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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers reports of Cambodia on sale of children and on children in armed conflict

Committee on the Rights of the Child

13 January 2015  

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the initial reports of Cambodia on how the country is implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict.
 
Introducing the reports, Ith Rady, Member of the Supreme Council of the Magistrate of Cambodia, said that in 2014, budgetary allocation to social affairs, health and education had been increased by 13 per cent compared to 2013.  The roadmap for the complete elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016 was in place, while the National Council for Children had completed its review of the child protection legislation in the country; as a result, the Code of Conduct for Child Affairs was being drafted, together with several pieces of legislation and the child rights strategy. 
 
Under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Committee Experts noted with appreciation that the Optional Protocol was considered the law in the country and expressed concern that the enforcement of laws was limited.  Experts inquired about the efforts to address poverty as a way to reduce vulnerability to sexual exploitation, protection of particularly vulnerable children such as those living in the street or migrant children, and raised concerns about the lack of a comprehensive definition of child pornography and the lack of laws protecting children from hazardous work, including in the entertainment sector.
 
On the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Committee Experts asked about children in the armed forces, children under the age of 18 attending military schools and how the age determination was done in the absence of official birth certificates.  Experts also wondered about the progress made in demining, awareness raising among children about mines and unexploded ordnances, and the rehabilitation of victims of mines.
 
Kirsten Sandberg, Committee Chairperson and the Rapporteur of the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in her closing remarks noted the significant awareness and efforts of Cambodia to address trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and other offences described in the Optional Protocol, and said that the challenge was in the implementation of the laws and policies.
 
Bernard Gastaud, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur of the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, recognized the progress made in the implementation of the Optional Protocol and encouraged Cambodia to step up the efforts to address outstanding challenges, including demining, through legislation and allocation of human and financial resources.
 
The delegation of Cambodia included representatives of the Supreme Council of Magistrate, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Cambodian National Council for Children, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and of the Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Committee in Chamber A will start its consideration of the reports of Turkmenistan: the combined second to fourth periodic report under the Convention (CRC/C/TKM/2-4), the initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/TKM/1) and the initial report on the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/TKM/1).  In Chamber B, the Committee will start its review of the fifth periodic report of Sweden under the Convention CRC/C/SWE/5.
 
Report
 
The initial report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict can be read via this link: (CRC/C/OPAC/KHM/1), and the initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography via this link: (CRC/C/OPSC/KHM/1).
 
Presentation of the Reports

ITH RADY, Member of the Supreme Council of the Magistrate of Cambodia, introducing the reports said around 35 per cent of the population of Cambodia, or about five million persons, were children under the age of 18; the promotion of the best interest of the child was the Government’s priority.  Through the implementation of the National Strategic Development Plan, the Government had ensured peace and security, steady economic growth and a reduction of poverty, thus successfully moving Cambodia from being a low income country to a low-medium income country.  In 2014, budgetary allocation to social affairs, health and education had been increased by 13 per cent compared to 2013.  In Cambodia, there were 225 orphanage centres accommodating over 11,000 children, including children with disabilities; all orphans were provided with accommodation, education, access to health care and integration in the community. 
 
Efforts to eliminate child labour were based on three fundamental principles, namely removing children from situations of forced labour, cooperation with civil society organizations and provision of job and income opportunities for families, while a roadmap for the complete elimination of worst forms of child labour by 2016 had been put in place.  The National Council for Children had expanded its presence into provinces and had just completed its review of the child protection legislation in the country; as a result, the Code of Conduct for Child Affairs was being drafted, together with several pieces of legislation and a child rights strategy.  In closing, Mr. Rady said that despite the progress, Cambodian children still faced some challenges, such as negative impacts of globalization, poverty, and lack of education which made them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.  It was therefore necessary to further deepen regional and international cooperation to protect and promote the rights of the children.
 
Consideration of the Report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Questions by the Committee Experts
 
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, commended Cambodia for the efforts in combatting the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the fact that the Optional Protocol was considered the law in the country, but noted that the limited enforcement of laws continued to be an issue of concern.  The Chairperson asked about the evaluation of the National Plan of Action against trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, about coordination between various bodies involved in the issues of human trafficking, including the coordination of their data systems, and the dissemination of knowledge about the Optional Protocol and the sexual exploitation of children, particularly in schools and among relevant professionals.  Social workers were too few, and there was no complaint system for children; the 24 hours helpline was not active throughout the country, while reporting of abuses did not happen systematically. 
 
Concerning prevention, the Committee Chairperson asked about efforts to reduce poverty which made children vulnerable to sexual exploitation, measures to protect from exploitation vulnerable children such as those living in the street or migrant children, legislation protecting children from hazardous work, including children working in the entertainment sector, initiatives for child-safe tourism and awareness raising about child sex tourism in rural areas, and about the sex offender registrar.  There was no comprehensive definition of child pornography in the legislation, noted the Chairperson, and raised the issue of the protection of child victims and witnesses, from their identification, to protection in courts and rehabilitation and integration measures.
 
