Presentation of the Report
CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister of Home Affairs of Nauru, introducing the report, said that in the history, the Nauruan population had been twice reduced to less than one thousand people, first in 1920 due to an influenza epidemic, and later following World War II, when only 737 Nauruans had survived Japanese captivity. Nauru was one of the world’s smallest independent, democratic States. Ms. Scotty informed that the Government, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, had completed a review of the child protection system. That review encompassed all children and saw the enactment of a specific legislation dedicated to the promotion and protection of children. In 2015, Nauru had established the Child Protection Services Division within the Ministry of Home Affairs. Eight positions had been established and provided a budget, dealing exclusively with matters relating to children, and four had been filled thus far. Support to the Division of Child Protection Services was provided by the Domestic Violence Unit of the Nauru Police Force, whose mandate was to investigate report and respond to the victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, Connect had seconded two child protection exerts to assist the Child Protection Services with its capacity development initiatives.
Ms. Scotty informed that the Government had also made significant progress in the area of law reform. It had passed the Child Protection and Welfare Act in 2016, the Cyber Crimes Act in 2015, the Adoption (Amendment) Act in 2015, the Nauru Citizenship (Amendment) Act in 2015, the Refugee Act in 2012, the Asylum Seekers (Regional Processing Centre) Act in 2012, the Education (Amended) Act in 2015, and the Interpretation Act in 2011. All those contributed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights in different circumstances. In addition, the Government had put in place policies that promoted the rights of children, specifically promoting the interest of girls and other vulnerable groups. The courts had applied the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in several cases, including the case of the
Republic of Nauru v Jacko Gadeanag
, in which the accused had pleaded guilty to indecent treatment of girls under 17, in the case of
R v Ezra Akibwib
,where the accused had been convicted after trial for abuse of his nine-year old niece, and the case of
R v Namo Daniel
, where the accused had been convicted. The courts in Nauru had developed a child friendly court system, whereby the interest of the child was paramount.
The Division of Child Protection, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Public Defender’s Office, the Police, the Division of Women’s Affairs, the Family and Community Affairs, Youth Affairs, the Department of Education, the Department of Multicultural Affairs, and the Department of Health were all key Government departments that worked on promoting and protecting children’s rights. A 24-hour hotline with the Child Protection Division and Victims Support Service was in place, and it allowed for victims of abuse to reach and receive assistance when the need arose. In relation to early childhood development, seven community play centres were in place, the main aim of which was to provide early childhood education. Ms. Scotty also informed on the status of refugee and asylum seeker children, for which the Government had established the Department of Multicultural Affairs, and on the situation of children with disabilities, which were a priority for the Government of Nauru. She regretted that the lack of financial and technical support was a barrier to furthering the work on children’s rights nationally. Questions by Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Nauru, said that the presentation of the report was long overdue, but late was better than never. He commended the 2015 Crimes Act which criminalized new offences, ensuring the protection of children. He also commended the 2016 Child Welfare Act. Could the delegation confirm that both acts were in force? Would the Government be punishing child offence by police officers? What was the status of the bill which addressed domestic violence? Could information be provided on the Guardianship of Children Act? Had it been harmonized with the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Had a Public Offender been appointed yet, asked the Expert. What guarantees were there that the proposals by the Committee on the Rights of the Child would be accepted? Had support been sought from tribal groups and had children been involved?
Was there a national strategy to protect the rights of children? Were there mechanisms that coordinated the rights of children?
Question was asked on what was being done to inform marginalized children of their rights.
Was any training conducted for police, judiciary, members of Parliament, principles of schools and other stakeholders, in relation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
The Committee was concerned about reports that some international organizations were subject to criminalization, as well as regarding the fact that visa fees were abnormally high, in particular with regard to researchers visiting the country to do research on children’s rights.
BERNARD GASTAUD, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Nauru, noted that children accounted for 40 percent of the population of Nauru. Having in mind that there were no criteria for ethnic or other minorities, were there any plans to revise those provisions in the Constitution, he asked.
The Expert was also concerned that discrimination had been reported, leading to problems of access to health care, especially with regard to refugee children, children with disabilities, and members of the Chinese minority.
