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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers the repot of Antigua and Barbuda

Committee on the Rights of the Child

29 May 2017

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the combined second to fourth periodic report of Antigua and Barbuda on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Maureen Hyman, Junior Minister in the Office of the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda and Parliamentary Secretary, started by reassuring the Committee that notwithstanding economic and technical challenges, Antigua and Barbuda was doing the best it could with the resources it had to ensure that children were cared for and developed to their full potential.  The Child Justice Act 2015 had a diversionary programme and the setting up of the Family Court was in the final stages.  The Status of Children Act had been adopted to remove any stigma associated with children born out of wedlock.  The Child (Care and Adoption) Act and the Child Justice Act were very progressive as they aimed to assist the child and the family in a holistic manner.  A number of programmes to deter children from coming into conflict with the law were in place, such as the Police Youth Intervention Initiative, and programmes to educate children and youth about alcohol and drug abuse were implemented in schools.

Committee Experts welcomed the Child Justice Act 2015 which contained many positive measures and raised issues with regard to its implementation, asking the delegation if the budget had been prepared and adopted, justices appointed and assessment centres established.  Experts were concerned that children as young as 15 could marry with parental consent, that corporal punishment was still permitted in schools and homes, and that the age of criminal responsibility remained at eight years and was thus among the lowest in the world.  The ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was welcomed, but there was a concern that laws on services and support for children with disabilities, as well as data and strategies were still absent.  The delegation was asked about mental health services available to children, why most alcohol and substance abuse awareness raising programmes were targeting primary schools, about measures taken to tackle the hazards and risks of environmental pollution, and about efforts to increase access to basic services for all children throughout the State territory.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Hyman thanked all Experts for their questions and said that it was through an interactive dialogue such as this that the situation of children in Antigua and Barbuda could improve.

Ann Marie Skelton, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, congratulated Antigua and Barbuda on the great strides made since the last review in 2004 and said that passing the laws was one very important step - another one was ensuring that budgets were allocated to implement the great intentions on the ground.  Care must be taken that children with disabilities were included in all data collection and that a national strategy for them was adopted.

The delegation of Antigua and Barbuda included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the Family and Social Services Division.

The Committee will reconvene in public on Tuesday, 30 May at 10 a.m., to consider the combined third to fifth periodic report of Cameroon under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/CMR/3-5).

Report

The combined second to fourth periodic report of Antigua and Barbuda can be read here: CRC/C/ATG/2-4.

Presentation of the Report

MAUREEN HYMAN, Junior Minister in the Office of the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda and Parliamentary Secretary, started by reassuring the Committee that notwithstanding economic and technical challenges, Antigua and Barbuda was doing the best it could with the resources it had to ensure that children were cared for and developed to their full potential.  The national human rights institute had not yet been established, and there was no human rights institute for children or for persons with disabilities.  The Government considered that, given the population size and limited resources of Antigua and Barbuda, it would be better served with one human rights body, with subcommittees dealing with specific groups.  The age of criminal responsibility would be increased to 12 in line with other members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.  The Child Justice Act 2015 had a diversionary programme; when juveniles were in conflict with the law, assessments and inquiries were conducted into the child’s background and family to ascertain what help, support and assistance could be given to the family to deter any recurrence of deviant behaviour.  If it appeared that other children in the family needed care and intervention, assistance and adequate support would be provided.  Police officers were empowered under the Domestic Violence Act to assist women and children at risk of harm and danger even if police assistance was refused. 

The setting up of the Family Court was in the final stages.  There was a Magistrate who dealt with family matters, and the court was held in a separate building from the regular Magistrate Court and it had its own administrative staff and orderlies.  A committee composed of attorneys, social workers, probation officers and other stakeholders had been set up to work on the family court rules and regulations.  There was a draft Family Bill.  The Status of Children Act had been adopted to remove any stigma associated with children born out of wedlock.  All children had equal status and the concept of legitimate and illegitimate children no longer existed.  The Child (Care and Adoption) Act and the Child Justice Act were very progressive as they aimed to assist the child and the family in a holistic manner: intervention meant assessing the family situation and not just the specific child who was presenting issues or problems.  A number of programmes to deter children from coming into conflict with the law were in place, such as the Police Youth Intervention Initiative, where police officers mentored the children referred by teachers or parents, and kept them on the correct path. 

