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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers the report of Bahrain

GENEVA (21 January 2019) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Bahrain on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Jameel Mohamed Ali Humaidan, Minister of Labour and Social Development of Bahrain, introducing the report, said that the National Strategy for Children 2013-2017, based on the principles set forth by the Convention, had been extended to 2023 and stressed the adoption of a number of laws to guarantee the rights of the child, including on births, deaths, education and child labour, which was strictly prohibited, while the Child Law N°37 of 2012 had become the primary reference for all other laws.  The Bahraini child enjoyed a relatively high standard of living: the country ranked 43rd on the Human Development Index, up by 13.4 per cent since 1990; life expectancy at birth had increased by over 4 years and now stood at 76; the average years of study was 14.5 years; and the national income had increased by 10.5 per cent.  The child helpline had been launched in 2011 for children and third parties to report violence and maltreatment, the National Institution for Human Rights had developed independent complaint mechanisms, including from children, and a juvenile court had been set up.  In closing, the Minister reiterated Bahrain’s commitment to continue to protect children, benefiting from the cooperation with the Committee and non-governmental organizations in achieving the common objectives.

In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts said that it had been eight years since Bahrain’s last review and remarked that it was not really possible to congratulate the country on the progress made because the real progress was pending: the provision waiving the criminal responsibility of a rapist who married the victim had not been abolished, the lenient punishment for honour crimes had not been revoked, and the executions of those who had committed a crime under the age of 18 continued.  The draft law on children in conflict with the law, once adopted, would be a very good law, but until then, the juvenile justice law of 1971 applied, which the Committee was greatly concerned about as it set the age of criminal responsibility at seven and defined juveniles as children aged seven to 14.  Allegations of torture and cruel and degrading treatment against children, and their arbitrary detention, extrajudicial arrests and incommunicado detention were another concern, Experts said, asking about the work of the special investigation unit set up in 2012 and the activities of courts and prosecutors in establishing accountability.  The delegation was asked about the work of civil society organizations which dealt specifically with children’s rights and reports of harassment of child rights defenders; steps taken to eliminate child marriage and increase the legal age of marriage to 18 for both women and men; and concrete measures to prohibit and eliminate discrimination against certain groups of children in law and in practice, especially children born to foreign fathers.

Clarence Nelson, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bahrain, in his concluding remarks, urged Bahrain to expedite, as quickly as possible, the pending legislative reforms, including on correctional justice and the nationality of children of foreign fathers, and to submit the overdue reports under the Optional Protocols. 

Mr. Humaidan, in his concluding remarks, said that this dialogue was part of Bahrain’s commitment to constantly assess the situation and find ways to improve it. 

Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for all their answers and wished them good luck in their endeavour to be a shiny example in the region.

The delegation of Bahrain consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission, Supreme Council for Women, and the Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 22 January at 10 p.m. to review the initial report of the Czech Republic under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/CZE/1).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Bahrain (CRC/C/BHR/4-6).

Presentation of the Report

JAMEEL MOHAMED ALI HUMAIDAN, Minister of Labour and Social Development of Bahrain, introducing the report, stressed the attention that Bahrain accorded to childhood and bringing up an educated and informed generation capable of advancing the future of the country ably and efficiently.  The efforts in the field of childhood were based on the National Action Charter, Bahrain’s Constitution and laws, and its international human rights obligations.  The Constitution reaffirmed that the family was the basis of the society based on religion, morality and patriotism, while the law preserved its legal entity, strengthened family bonds and values, protected motherhood and children, and cared for young people, protecting them from exploitation and neglect.  The National Strategy for Children 2013-2017 and its action plan were built on the principles set forth by the Convention and were based on four main axes: the right to health and survival; the right to education, development and capacity-building; the right to protection; and the right to participation.  Seventy-nine per cent of the activities contained in the action plan had been implemented, which meant that Bahrain had been able to redraw the map of childhood and unite efforts related to the implementation of all that was in the best interest of the child.  The National Strategy for Children had been extended to 2023 to allow for the completion of the action plan and so enhance the achieved results.

Turning to the achievements in protecting the rights set out in the Convention, the Minister stressed the adoption of laws to guarantee the rights of the child, including in the areas of births and deaths, nursery licencing, education, labour, juveniles and family custody, while the Child Law N°37 of 2012 had become the primary reference for all other laws.  The Bahraini child enjoyed a relatively high standard of living, the Minister continued, as Bahrain ranked 43rd on the Human Development Index, which had risen by 13.4 per cent between 1990 and 2017.  Life expectancy at birth had increased by over 4 years and now stood at 76, the average years of study had increased by 3.4 years and was now 14.5 years, and the national income had increased by 10.5 per cent.  Child labour was strictly prohibited, and regulations for the employment of juveniles had been developed, prohibiting their illegal work and work in 42 professions and activities that were considered harmful. 