Other Experts asked about measures to ensure that adoption was not used for purposes of child labour and exploitation, and about the contradictions between the Convention and national laws and how they were resolved.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The National Plan to Combat Trafficking ensured that the provisions related to human trafficking and sexual exploitation were included in the curriculum and efforts would be made to ensure that the curriculum also contained the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  The complaint mechanism was attached to courts and accepted complaints not only by children, but by everyone and for any kind of offence; a Human Rights Commission of the Parliament was in charge of receiving all complaints of human rights violations, including the violations of children’s rights.  The Civil Code and Penal Code prescribed the duty of public civil servants to report offences against children.  Under the Tourism Law, children under the age of 18 were not allowed to enter places of entertainment.  A Working Group had been established to draft a law to combat sex tourism, while cooperation had been developed with neighbouring countries to strengthen measures against sex tourism and protect children from abuse and exploitation.  Child pornography was criminalized in all its forms.
 
Concerning action against trafficking in persons, the delegation said that the national action plan 2011-2013 had been evaluated and that the new action plan, currently under development, would specifically include actions against trafficking in children, and would pay specific attention to data collection systems.  The Ministry of Social Affairs played an important role in the social well-being of children and also played a major role in capacitating social workers on provincial and local levels to provide services to people.  The revision of the adoption code was ongoing, which strived to protect Cambodian children from trafficking in this manner.
 
The work of the Cambodian National Council for Children and the work of the National Committee on Combatting Human Trafficking did not overlap: the National Council for Children was tasked with the implementation of the National Plan for Children and the coordination of all Ministries involved in this plan, while the Committee on Combating Human Trafficking coordinated the work of Ministries with the view of suppressing and combating human trafficking and national organized crime. 
 
There were problems in birth registration, said the delegation and noted that action would be taken to improve the registration rates, particularly for children living in the street and for migrant children, namely through a Working Group which would operate as a mobile team.  The system was computerized and provided information about gaps in the registration, which would enable the Government to take action.
All 24 provinces in the country were covered with a hot line and the authorities received complaints 24 hours seven days a week.  Child pornography was prohibited by law and those taking pictures of children on a beach were taken into custody.  All people in communities were encouraged to participate in village and commune safety systems and so protect children from exploitation.
 
Follow-up Questions
 
Committee Experts asked the delegation to elaborate on the extradition procedure, provide more information on prosecution of those taking pictures of naked children and the system of birth registration of children living in the street.  The delegation was asked to provide more detailed information about the prohibition of pornography, whether taking pictures of children body parts was allowed and whether possession of audio materials was prohibited.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation said that taking pictures of children was not criminalized but was considered an offence and said that all instances of photographing naked children were investigated.  The delegation described a case involving a Japanese tourist, who had been investigated for taking pictures of naked children on a beach, charged and sentenced to several years in prison.  Possession of child pornography was not criminalized and Cambodia was still considering and studying which specific instances of pornography and sexual exploitation of children needed to be criminalized. 
 
The law contained provisions for extraterritorial jurisdiction, both for Cambodian citizens abroad and for foreigners committing offences in Cambodia.  The legal basis for the extradition procedure was laid down in the Penal Code, including for countries with which Cambodia did not have an extradition treaty, and covered all offences, not only sexual exploitation and child pornography.  Juvenile justice law was being drafted at the moment and for now, the procedure as laid down in the Penal Code applied also to children.  Free legal assistance was provided to children in need.
 
Consideration of the Report under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, asked about children in armed forces and whether children under the age of 18 could attend military schools and bear weapons.  In order to be admitted into the armed forces, individuals must prove they were 18 years old; in the absence of official birth certificates, how was this done?  What was the situation with arms manufacturing on the territory of Cambodia?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that there were no children under the age of 18 in the military service.  There had been reports about children in military uniforms along the Khmer-Thai border during the conflict, but they were not soldiers but families of soldiers.  The recruitment of children into the military service was clearly defined and contained an age requirement which needed to be supported with a birth certificate or by the certification issued by local authorities.  Falsification of birth certificates was an offence.  Local authorities maintained the so-called family books which contained data about all residents in the community, including the date of birth, and this book was legally recognized; local authorities could issue certifications based on the data from the family books.  In 2007, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, the Government had collected more than 300 children associated with the armed forces who had been placed in safety centres where they received health, education and social services.
 
Follow-up Questions and Responses
 
A Committee Expert expressed concern about the practice of children wearing military uniforms in conflict zones, which could turn them into legitimate military targets.  The Expert asked whether Cambodia explicitly criminalized in legislation the recruitment of children in the armed forces, including by non-State actors, and whether extraterritorial jurisdiction over the crimes mentioned in the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict had been established.
 
Responding, the head of the delegation said that it was not a tradition for children to wear uniforms, but children of soldiers liked to wear uniforms because they were proud of their parents and wanted to copy them.  The Cambodian law contained provisions for extraterritorial jurisdiction for the crimes under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict for Cambodian nationals both home and abroad; the jurisdiction of Cambodian courts also extended to foreigners who committed crimes in Cambodia or against Cambodian nationals abroad.
 