Antigua and Barbuda participated in the Caribbean Community initiative to reduce violence in schools and communities.  Programmes to educate children and youth about alcohol and drug abuse were implemented in schools, such as the Breaking the Cycle in our Primary School, a five-week programme set up by the Crossroad Drug Rehabilitation Centre.  Police officers also continued to administer the DARE – Drug Awareness Resistance Education.  Antigua and Barbuda had laws to protect young people from sexual exploitation.  Sexual offences against underage girls were frowned upon and courts generally imposed custodial sentences on persons found guilty of rape, incest and sexual assault.  The names of victims of sexual assault could not be printed in the media and the name of the offender was not reported until the conviction.  In case of incest, there was no reporting of the offender’s name in order to protect the identity of the victim.

Questions from the Experts

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Vice Chairperson and Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, asked when the full legislation setting up the family code would be enacted and what training programmes in this specialized area would be delivered to judges and other professionals of the family court.  The Child Justice Act 2015 was welcomed as it contained many positive measures such as diversion and alternative discipline.  The Country Rapporteur asked a number of questions related to the implementation of the Act, such as whether the justices been appointed, whether assessment centres had been established and how many children had been referred for an assessment.

The National Child Protection Committee had been non-operational since 2014.  Had it ever been operational, and what had its functions and composition been? 

What was the child protection policy geared to and what were its aims?  The youth policy was in place and had been adopted after an extensive consultation with youth, but it had been defined in 2007 – what were the intentions concerning the updating of this policy?  What budget was available for the promotion of children rights, and child protection?

What were the intentions concerning the establishment of a body for children’s rights, which would also receive and address children’s complaints?

The age of marriage was set at 15 years with parental consent.  Were there any intentions to address this provision, and bring all other laws in line with the Convention as far as the definition of the child was concerned?

Christian prayers were carried out in schools at the beginning of the school day.  What would happen to a child who would refuse to participate on the grounds of different belief or religion?  Had there been any such cases?  Did the schools have a policy on this?    

What awareness raising programmes were in place, for the general public and children, to address the risks associated with the Internet?

With regard to violence against children, the delegation was asked when the provision permitting corporal punishment would be removed from the education act, thus specifically prohibiting ill-treatment and torture of children in the law.  There was a sexual offences unit in the police – how many cases involving children had been addressed by the unit, and what were the prosecution outcomes?

What happened to the child victim of incest, where the perpetrator was the father or another male relative living with the family – was the child removed from the family, or the perpetrator?

Other Committee Experts asked about appropriate and effective measures to implement the new Status of Children Act 2015, which had removed stigma and inequality suffered by children born out of wedlock. 

What was the intention concerning the extension of the pilot project on good schools.  How would corporal punishment in the family be addressed?  A significant number of laws had been adopted prior to the ratification of the Convention and they contained provisions on children – what was the practice of the courts in terms of directly invoking the Convention in their judgements and in particular the principle of the best interest of the child?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the legislation was very clear on the definition of the child, which was any person under the age of 18.  The maintenance of the child act took the definition of the child even further, stating that a child who was studying had the right to parental support until the age of 25.

Antigua and Barbuda was aware of the complexities in the establishment of the Family Court and it had been receiving support from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, including in training of the court staff, social workers and protection officers.

With regard to juvenile justice, the child assessment committee had been selected and would meet on 15 June.  The magistrates dealing with child and juvenile matters had been selected.  Assessments were done by the social workers or probation officers. 

The national child protection policy 2013 was still in its draft form.  The delegation explained that in Antigua and Barbuda, there was no specific budgetary allocation for children, but that each department used their budgets to fund child related activities.

As far as social workers and other professionals involved in work with children were concerned, 70 per cent had at least a first degree and a master degree, and they also regularly participated in training programmes by the United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Women, and other partners.