The child helpline had been launched in 2011 for children and third parties to report violence, maltreatment or danger, which also provided guidance and referral to relevant authorities.   The National Institution for Human Rights had developed independent mechanisms and means of receiving and verifying complaints, including from children.  A juvenile court had been set and its courtroom arranged in a manner suitable for the age group.  Finally, the Minister stressed that Bahrain’s membership in the Human Rights Council 2019-2021 allowed an international recognition of the country’s human rights efforts.  He reiterated Bahrain’s commitment to continue to protect children, benefiting from the cooperation with the Committee and non-governmental organizations in achieving the common objectives.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bahrain, expressed hope for a fruitful dialogue that would be to the benefit of Bahrain’s children.  Noting Bahrain’s interest to develop and update the system of laws on children and youth and bring them in line with international standards, he asked about the status of the Correctional Justice Bill and what measures were in place to ensure juvenile justice until the bill was passed into law.  The age of criminal responsibility in Bahrain was very low, only seven years, which the Committee was very concerned about, the Co-Rapporteur said, asking if Bahrain intended to raise it. 

Turning to the policy and institutional framework, Mr. Clarence asked whether an evaluation of the National Strategy for Children 2013-2017 had been held and what the findings were.  The National Committee for Childhood seemed to have been very successful in the past, but it was not clear what its status, functioning and resources were.  The Co-Rapporteur asked whether the Government budget identified resources spent on children and child protection, about a tracking mechanism for child-related expenditure, and whether there was a special unit in the national human rights institution that dealt with child matters.  Was the consent of a parent or a guardian still required for a child to lodge a complaint with the national human rights institution? 

The Committee had not received much information about the situation of children’s rights from civil society organizations, Mr. Clarence said, asking about such organizations which dealt specifically with children’s rights and issues, and raising concern about reports that child rights defenders were sometimes harassed and even detained.

The Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation to inform on the gradual steps being taken to eliminate child marriage, including awareness raising activities, and on the concrete measures to prohibit and eliminate discrimination against certain groups of children in law and in practice, especially children born to foreign fathers.  For those and minority children, nationality was an important issue – what was the status of the bill on nationality?  What could the delegation say about stateless children?

The Committee was concerned about the very high death rate of children due to traffic accidents – what measures were being taken to address this problem?

The delegation was asked about mechanisms in place to consult with children, the detention of children participating in demonstrations, and the legislation and attitudes concerning the right of children to express their opinion.

Acknowledging the laws against torture and ill treatment and the establishment of the special investigation unit in 2012 to investigate allegations of torture and cruel and degrading treatment against children, the Co-Rapporteur raised concern about reports of the detention and incarceration of minors, and the use of torture to extract confessions from children, including for charges of rioting and terrorism.  Could the delegation comment on those issues, inform on the activities of the special investigation unit, and explain what courts and prosecutors were doing to establish accountability?  What was being done to abolish corporal punishment?

Domestic violence had been identified as another issue of concern, Mr. Clarence continued, asking for data on investigations, prosecutions, and sanctions under the Domestic Violence Act 2015.  How was Bahrain changing attitudes and raising awareness about domestic violence and what was the situation with shelters?  When would Bahrain remove from the Penal Code the provision that removed criminal responsibility from perpetrators of rape if they married their victims?  Were helplines available and how were children informed about how to access them?

Replies by the Delegation

In their response to the questions on the country’s legislative framework, the delegation stressed that Bahrain had speedily adopted a number of laws related to the rights and protection of the child, adding that all those were mentioned in detail in the report and its annexes.

The Government had widely opened its doors to civil society organizations so that they could contribute to the development of the society and the protection of children; it had developed a programme and allocated financial resources to motivate such organizations to undertake programmes for children and mothers.  Particular attention was being given to supporting non-governmental organizations working with children with disabilities.  

The Centre for the Protection of the Child was in place, as was the children’s helpline which was free of charge.  Learning from other countries, Bahrain had developed programmes to inform children about that helpline and to provide a protective and safe environment for children using it to report violations and abuses. 

