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Committee on Rights of Child examine report of Saint Lucia

Committee on the Rights of the Child

6 June 2014

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second to fourth periodic report of Saint Lucia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Presenting the report, Alvina Reynolds, Minister for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations and the Director of Human Services of Saint Lucia, said that Saint Lucia was committed to using its limited resources for the protection of all children on its territory.  A major development had been the formation of the National Action Child Protection Committee with its main objectives to monitor the country’s implementation of the Convention and to act as an advisory body on child protection matters.  The State party was conducting reforms of both juvenile justice and mental health systems, with the best interest of children in mind.
 
In the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts were particularly interested in the prevalence of corporal punishment in Saint Lucia, suggesting that it be clearly prohibited through central legislation.  They wanted to know more about the functioning of the Child Protection Committee and asked whether the office of an ombudsman for children’s rights had been established.  Experts also asked questions, inter alia, about the registration of children at birth, sexual abuse and exploitation, high incest rates, child labour, cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the effect of relatively high levels of general violence in society on children.

In concluding remarks, Renate Winter, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Saint Lucia, said that the two Rapporteurs had had a bit of a difficulty because the list of issues had not been answered in advance.  The Committee would take into consideration everything that the State party had done and would point out what remained to be done.
 
Ms. Reynolds said that she was a Minister for the first time and was very committed to the protection of children and the breaking of barriers.  She said that she had a very strong, dedicated team, and was working on synergy among various Government agencies.  The delegation would take into consideration all suggestions and best practices.  The delegation was leaving Geneva reinvigorated and with renewed energy to work even harder on ensuring that children were protected and felt protected. 
 
The delegation of Saint Lucia included representatives of the Ministry for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations.
 
The Committee will meet in private for most of next week.  It will next meet in public on Friday, 13 June at 3 p.m. to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, United Kingdom, India, Indonesia and Saint Lucia, which were reviewed during the session, before closing the session.

Report
 
The Committee is considering the second to fourth periodic report of Saint Lucia (CRC/C/LCA/2-4).
 
Presentation of the Report
 
ALVINA REYNOLDS, Minister for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations and the Director of Human Services of Saint Lucia, said that the Government and people of Saint Lucia remained committed to ensuring the protection of all its children as well as children who might be visiting the country for short periods of time.  The State party was committed to using its limited resources to that purpose.

In September 2012, the Cabinet of Ministers had approved the National Action Child Protection Committee with its main objectives to monitor the country’s implementation of the Convention and to act as an advisory body on child protection matters.  The Committee, which met once a month, was also advocating and coordinating action on behalf of children.  One of the main goals was the development of a National Plan of Action for Children.  The State party was also working closely with partners such as UNICEF and USAID on a number of child protection and juvenile justice matters and activities.
In March 2013, a national consultation had been held on the theme “The Future We Want”, which discussed the abolition of corporal punishment and included a wide cross-section of adults and students from various schools.  The State party was continuing to grapple with the issue of child sexual abuse, and had started a massive campaign to break the silence on that matter.  The campaign aimed to reach victims and their families and the general public in order to break the stigma and shame surrounding the issue.

Saint Lucia was also undergoing a review of its juvenile justice system through a programme known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Project.  Support was provided in areas such as improving the legal and regulatory frameworks, capacity building for effective administration, modernization of diversion, detention and rehabilitation processes, improved linkages with civil society and other support systems.  The Model Family Law Bills was being reviewed with the view of ensuring further protection for young persons.  A National Parenting Programme was also being developed, and it should provide parents with avenues for acquiring new knowledge and effective skills and practices.

Review of the country’s mental health system had been recently completed, with special consideration given to the delivery of prevention programmes which targeted children and youth in schools to ensure the mental wellness of that vulnerable population.  The issue of adequate facilities for the rehabilitation of young persons also remained a main concern for the Government.  A modern facility for boys was being developed, with improved programmes and adequately trained personnel.

Questions by Experts
 
SARA DE JESUS OVIEDO FIERRO, Member of the Committee and Country Rapporteur for the report of Saint Lucia, paid tribute to the State party’s frankness in talking about the limitations in implementing some of the recommendations.  The Committee was also interested in having a frank, useful dialogue.   
 
Could more information be provided on the recently established National Action Child Protection Committee?  What practical proof was there that it was operational? Which specific tasks was the coordination committee involved in?
 
The Expert asked whether there had been an improvement in data collection, and whether a centralized system was envisioned. 
 
In 2011, the State party had mentioned the possibility of a future children’s ombudsman.  Was there any such expert on children and adolescents now? It was commendable that an infrastructure was being put in place for children and adolescents, but a lot more still had to be done.  Were the levels of spending on children and youth issues stable or increasing?
 
A question was asked on whether there were any specialized, children-focused non-governmental organizations. 
 