The marriage act was inherited from the colonial masters and was one of the laws which needed to be revised.  Despite the provision that marriage was allowed at the age of 15 with parental consent, child marriage was not an issue in the country.

The State was predominantly Christian and although there were other faiths in the country, this had never been a problem.  Children of other faiths did not have to participate in morning prayers in schools.

With regard to corporal punishment in schools, the delegation explained that only the head teacher could administer the punishment under certain conditions.  The national behaviour policy for students was being drafted and the changes in the educational act would be implemented with the provisions and principles of the Convention in mind.

There was no violence against children law, but rather a law prohibiting violence against persons.  The authorities took action whenever violence against children, including within the family, was detected.

It was seldom that a child who was a victim of incest was removed from the home; in 95 per cent of the cases it was the offender who was removed.

Sexual offences were being dealt with at the high court, and a lot of care was taken for young people to feel comfortable; they could give evidence by video, or the court could be cleared and only persons involved in the matter remained.  Media representatives were not allowed to release the names of children victims of sexual offences. 

A child advocate had been appointed to assist children in legal matters.

With regard to the implementation of the Status of Children Act, the Government tried to help where it could, but it could not afford to give paternity tests free of charge. 

Judges could invoke the Convention in court, they were also highly trained in the principle of the best interest of the child.

In follow-up questions, CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Vice Chairperson and Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, remarked that issues of concern in Antigua and Barbuda included domestic violence and child neglect, and asked about the prosecution of offenders.  Were there specific budget lines in sectoral budgets which defined allocations for children?  Were children told that they did not have to participate in the morning Christian services in schools?

The delegation said that participation in the morning assembly was between children and their parents, and that the school would respect the wishes of the family.  Further on budgets, it was explained that each sector was allocated a budget, but it was not possible to say which portion of that allocation went to children.  In terms of prosecution figures, it would be possible to provide the number of prosecutions brought under the domestic violence act, but it would be harder to get that number for cases of child neglect.

There were several agencies seeking to assist children who were victims of crimes or abuse, including the Family and Social Services Division, which provided counselling and psychological support to children, their parents and siblings.  The Division’s counsellors worked with the counsellors in schools and communities, to provide integrated and holistic services and support to the child.  The domestic violence agency also helped the child.  The victim impact report was a new tool which was being applied to sensitize the court to the ordeal of the victim.

Incest was not highly prevalent in the country; there had been several cases and they had been dealt with very harshly.

All villages had access to piped water, and water was available to people free of charge.

It was not possible to give a timetable for the establishment of the national human rights institution.  The delegation could not confirm that the Ombudsman for children would be set up as the Government had not made up its mind. 

With regard to the dissemination of the provisions of the Convention, the delegation welcomed the suggestion to contact the United Nations Children’s Fund for a child-friendly version of the Convention to be distributed in schools.

In terms of mandatory reporting, the delegation stressed that all medical staff, teachers, social workers and any other professionals in contact with children had an obligation to report violence against children.  The child advocate had the duty to act in the child’s best interest and they had the discretion to decide how to represent the child; judges were always willing to hear the child.  The very first case involving the child advocate was being heard in the court today, 29 May.

In the next round of follow-up questions, Experts noted, concerning the promotion of the help line, that it was important to help children break the cycle of silence about abuse, especially if it happened inside the family.  Could the delegation explain what could be done to ensure that there was a father’s name on the birth certificate of all children?

Ideally, the father’s name should be on a birth certificate.  If the mother refused to say who the father was, it was difficult for the Government to find out.  In such circumstances, the birth certificate would be issued with a blank space for the father’s name, regardless of how stigmatizing it would be for the child.  

Questions from the Experts

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, welcomed the enactment of the new Child (Care and Adoption) Act 2015 that came into force in October 2016.  She asked whether a specific budget for its implementation had been adopted to fund new services introduced by the law, such as the establishment of the child care and protection system, foster care and adoption. 

How many social workers were there in the country, was the number sufficient to implement all the laws which called for the involvement of a social worker, and if not, what was being done to increase the number of social workers? 

