackle these issues?

Experts noted that some figures had been provided in the report and asked whether there was an organized data collection system in place to ensure that the implementation of the Convention was properly assessed.  Could the delegation provide disaggregated data regarding the situation of children under the age of five? 

One of the Experts asked whether Tuvalu counted with security and assistance measures for children migrating from Tuvalu and children of immigrants arriving in the country.  Were there migration agreements or bilateral treaties with other countries?  What children age groups did the police deal with and did it use restorative or punitive measures?  How many children were currently in prison?  According to its report there was one child serving a lifelong sentence in prison, would it be possible to change that sentence?

Bearing in mind that domestic law appeared to take precedence over international law, where did that situation leave the Convention?  The Committee wanted to see the Convention have a higher status than domestic law and Experts asked what Tuvalu could do to tackle that issue. 

Response by Delegation

Responding to the Committee’s questions, the delegation said that the National Advisory Committee for Children had been set up in order to ensure the implementation of the Convention.  Key stakeholders included a wide range of experts, and representatives of the National Council of Women and other Governmental bodies.  Education had also been incorporated into Tuvalu’s strategic plan.

Data collection was currently being looked into with a view to improving the existing system, currently policy decisions were based on data gathered through this system. 

The Convention was well integrated into the school system and was part of its curriculum.  Tuvalu organized various awareness-raising programmes and conferences, which brought together children to discuss issues of concern to them, with the aim of educating children on the Convention and its provisions. 

Tuvalu was also concerned about the poor results in the national year eight examination and efforts were being undertaken to improve the situation so that more children would continue their education.  However, existing financial resources were not sufficient for the full implementation of Tuvalu’s national plans and programmes.  

It was crucial for everyone in Tuvalu, including children, to understand the effects of climate change.  Related issues had been introduced into the curriculum and children were encouraged to think about climate change challenges from an early age.  More work needed to be done in this area, which was of vital importance.

Children played a key role in decision-making on issues that concerned them, especially with regards to the education system, and had been consulted on the development of the national curriculum framework.  Children were involved in the development of all strategic plans for schools.  Communities were increasingly more attentive to, and appreciative of, children’s views about matters which affected them.  The delegation said that most children who attended primary school successfully completed their education, and there was no gender inequality in that respect. 

The Health Department addressed the issue of obesity and worked closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure that only healthy and nutritious food was sold in school canteens.  An awareness-raising programme was in place to educate adolescents about sexual matters.  Efforts were also made to inform parents about the negative effects of corporal punishment, with a view to banning corporal punishment at school and at home.  Tuvalu was reviewing its Education Act and was taking a human rights-based approach.

Given the lack of expertise and infrastructure, a large part of Tuvalu's budget was allocated to health schemes which involved the transfer of patients overseas.  Tuvalu’s Health Association had been running sexual health awareness programmes and operated a clinic that offered free testing for sexually transmitted diseases.  Sexual health treatments were offered free of charge in hospitals.  Breastfeeding was actively encouraged, especially among younger mothers. 

While there was no legislation in place to safeguard the rights of children with disabilities, the Government was considering ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  However, the geographical reality of Tuvalu and its fragmented transportation system had to be taken into account in that regard. 

Victims of sexual abuse were usually female and reporting was generally poor, because the victims felt ashamed.  The definition of rape in the laws was currently being amended.

Concerning freedom of religion in schools, the delegation said that children who did not wish to attend religious services with their class were allowed to spend time practising their own religion or in the classroom doing homework.  Information about children being forced to participate in religious services was not accurate.  All denominations were respected in Tuvalu, but in faith-specific boarding schools there were certain religious activities, such as morning prayers, in which children were expected to participate.

Tuvalu was considering amending its penal code to remove the life sentence and to introduce a 15-year minimum sentence for serious crimes.   

Birth registration was an issue across the country, not only in the outer islands.  Awareness-raising programmes were aimed at parents and informed them of their duties under the law, including the registration of their children.  Efforts were underway to modernize the registration system and to make the process easier.

Concerning the issue of neglect, the delegation said that the parents had an obligation to provide education, a safe family environement, and positive role models to their children.  The head of the family had the responsibility to ensure that children were not neglected and the failure to do so would result in a penalty.  The police assisted in that regard and took unsupervised children into custody.

The delegation noted that the country's laws and constitution were currently under review and said that Tuvalu would consider making all necessary amendments to its legislation to give precedence to international instruments over domestic law.

Concluding remarks

HIRANTHI WIJEMANNE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tuvalu, in concluding remarks, said that the Committee fully understood the challenges facing Tuvalu.  It was very positive that, despite those challenges, Tuvalu was working to safeguard the rights of children.  The dialogue with the delegation had been very constructive.

ESEALOTA APINELU, Minister of Education of Tuvalu, also in concluding remarks, said that Tuvalu had the best interests of the child at heart and thanked the Experts for their comments and questions.  Tuvalu was grateful that the Committee understood the serious challenges it was facing, including the devastating effects of climate change, and was counting on receiving assistance from the international community, including from the United Nations.  Despite its vulnerabilities, Tuvalu remained fully committed to protecting the human rights of its population, especially the rights of its children. 
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For use of the information media; not an official record