Could more clarity be provided on various pupil and student bodies? What decisions would those bodies make, and what were their responsibilities?
 
Corporal punishment was one of the key problems in the region, and it remained a common practice in Saint Lucia.  While a significant campaign was in place to raise awareness, the Expert asked what the results had been so far.  Did children have easy access and possibility to submit complaints?  Were there any shelter centres and what protective measures were taken for such children?  The Expert wanted to hear more about preventive measures.
 
Another Expert asked whether a regulation on children born out of wedlock had been adopted. Earlier, those children used to be discriminated against.  Had that issue been tackled now?
 
Had the juvenile justice bill and domestic violence bill been adopted yet?
 
The Criminal Code of 2004 had addressed the Committee’s concerns on sexual abuse.  How many offenders had been brought to justice and convicted in accordance with the Code?
 
The Expert wanted to know whether any children had already reported having been abused, and inquired about the existence of a children’s advocate/ombudsman. 
 
Had the project of the abolition of corporal punishment been implemented in schools?  It was clear that there was still no legal prohibition at the state level, but working on through projects could be a way forward.
 
Were children registered at birth all over the country?
 
An Expert wondered whether the best interests of the child were explicitly spelt out in the national legislation?  Core principles of the Convention should be reflected in every single aspect of child protection.  What were the obstacles in that regard?
 
The issue of violence in Saint Lucia was raised by another Expert.  In a recent survey, many children had said that they did not feel safe in the streets, mostly because of shootings.  What was being done to deal with the seemingly high levels of violence in society?
 
Response by the Delegation
 
With regard to the National Child Protection Committee, a delegate explained that it was meeting once a month.  The plan of action for children had never taken off the ground, which was why a committee had been established to take care of it.  Now that there was a proper and very diverse coordinating committee, there was a serious commitment to see it through.  The Committee was not directly involved in the running of any agencies, but supervised and provided assistance to agencies when there were bottlenecks.
 
The Committee was also looking into issues of sexually abused children, and was ensuring that such children were provided with proper medical examination and aftercare.
 
The Head of Delegation said that in 2008, UNICEF had helped with the establishment of a national database of child protection indicators.  There were, however, some serious financial challenges in place, and there was still no central data gathering. 
 
Various Ministries were dealing with issues pertaining to children, and it was a challenge to combine their divergent efforts. 
 
Responding to the question on the children’s ombudsman, it was explained that such an office had not been established yet due to the limited financial resources.  The focus was on establishing the coordinating committee instead, but the State party would look into having an ombudsman.
 
The Division of Human Services served as an entry point for children’s complaints, which were responded to.  Children had a place to come to with regard to any issue they might have.
 
Financial assistance was being provided to families with children attending school, or families with children with disabilities.
 
Answering questions on poverty reduction and social budget spending, the delegation stated that a five per cent budget cut had been implemented across the board, as a consequence of the financial crisis.  Some of the projects had been fully maintained, including those for single mothers and home repair programmes.  The number of teachers had not been cut, even if some of the resources for education had been brought down, such as for purchase of new furniture or equipment.
 
It was explained that Ministers and policy makers attended some of the debates discussed by the Youth Parliament.  Young people also met with Government representatives and expressed their opinions on issues pertinent to them.  Youth was sometimes challenging the Government and putting public pressure on it through media and social activism.  Civil society organizations, such as Rise, collaborated with the Government on a number of issues.
 
Questions by Experts
 
An Expert asked how non-governmental organizations had participated in the drafting of the State party report.  Were non-governmental organizations allowed to operate freely or were they subjected to administrative restrictions?
 
Response by the Delegation
 
Non-governmental organizations were allowed to act freely and there were no restrictions on their setting up.  The central Government frequently provided assistance to them when they faced administrative challenges, and often relied on their support on the ground. 
 
There had been extensive consultations in the process of the preparation of the report.
 
Whatever was done in the education sector was coordinated with school principals and teachers.  Children were also involved in the consultative process; sometimes they were active through writing, music or arts.  Sometimes, children would raise an issue of their concern and Ministers would find time to meet them and discuss the matter.  Most of the time issues were communicated through the National Youth Council, but sometimes children would go directly to the Ministers. 
 
A delegate explained that the National Youth Council and National Youth Parliament were two different initiatives, but both looked into issues relevant to youth.  Each school had a student council and they were all connected to the National Youth Council.  The Youth Parliament took place once a year and was organized by the National Youth Council.
 
Corporal punishment was an ongoing and troubling issue.  Discussion had started and involved broad spheres of society, which was an encouraging development.  The parenting programmes continued to be held across the country, and it was hoped that a change would take place.  There were different views on the issue between older and more traditional circles and young parents.  The fact that children were now asked how they felt about corporal punishment and had the right to express themselves was making a difference.  Knowledge, unfortunately, did not always translate into behaviour change. 
 