On birth registration, the delegation noted that during the previous regime, there was no system of identity certification and that birth registration started in 2004; today, more and more people were seeing the benefits of registering their children.  The new law on birth registration obliged parents to register children within 30 days following the birth and those failing to do so were fined.
 
Concerning military schools, the Committee Experts asked the delegation to explain the system of recruitment of students, whether military forces ran them, if students were exposed to military discipline, about the weapons training and access to a complaint system.
 
The delegation said that the law defined that military schools and universities were run by the military.  Entrance into military universities required a bachelor degree which meant that there were no children under the age of 18.  Military schools provided training and capacity building to those already in the army.  There was no arm manufacturing in Cambodia.
 
A Committee Expert took up the issue of mines and asked the delegation about the progress made in demining and awareness raising among children about unexploded ordnances and the remnants of war.
 
The delegation said the Government was managing more than 200 centres for the rehabilitation of persons and children with disability, including victims of unexploded ordnances, where persons with disabilities could enjoy a range of services, such as health, education and job training.  Demining of areas affected by mines was still considered a priority for the Government and the staff of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) conducted regular visits to villages and communities to conduct education and awareness raising about the mines.  Cambodia was also contributing to demining efforts internationally and its specialized demining unit was now part of the United Nations mission to Sudan. 
 
The Action Council for Disability had developed the National Plan 2014-2018 to provide rehabilitation and social services to persons with disabilities while the Disability Fund had provided assistance to more than 20,000 persons with disabilities.  Prosthesis centres had produced over 600 devices for persons with disabilities. 
 
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and the Rapporteur for the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, expressed concern about the mandate and independence of the national human rights institution and its compliance with the Paris Principles.
 
The delegation said that the full independence of the Human Rights Committee of Cambodia had not yet been established as the Committee was still a part of the Government; however, there was a commitment to draft a law for the establishment of a national human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Peace Agreement and in cooperation with civil society organizations.  To that effect, the Government had set up a multi-sectoral Working Group to draft this law, which would also include in its mandate violations under the two Optional Protocols.
 
The Committee Chairperson took up the particular vulnerabilities of children whose parents migrated and left them behind, often with grandparents, and asked about measures to protect them from trafficking and sexual exploitation.  What measures were envisaged to increase the proportion of Government resources reaching women and children in the field, rather than being used for salaries and operational costs?  It was commendable that children involved in prostitution were not considered criminals but victims, but the interpretation of this law by the police was questionable and needed to be improved.  The so-called orphanage tourism could open space for the exploitation of children; what measures were in place to address this issue?
 
In response, the delegation said that there were several measures in place to protect children whose parents migrated: one of the principal measures was the village and commune safety policy, jointly implemented by the local authorities and the people in the community in order to prevent offences and protect the children.  Further, there were Councils for women and children in each commune, charged with supporting and protecting women and children, while a pilot project had been set up in selected provinces which had set up a child protection network which enabled communication between the children.
 
By law, children involved in prostitution were not considered offenders but were seen as victims.  So far, no child had been arrested for prostitution; there were children arrested and fined for disturbance of public order.  There were indeed gaps in budgetary allocations to social affairs and efforts were ongoing to maximize the resources allocated to children. 
 
The Ministry of Social Affairs was strictly enforcing the policy on alternative care and on minimum standards for children in care; recently, a letter had been issued to close down 11 centres which had failed to comply with minimum standards.  All orphanages run by non-governmental organizations must sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government in order to operate; there were over 200 such organizations partnering with the Government.  The Government was also in the process of developing the de-institutionalization policy. 
 
The draft law on juvenile justice defined the procedure to be applied to children who committed offences.  The underlying principle was that of diversion, whereby the offenders were first referred to the community rather than to the court and justice system.   
 
Committee Experts asked whether the recruitment of children in the armed forces was criminalized and whether the recruitment of children under the age of 15 was considered a war crime.
 
The recruitment of children into the armed forces was prohibited, said the delegation.  If children falsified their birth certificates in order to enter the armed forces, this was an offence under the Penal Code.  Recruiters who knew that the papers were falsified were considered offenders and could be charged.  The law prohibited the recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the armed forces.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Chairperson and the Rapporteur for the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, noted the significant awareness and efforts of Cambodia to address trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and other offences described in the Optional Protocol.  Sometimes, efforts were not sufficiently resourced and the challenge was in implementing the laws and policies. 
 
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for the report of Cambodia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, thanked the delegation for the spirit of cooperation shown during this dialogue and expressed hope that the concerns of the Committee were well understood.  Mr. Gastaud recognized the progress made in the implementation of the Optional Protocol and encouraged Cambodia to step up the efforts to address outstanding challenges, including demining, through legislation and the allocation of adequate human and financial resources.
 
ITH RADY, Member of the Supreme Council of the Magistrate of Cambodia, in his closing remarks said that the discussion had provided many good ideas for the more effective implementation of programmes and thanked all stakeholders, especially the United Nations Children’s Fund, for their cooperation in advancing the rights of the child in the country.  Cambodia was committed to ensuring a safe and protective environment for children to live in harmony and constructive discussions served as a guide to everyone.
 
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