Regarding the rights of children and the environment, had the Government taken stock of the situation and, if so, what were the results? Allegedly, the phosphate mine had been used up and led to soil degradation. What was being done to make the soil fertile again? Regarding water pollution, what was being done to prevent asbestos pollution?
Question was asked on the existence of any structures for dialogue apart from participation in the Youth Parliament in 2015.
Was birth registration compulsory and, if not, were children who were not registered considered stateless? What happened to children of refugees or asylum seekers and what were their possibilities of access to nationality?
On freedom of expression, the law on cybercrime was a positive development, however freedom of expression was not specifically enshrined in any text. Additionally, freedom to information was very limited, according to information the Committee had received. Was freedom of assembly a right that was guaranteed? Had the death penalty been abolished? Corporal punishment seemed to be frequently used in the refugee centers and centers for asylum seekers. More information was requested in that regard.
Another Expert expressed her concern regarding family violence, in spite of legal amendments. What was of particular concern was the attitude towards family violence. Was sexual offence an accepted part of culture and, if so, what was being done to change that behavior? Had the Child Protection Analysis been made public and, if not, why?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation informed that the Child Protection Act and Welfare Act of 2016 and the Crimes Act of 2015 were both in force. Concerning the establishment of a particular unit within the police force, that was a point well noted and would be followed-up. The budget of the Child Protection Unit was only for national purposes and did not concern refugee and asylum seeker children. The latter were looked after by the Australian Government. There was a joint committee which was mandated to oversee the concerns of refugee and asylum seekers. Connect Services liaised with the Child Protection Unit and worked together on issues of abandonment and abuse by parents. However, there was a need to divide and clarify the mandates of each of those bodies.
Training of the police was provided, said the delegation. There were two lawyers assisting the Justice Department with the new police bill.
The delegation acknowledged the need for disaggregated data.
Regarding discrimination against members of the Chinese community, the delegation replied that many of those were not citizens of Nauru, but rather people with business interests who came and left Nauru repeatedly. Visa fees were not discriminatory, but had been installed as fees for the media, in response to made-up stories told by the media about the treatment of refugees in Nauru. The Government had thus adopted a policy of raising the fees, which was considered to be in the best interest of the country. With regards to having international media on the island, the Government was willing to accept media-persons who would print the truth. What came out of Nauru in terms of media was always international media, such as NBC or The Guardian, and those always reported in a negative way. With rights there came responsibilities, and those responsibilities were questionable.
On traffic accidents, it was explained that Nauru was a very small island, and there was one highway, which was shared by both planes and cars. Nevertheless, to date, accidents were scarce.
Regarding water quality, there was a desalination plant, whereas beforehand, water had been imported. Refugees drank bottled water. Refugees were encouraged to register as soon as possible.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
It seemed that the Government was trying to simplify the process for declaration and registration of births. Was that indeed the case? If so, why had the 21-day cut off period been put in place? If the parents did not register their children on time, were they fined? Did children without birth certificates have access to schools and hospitals? Did the time frame improve the registration rate?
Replies by the Delegation
If there was no time stipulation, Nauruans would not register their children for years and years. The process was simple – as soon as the child was born and had a name, he or she was registered. There were no fines for registering a child late. However, the time frame had encouraged the registration process. There had even been an incentive of paying parents a certain amount of money in Australian Dollars to register their child, which had worked very well. Children could attend school without having been registered.
It was not true that citizens of Nauru did not have access to social media. Facebook was often used for pornography and therefore discouraged by the Government.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
Was there access to the Internet, asked an Expert, requesting further details.
Replies by the Delegation
Regarding the Internet, all schools had free Wi-Fi, said the delegation, but kids were asked not to use their phones all the time.
Access to health and education was free and equal to everyone. There was no prioritization. It was a process where all went to the hospital and received the treatment they needed.
Regarding corporal punishment, the delegation acknowledged that that was a problem for which parents and teachers had been specifically trained. There was a case of a teacher who had hit a child, and was given a sentence of 18 months. Regarding the Guardianship Act and its harmonization with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the delegation ensure the Committee that it would be done.
There was a Public Defender’s Office who provided free legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers. To date, seven persons had sought legal advice. The Multicultural Affairs Department had the sole responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers, and worked together with Connect on those issues. There were several justices who were world experts on children’s rights. The Continuing Legal Education Programme covered the training on those issues.