In transit homes for children, corporal punishment was absolutely not allowed and this was written into its policy.  The Education Act addressed the issue of corporal punishment in public schools.
 
There had not been much movement in the State party’s legislation.  There was a significant backlog of legislation which had to be drafted and considered in Saint Lucia; there was a dearth of legal drafters, who had to be hired as outside consultants. 
 
A video-link for children to partake in family court processes was functioning at the moment, but was still not sufficiently used.  Benefits for the children were clear.
 
It was explained that, in the absence of any psychological assessment of the children, they were asked whether they understood the issues of right and wrong when they were asked to testify in courts. 
 
Birth registration, with the support of UNICEF, was now provided free of charge.  It was now being ensured that registration was carried out at public health facilities.  There were no fees even if children were registered with a significant delay.
 
The delegation stated that violence was a matter of concern, as it was impacting children. Sometimes they were witnesses and occasionally victims of violent events.  Children were being educated about safe and unsafe places, to be able to assess the situation and make a right decision at any given moment.  That kind of education started at a pre-school level, with appropriate guidelines given to the children.
 
On the problem of the large number of weapons in circulation, the delegation said that a number of programmes had been put in place.  Amnesty was given to all those who willingly brought in their weapons.  If a child was seen with a weapon, he would need to undergo rehabilitation.  Peaceful communities were being promoted at all levels through various means.
 
Questions by Experts
 
How many children were there in alternative care centres, an Expert asked, and wondered about conditions in such centres.  Were there efforts underway to have those children returned to their families?  Was there a system of foster families in place?  Were there regular inspections in place?
 
Were children with mental disabilities held together with children who were in conflict with the law?  Did corporal punishment take place in such institutions?
 
A question was asked about adoption procedures in the State party – could more details be provided in that respect?
 
The incidence of sexual abuse was rather high in Saint Lucia.  What specific measures had been taken to protect those children? 
 
An Expert wanted to know what was being done to combat commercial sexual exploitation. 
 
Did the delegation have data on child labour and what was being done to eradicate that problem?
 
More information was asked about school dropouts.  Were there regular inspections in place, for both public and private educational institutions?
 
The Expert commended the State party for progress made in combating HIV/AIDS.  Did young people have access to reproductive services without their parents?
 
Why did Saint Lucia have such low birth rates?
 
A question was asked on drug and alcohol abuse – were there any awareness and prevention campaigns in place? 
 
The Expert inquired whether there was data available on mental health issues among youth.
 
Could figures be provided on employment and leisure opportunities for adolescents, especially school dropouts?
 
          Another Expert wanted to know if the State party planned to ratify the Hague Convention.
 
What was the age of sexual consent in Saint Lucia?  Was marriage seen as a defence for young rape victims?  Was there an issue of families underreporting rapes of their daughters so that they could make money out of it?
 
The Expert asked about high incest rates and what was being done to stop it.
 
Another Expert inquired about help-lines and whether they were available around the clock.
 
What measures were being taken to help the so-called “street children”?
 
The treatment of children with disabilities was raised by another Expert, who wanted to know in particular more about their access to education.
 
Response by the Delegation
 
It was explained that police officers could not access schools without explicit permission from school principals.  Searches could be conducted in schools only under such circumstances.
 
The help-lines were now available from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., but continuous support was provided through a transit home and an emergency shelter.
 
The delegation spoke of a new home of alternative care which provided care for 22 children. During their stay there, children would continue to go to school, would stay in touch with their family, all with the effort of eventual reunification with the family.  Foster families received monthly stipends; there were some 120 children in foster families at the moment.
 
With respect to transit homes, every effort was being made to ensure that corporal punishment did not take place.  That was particularly the case with training centres for boys.  There was a gap when it came to inspections of children homes and other institutions, but soon somebody should be hired to work on that.
 
It would be easiest to have the Ministry of Health be in charge of overseeing all child protection activities, but it might take some time to persuade the Prime Minister to have it implemented that way and to roll it out effectively.  
 
Regarding sexual abuse of children, a delegate said that in 2007, there had been 106 cases, down to 87 in 2011.  Protection-wise, UNICEF had provided support, particularly in encouraging people to break the silence and speak about it.  The move was to get people to recognize how sexual violence impacted children and often scarred them for life.  The Government worked with school councillors and medical staff to ensure that such cases were reported.  There was a special unit in the police forces which dealt directly with the sexual abuse of children.
 
A concerted effort had been made by the Public Prosecutor’s office to stop the practice of taking bribes in order not to report rapes.   Every case now went to the magistrates, once it was reported.  Even if parents did not want to allow children to give statements, children could do it on their own.  There was a mandatory reporting policy obliging doctors to report any such cases.
 