The national institution for human rights functioned in accordance with the Paris Principles; it monitored and received complaints of human rights abuses, including from children and persons with disabilities.  Recently, its financial and human resources had been increased.  The institution had opened and manned a free international hotline for children to use without the requirement of the consent of a parent or guardian.  The delegation rejected the reports of harassment and detention of human rights defenders, including those working on children’s rights, stressing that the Government had created an environment in which they could operate with full freedom, and in which all violations of their rights were dealt with as prescribed by the law.

Bahrain was keen to reform and rehabilitate juvenile detainees, and was learning from the practices of other countries the use of alternative measures rather than detention and conditional sentences; the incarceration of juveniles could only be pronounced by a judge.  The Nasser Centre for Rehabilitation and Vocational Training, set up in 2015, aimed at creating a favourable environment and provided certificates in vocational and secondary education.  There were educational programmes which taught critical and independent thinking and human rights and duties, rehabilitation programmes for drug users, and continuing education programmes.  Juvenile detainees, especially those aged 15 to 17, were kept separately from adults, and upon an entry into a facility, were immediately informed of their rights.  There had been no complaints from juvenile inmates, while the procedure for juvenile arrest and questions and juvenile detention had been put in place and was strictly adhered to.

With regard to correctional justice, a delegate explained that Bahrain had studied the practice of other countries and had hired experts on the matter.  The Correctional Justice Act was under preparation by the Government; it proposed that the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 15 and also provided for the establishment of a judicial committee for juveniles that included a juvenilia judge, juvenile prosecutor and a social worker.

In 2016, the age of marriage had been raised to 16 for both boys and girls.  Girls under the age of 16 could be married by a decision of the Sharia court after it made sure that the marriage was appropriate.

The National Strategy for Children had been extended to 2023, another delegate said, informing the Committee that 114 mechanisms, programmes and initiatives had been set up for its implementation; each had its own measurements and indicators and ways to evaluate to what extent the targets had been reached.  The National Committee for Childhood was still in place and was very active.  Resources for children were included in the budget of each Ministry.

A lot of effort was ongoing to ensure the social inclusion of children with disabilities, which required the work of many specialists to support these children in overcoming their challenges.  The biggest complex in the Middle East would be opened in 2019 to provide comprehensive services to children with all kinds of disabilities.

With regard to the right of a rapist to marry his victim, the delegation said that a study into article 353 of the Penal Code on the matter had concluded that this should be abolished; the amendment had been prepared and was currently before Parliament.

The Supreme Council of Women worked to preserve the unity of the family and protect children, and was a major guarantor of women’s rights and equality.  The Council had prepared the national strategy for the protection of women from domestic violence in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, which presented a blueprint for national action in this domain and was aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.  The strategy put accent on preventing domestic violence by improving the sense of security of women and girls, engendering a positive perception of women in the society, and creating a positive environment free from violence.

Bahraini children born to foreign fathers were equal to other children in terms of access to basic services and specialized services for children with disabilities.  The law did not differentiate between Bahraini and non-Bahraini children in the right to develop and access services. 

The use of children in demonstrations, acts of violence and any other acts that could harm their lives and development was prohibited, a delegate said, stressing that not a single child had been arrested for taking part in the 2011 demonstrations.  In response to those events, a special investigation unit had been set up, and this was now a part of the past, even though some organizations still brought it up.

Low-income families received income transfers and old-age pension contributions, while families with children with disabilities received additional financial support.  All this was in an effort to strengthen the protective family environment for children.
 
Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts asked the delegation to explain the process involved in authorizing the marriage of girls under the age of 16, provide data on children aged 16 to 18 who had entered a marriage, and inform whether there were any initiatives in the executive or the society to increase the legal age of marriage to 18.  What were the obstacles to submitting reports to the Optional Protocols that Bahrain had ratified several years ago?  What were the root causes of violence in the family?

The delegation was asked about decision-making in alternative care matters, how the best interest of the child was ensured, whether the child and the parents had the right to be heard, and if the decision could be reversed.

Addressing health-related issues, an Expert remarked that Bahrain had reported 3,100 children with disabilities and asked if this figure was the result of a survey.  What support was available to children with severe intellectual disabilities and was it possible for them to access free of charge orthopaedic and other assistive devices?  What was being done to reduce the very high rate of premature births and to stem the scourge of sickle cell disease and anaemia?  Budgetary allocation for health was rather low, only 7.7 per cent of the national budget – would this be increased? 

JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bahrain, remarked that Bahrain’s report made very little reference to the mental health of children and youth, wondering what was being done to tackle issues such as depression, suicide, eating disorders, and other psychosocial and emotional problems.  In terms of treatment, was the preference given to the institutional or the family environment?  Breastfeeding rates were very low – what was being done to encourage more women to breastfeed and would Bahrain adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes?