Would foster care placements now be formalized and subsidized through financial support to foster carers, and would the amount be sufficient to cover the costs of childcare?  The new law filled the void that had previously been of concern to the Committee, namely adoption, both domestic and intercountry adoption.  Were there any public campaigns to encourage citizens and residents to adopt children?  What were the intentions concerning the ratification of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption?

With regard to the illicit transfer of children, Antigua and Barbuda had ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Return of Children, which had been used in at least one instance.  Would the Government ratify the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction?

The Child (Care and Adoption) Act provided for a proper regulatory framework for the reporting, investigation and management of child abuse and neglect. 

Ms. Skelton congratulated Antigua and Barbuda on its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but noted the lack of laws on services and support for children with disabilities.  Was a strategy on children with disabilities in place, what data on children with disabilities was available, and what were the plans concerning inclusive education?

The Committee was concerned about children with mental health care needs and the Country Co-Rapporteur asked whether there was a time limit on children with disabilities housed at the children’s ward of a general hospital.  Were outpatient mental health services available to children and adolescents throughout the country?

It was noted with appreciation that universal primary education was already in place in Antigua and Barbuda and that universal secondary education had been planned to be achieved by 2013-2014.  Had it been achieved?  Had adequate funding been made available for early childhood education to shift away from reliance on private providers to a State-funded system?

Turning to juvenile justice, Antigua and Barbuda should be proud of the enactment of the Child Justice Act of 2015, which had entered into force in October 2016, a progressive piece of legislation which abolished capital punishment and life imprisonment and brought all offenders under the age of 18 under its purview. 

Unfortunately, the law failed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which at 8 years of age remained among the lowest in the world.  Why was there no attempt to raise this age when enacting a brand new law?  The Act did provide some protection for children between 8 and 14 years, as the State had to prove they had criminal capacity by conducting an assessment by a suitable person – who were those “suitable persons”?

The Act had introduced diversion and alternative punishment into the law.  What diversion programmes were being developed, and were they available throughout the country?  The law limited diversion to children aged 8 to 12 – why was there an upper limit to diversion, and why 12 years of age when children under the age of 14 were presumed not to have criminal responsibility until otherwise proven?   

What training on the Child Justice Act had there been for police, probation officers, prosecutors and magistrates? 

Were there legal provisions to protect the rights of child victims of sexual offences in line with the United Nations guidelines on justice for child victims and witnesses, such as special measures to testify via a closed circuit television?

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Vice Chairperson and Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, inquired about the mental health of children and services available to them. 

Why were most alcohol and substance abuse awareness raising programmes targeting primary schools – why was this the case and what programmes were available in secondary schools?  How was the use of marijuana addressed in awareness raising programmes and what actions were being taken against dealers?  Were there any studies into the links between substance and alcohol abuse and offenses, criminal or sexual alike?

Was Antigua and Barbuda considering the ratification of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure?

Other Experts commended Antigua and Barbuda for adopting the United Nations guidelines for information and communication technology in education and asked what measures were in place to ensure that it conformed to local conditions and that all children, irrespective of their socio-economic background, had equal access to those technologies.  Had any assessments been conducted on the impact – both positive and negative - of information and communication technology on the quality of teaching and learning, and what were those findings?  What was being done to protect children from online predators?

What measures were being taken in the area of environmental health and to tackle the hazards and risks of environmental pollution?  What policies were being pursued to provide decent housing with appropriate cooking facilities, ventilation and waste management utilities?  Could the delegation explain the efforts to increase access to basic services, and whether the intake of food and micronutrients for children under the age of five was sufficient.

Another Expert remarked that the rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion were rather high and asked about access to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to information and contraceptives.  There were over 2,700 people living with HIV/AIDS, including some 100 children.  What programmes and services were in place for HIV orphans and children living with HIV/AIDS?

What was the vaccination rate in the country, was everyone - including migrants - inoculated?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised about child neglect and abuse, the delegation said that the root causes were poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, the high number of children in a family, and others.