On the issue of child labour, the delegation stated that with the downfall of the banana industry, there had been a reduction of child work for pay in that field.  At times, children were involved in work helping out their families without pay over the weekends. 
 
Occasional inspections were conducted by the Ministry of Labour, which reported that the issue of child labour was not significant.  Under the law, children under the age of 16 were not allowed to work in Saint Lucia.  Efforts were being made to bridge the gaps between home and schools, in order to ensure that all children under 16 were in school.
 
At the secondary-school level, there was a higher number of children dropping out, which the Government was trying to counter through a network of councillors.
 
There were no figures on children involved in sex work, but police provided some anecdotal evidence of it.  The State party was preaching abstinence and there was no sexual education as such in the curricula.
 
There was no clear answer on why Saint Lucia had such a low birth rate and relatively high child mortality.  There were more than 30 primary health care centres around the country, and prenatal care was provided to expectant mothers.  The problem was being looked at in great detail.
 
The delegation explained that parents’ consent was necessary for adolescents’ access to reproductive health services.  The age of consent for girls was 16, but for boys it was not clearly specified.
 
Alcohol and drug abuse was quite alarming among young persons, especially at and around sports events.  It was connected to the concept of celebration in the Saint Lucia context.  The Government was doing its best to be pro-active in dealing with those challenges.
 
A delegate said that some school youth were engaged in gang violence.  Saint Lucia had commenced consultations on how to reduce youth violence, involving some 80 young persons in the initial stage.  An anti-gun law had been recently passed in the Parliament.  Poverty issues and illegal drugs, as well as home issues, such as an absent father, might all be behind the high rates of violence.  An effort was being made to increase the number of after-school programmes run across the country.
 
Suicide and attempted suicide rates were worrying, which had led to serious analysis of causes of such trends.  Changes were being made, and a space was ensured at the national wellness centre for young persons who had attempted or were contemplating about suicide. 
 
The new early childhood policy had been approved by the Cabinet.  A lot of early childhood centres were private, and the plan was to standardize early education across the board.
 
The Government was looking into ways of addressing low birth weight.
 
On the issue of the death penalty, the delegation said that it was not aware of any children currently being on death row.  The age of criminal responsibility was 16, but there was a recommendation to move the age up to 18, in line with the Convention. 
 
The delegation informed that Saint Lucia had unfortunately not signed the Hague Convention, but would look into it shortly.
 
Regarding the issue of incest, efforts were being made to encourage victims to speak out about sexual violence, especially when it happened within the home environment.  A wide campaign had been launched through media channels aimed at children affected by that scourge.  Particular emphasis was put on sensitizing very young children to detect and report unsafe activity.  There had been an increase in the number of reports of incest, but it did not mean that the rate itself had increased.
 
Restorative justice had not been properly implemented, largely because of the challenges within the country’s justice system.  More progress had been made in the area of mediation.
 
Substance abuse was an issue at boys’ training centres.  A juvenile drug programme was being put in place now. 
 
The delegation said that a lot of progress had been made with regard to children with disabilities.  A multidisciplinary team within the Ministry of Education assessed children with difficulties in learning and would make recommendations on what kind of support they would need to receive.  Some schools were specialized for the needs of children with disabilities. 
There was a need both for inclusion and special education for children with disabilities, a delegate stated.  A total of five special centres existed across the country to promote integration and provide training for teachers on how to better deal with children with special needs.  The national policy on disability was still not ready as there had been multiple obstacles for its adoption. 
 
Answering a question on the so-called “street children”, mostly school drop-outs, the delegation said that they were trying to establish what the pull factors were, making those children leave home and not return.  With the help of social workers, police officers and school authorities, the State party was trying to deal with the situation.  There was not a sufficient number of social workers in the system at the moment.  A delegate stressed that it was not easy for children even when they returned to school.  There was particular support in place for young girls during and after their pregnancy, and provisions were made for them to take final exams.
 
On the issue of how climate change might affect children and what the Government was doing to prepare children for that, the delegation said that the Ministry of Environment had a number of programmes in place. 
 
Concluding Remarks
 
RENATE WINTER, Committee Member and a Co-Rapporteur for Saint Lucia, said that it had been difficult for the two Rapporteurs because the list of issues had not been answered in advance.  The Committee would take into consideration everything that the State party had done and would point out what remained to be done.
 
ALVINA REYNOLDS, Minister for Health, Wellness, Human Services and Gender Relations and the Director of Human Services of Saint Lucia, said that she was a Minister for the first time, and was very committed to the protection of children and the breaking of barriers.  She said that she had a very strong, dedicated team, and was working on synergy among various Government agencies.  The delegation would take into consideration all suggestions and best practices.  The delegation was leaving Geneva reinvigorated and with renewed energy to work even harder on ensuring that children were protected and felt protected. 
 _________

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