An Expert raised concern about hidden costs of education and asked whether education support was available to all children, including non-nationals and stateless children?  Another concern was related to the trend of privatization of primary and secondary education; how did the quality of education in public schools compare to private ones?

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, remarked that it had been eight years since Bahrain’s last review by this Committee, and said that it was not really possible to congratulate the country on progress made, because the real progress was pending: the provision waiving criminal responsibility of a rapist who married the victim had not been abolished, the lenient punishment for honour crimes had not been revoked, and the executions of those who had committed a crime under the age of 18 continued, the last person being executed in 2017.  The draft law on children in conflict with the law, once adopted, would be a very good law, but would it be adopted as proposed and what system was in place interim; until then, the Committee had to consider the juvenile justice law of 1971 as the positive law, and this law set the age of criminal responsibility at seven years of age and defined juveniles as children aged seven to 14 years of age. 

In 2017, Bahrain had been reviewed by the Committee against Torture and had undergone a cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, during which a number of concerns had been identified, including arbitrary detention, extrajudicial arrests and incommunicado detention of children, as well as the denial of access to lawyers and family for children detained in police stations and the refusal by the police to provide information about persons they detained.  Furthermore, there were still reports of torture.  What tangible and concrete steps had Bahrain taken to address those serious issues?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to measures to ensure health care and education, the delegation explained that all children could enjoy high quality medical care without discrimination.  Infant and maternal mortality had been reduced, while several programmes for adolescent health had been launched for the period 2016-2025, in line with the Bahrain Vision, the World Health Organization’s guidelines, and the Sustainable Development Goals.  A reproductive health programme and another programme to prevent and reduce obesity had been launched, and vaccination coverage was 100 per cent.

Education was free of charge for all boys and girls and all forms of discrimination against girls in school had been removed.  There was an advisor in every school who dealt with behavioural issues and maintained the relationship with families.  Curricula contained a citizenship programme to promote peace, tolerance and cultural diversity and so contribute to the prevention of extremism.  The Schools of the Future Initiative had been established in 2004 to improve the quality of education in the country and had been extended in 2014.  In 2016, the United Nations Children’s Fund had ranked Bahrain 26th in terms of educational indicators and 34th as far as the use of the Internet in schools was concerned.

Special attention was provided to children with disabilities, who had free access to all health, pedagogical and educational services to enable them to fully participate in all walks of life.  There were 16 Government-sponsored specialized centres that provided services to this group of children, as well as new private institutes, which the Government would support in delivering services to children with disabilities.  In December 2017, Bahrain had passed the decision to support families with children with severe disabilities by providing two hours of paid care work per day to assist them in caring for their children, while Act 4 of 2016 concerning public services had been amended to provide paid leave to parents who had to care for children with cancer.

There were 3,100 children with disabilities in Bahrain.  The You Are Not Alone Centre worked to register all people with any kind of impairment: once a person contacted the Centre, a medical board would conduct an assessment, and the person would be provided with an identity card which provided access to a range of services.  The Centre had received 11,000 cases to date, of which 3,100 were children with disabilities.  All persons with disabilities received a monthly grant of US$ 265, including children with disabilities.

The Family Council Centres provided counselling and advice to all members of the family – including children – in order to maintain the unity of families and to follow up on the situation of children after a divorce.  Those centres were often run by non-governmental organizations and were licensed by the Government.  A number of centres for the welfare of abandoned children had been set up; they cared for children abandoned by the parents and children of unknown parents who were immediately given the nationality, placed in the centre, and supported until graduation from university.

In follow-up questions, a Committee Expert referred to the question of custody under the personal status law and asked whether it would be possible to change the law to ensure that mothers and fathers shared the responsibility of bringing up the children, especially after the divorce, and to prevent that children were removed from the custody of their mothers after a certain age.

The Supreme Council for Women played an important role in protecting families which were the principal caregiver, the delegation replied, explaining that it implemented programmes for social and economic protection and achieving decent incomes for families, all with the best interest of children in mind.  The national strategy to protect women from domestic violence was closely linked to family unity and stability and was a preventive one, with over one third of the programmes focusing on prevention.  There was a very low incidence rate of domestic violence, which was not a widespread phenomenon.

A committee had been set up, composed of Sharia judges and Sharia legal scholars of all denominations; guided by the Sharia, it had prepared the unified family law which applied to all the people in the country, be they Sunni or Shi’a. 

In terms of alternative care, if a family was broken, a public prosecutor would assess the family to ascertain whether it could provide an adequate environment for the child, and if not, the child would be put in alternative care centre, until the family was rehabilitated and was able to take the child back.