The Amazing Grace facility was no longer in use, instead, there was another facility that catered for children with mental health problems and also for abandoned children or children whose parents migrated and who had no family to take care of them.

On inclusive education, there was a school for the visually and hearing impaired, which shared the building with a mainstream school.  The Council of Persons with Disabilities was ensuring that new construction was accessible and there were plans to make existing buildings accessible by building ramps or elevators. 

Children with mental health issues could access services in local health centres, and only if local centres were incapable to deliver the required service would the child be transferred to a hospital.

Antigua and Barbuda aimed for universal secondary education, and this approach was being implemented in stages.

With regard to the assessment of the criminal capacity of a child, various elements must be taken into consideration, including age, socio-economic background, school performance, types of the crime, and others.  Suitable persons to conduct the assessment were social workers, probation officers, school counsellors and teachers.

The Ministry of Social Transformation was committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

With regard to the foster care programme, the new law had formalized the process which had already been in place.  Some foster parents did not need allowances, but those that did could apply for assistance. 

There were not enough social workers and probation officers in Antigua and Barbuda.  

Residential homes for girls received State subsidies.  There were unfortunately no care institutions for boys, with the exception of training schools.

There were several programmes to assist low-income families with issues such as school uniforms, school meals, and school book loans.

The programmes to raise awareness about the harms of alcohol and substance use were run primarily in primary schools, partly because of lack of resources and partly because the strategy was to educate the children as early as possible.

The delegation explained HIV/AIDS awareness raising activities and said that there were programmes in schools, where voluntary counselling and testing was available in full confidentiality.  On the World AIDS Day, there was a street celebration with information and education activities and voluntary testing possibilities.

All children born in the country had to have a health card, in which all vaccinations were registered.  All children entering school had to have up-to-date vaccinations.

Under the Government-Assisted Technical Education (GATE) programme, schools had received Wi-Fi enabled computers which the children and teachers could use to learn and teach.  Inappropriate sites on the Internet were blocked, so that the use of computers was limited to educational purposes.

The environmental protection act had been enacted in 2015 to address issues of environmental hazards and climate change.  Antigua and Barbuda was not a manufacturing country so there were not many air polluters in the country.  All new tourist developments had to prepare an environmental impact assessment study as well as risk assessment given the fact that the country was vulnerable to hurricanes.

As for waste management, the Government collected it from villages once a week and from towns on a daily basis.

Cases under which a child would be removed from home due to deprivation or inappropriate environment were not frequent; the child would be taken away only if necessary and for the shortest period of time.  The approach taken was to work with families to assist them and support them in solving their problems.

A parental empowerment programme had been put in place to support parents in their parenting role and developing a relationship with their children.  Antigua and Barbuda had requested support from the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States to put in place a national parenting programme.

The boys training school had been put in place for boys in conflict with the law; over time, because of lack of care institutions for boys, some children who were in need of care and protection were put in the same institution, which was not the most appropriate approach.  The way forward was to separate children in conflict with the law and children in need of care, and to put children in need of protection in foster families.

The law on juvenile justice was inherited from the colonial powers.  Juveniles were only tried as adults if it was in the best interest of justice. 

Concluding Remarks

MAUREEN HYMAN, Junior Minister in the Office of the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda and Parliamentary Secretary, thanked all Experts for their questions and said that it was through an interactive dialogue such as this one that the situation of children in Antigua and Barbuda could improve.

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, congratulated Antigua and Barbuda on the great strides since the last review in 2004 and the implementation of a number of the Committee’s concluding observations.  Passing the laws was one very important step, another was ensuring that budgets were allocated to implement the great intentions on the ground.  There was a need to try different strategies to encourage people choose the professions of social workers and probation officers.  The issue of children with disabilities was a concern; care must be taken that they were included in all data collection and that a national strategy for children with disabilities was adopted.  Often the smallness of a State was considered to be a disadvantage, but Antigua and Barbuda was setting a positive example and was showing a commitment to reach all the children in the country.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and sent the Committee’s regards to the children of Antigua and Barbuda.

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