Three years ago, an initiative to promote adolescent health, including mental health, had been launched in schools, with clear referral mechanisms to primary and specialist health care.  Mental health had been expanded into primary health care to overcome the stigma associated with psychiatric hospitals, the delegation explained, adding that clear guidelines existed for the admission of a child to a mental health hospital.

Family courts had been inaugurated as independent courts in 2018 and represented a lynchpin in the juvenile justice system and the system of the protection of children and their rights.  Bahrain was dedicated to inaugurating a specialized regional support centre which would monitor the situation of children’s rights in the region and serve as an early warning mechanism.  The Government was determined to adopt the law on correctional justice.

As for the steps taken to address the high number of children’s deaths in traffic accidents, a delegate said that Law 23 of 2014 on traffic circulation had been promulgated and was being strictly implemented, while sanctions for the use of mobile phones had been made more stringent and cameras were now covering half of the road network which had allowed for a 40 per cent drop in the number of traffic accidents.  Awareness raising campaigns had been developed to promote the safe road usage culture and reduce the number of traffic accidents.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was now incorporated within the guidelines of the organization that monitored the status and quality of education in Bahrain; the organization was the body in charge of evaluating all educational institutions and schools.  Children were supported in all educational stages in public and private schools, and there were clubs in schools and summer camps.  For more than 10 years, the Ministry of Education had been running programmes enabling children to express their opinions regarding their life in school, and it had an annual programme for secondary level students which focused on fostering girls’ participation and freedom of expression, including through the Youth Parliament.

Primary and secondary education were guaranteed, universal and free of charge, continued the delegation, and students had the right to free school transport, while there were academic centres for gifted children.  Children in conflict with the law who were serving their sentences in youth detention centres continued their education and participated in State exams, and had the right to re-join their schools after the sentence was served.  Bahrain encouraged investments in private crèches and schools, which were accessible to all children, regardless of their socio-economic status.  Dropout rates in 2017/2018 were over 7 per cent and the department for compulsory education worked with dropout children to support their return to school. 

The delegation reaffirmed that there was no discrimination against women in schools and curricula and stressed that the students were taught the values and roles of both women and men in society, equal citizenship of men and women, and human rights, peaceful coexistence and respect for cultural diversity. 

All jobs were open to both women and men, including in the education sector, and there were no jobs reserved for men only – the prohibition of employment of women to some harsh jobs had been removed with recent legislative amendments.  There was full and equal opportunity for women and men in employment, and currently, women represented 39 per cent of the labour force, and 51 per cent in the Government.

Pregnant women in detention had the right to keep their child with them for a period of two years, which could be extended to three if the women so wished.  Afterwards, the child would be placed either with the family or in a welfare centre where he or she would be adequately cared for free of charge.  The mother had the right to regular visitation, which could not be suspended.  Only illness could prevent the mother from visiting the child.

Citizenship could be withdrawn by a judicial decision only, based on the constitutional provisions, namely in the case of high treason.  Revoking the citizenship could only affect the offending individual, and not his or her children or other members of the family, who continued to be Bahraini citizens.

In a follow-up comment, RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, remarked that when talking about Sharia in connection with custody, inheritance, and penal legislation, Bahrain should stress that it was its own interpretation of Sharia.  As an example, she noted that only seven out of 22 countries implementing Sharia laws had the death penalty for children. 

The delegation responded by stressing that 58 countries abided by Sharia law, not 22, and that international obligations operated on the principle of the mutual respect and appreciation of everyone’s culture and religion.  Sharia was not an issue of interpretation since the Holy Koran had set out the rules.

Concluding Remarks

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Bahrain, in concluding remarks thanked the delegation and reminded of the outstanding questions, in particular the activities of the special investigation unit and the issue of corporal punishment.  The Rapporteur urged Bahrain to expedite, as quickly as possible, the pending legislative reforms, including on correctional justice and the nationality of children of foreign fathers, and to submit the overdue reports under the Optional Protocols. 

JAMEEL MOHAMED ALI HUMAIDAN, Minister of Labour and Social Development of Bahrain, concluded by thanking the Committee Experts and stressed that this dialogue was part of Bahrain’s commitment to constantly assess the situation and find ways to improve it.  The Minister recalled that Bahrain had voluntarily ratified the Convention in order to benefit from international experience in improving its domestic situation, and in that sense, it had received important support by the Committee. 

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, in closing, thanked the delegation for all their answers and wished them good luck in their endeavour to be a shiny example in the region.

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