The legal age for marriage was now 18, which was provided for in the Protection and Welfare Act.
The delegation informed that there was no specific Minister for Children, but the Ministry for Home Affairs was mandated to look into children’s affairs. There was an integrated coordinative committee which was comprised of various departments, and dealt specifically with children’s issues.
Asylum seekers had automatic access to international health service, while refugees had full access to national health services. A new state-of-the-art hospital was currently being built, and would be accessible to all.
The Family Protection Bill was in its final stages. It took into account principles articulated under the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It made mandatory for service providers such as medical personnel, to report if they were aware of any violations or abuse against children.
There was an interpretation act which made it mandatory for three branches of Government to apply principles under the treaties.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert clarified that he had inquired about Chinese children born on the Nauru territory to so-called Chinese businessmen. Were there any awareness-raising campaigns to ensure that there was no discrimination against them?
Replies by the Delegation
Awareness-raising for children was a very new concept, and time was needed for both teachers and children to get used to it.
Work had been done on data protection for land records, said a delegate.
There were officers in schools who had had an obligation to report incidences of violence to the school principals. The concept of human rights was in the curricula.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked for a clarification of the role of the so-called officers in schools.
Was there a specialized school for children with disabilities? If so, that was not inclusive education. In addition, the mixing of children and adults in schools was problematic, as was the fact that children with disabilities did not go to school.
Another Expert asked for more information regarding pre-natal care, and inquired why there was no home-visit policy. Was there a breast-feeding policy and was there information available in that regard?
Question was also asked about the situation in relation to housing for refugees and asylum seekers. In spite of the bad conditions in the refugee camps, they seemed to be safer than other housing. What other kind of housing was available?
There had been complaints about sexual abuse by guards in refugee camps. The delegation was asked to provide information in that regard.
In response to the statement by the delegation that media were making up stories about the country, an Expert replied that that could be true only if a couple of articles had been written about Nauru. However, the Committee had been inundated by many such stories. How many investigations had been undertaken? How many cases had been brought before courts and how many were investigated by the police? Did the laws criminalize abduction of children? Had there been prosecutions or investigations conducted in relation to abduction and trafficking of children? Regarding teenage abduction and abuse, apart from legislative measures, what other measures were being undertaken?
Very little information had been provided on special protection measures and juvenile justice. Were there separate facilities for juvenile offenders, male and female? Were cases on remand held together in facilities with adult offenders or not? Were there special youth courts run by the magistrate?
Another Expert asked whether there was criteria on when children should be removed from families and when they should be kept with families, and whether the family received counseling and family support on how to manage with difficulties if they faced them.
Children institutions allegedly were in bad condition. Were there plans to develop child family counselling? Were there plans to develop a system of family placement instead of children institutions? Did non-governmental organisations help in that respect?
Regarding unaccompanied children, both asylum seekers and refugees, question was asked whether any measures had been undertaken to help them find their families.
An Expert inquired about the share of the budget devoted to health. Were there programmes monitoring pregnancy? Were the refugees in camps covered by those programmes? What was being done to prevent suicide? Allegedly 2 percent of children were not vaccinated. Were there nutritional services that addressed obesity? What was being done to prevent mother to child HIV-AIDS transmission? What was being done to curb alcohol and tobacco consumption, asked the Expert.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert inquired about the Nauru health policy, focusing in particular on a possible programme for the encouragement of breastfeeding until the age of at least six months, and ideally up to two years. He was also interested in hospital infrastructures, noting that a large hospital was being set up with Australian assistance. Was that sufficient to meet the needs of the entire population, not to mention the refugees?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation responded that breastfeeding was widespread and breastfeeding promotion activities were an integral part of the public health policy. Female civil servants were entitled to maternity leave of three months minimum. In addition, they were entitled to an additional month per year of service.
The new hospital was ultra-modern and met the latest standards. While not yet fully completed, it had been inaugurated and had started functioning.
Compulsory education had been extended from sixteen to eighteen years of age. A reform programme in the education sector had been set up in 2010, with the main objectives defined in a revised version of 2014. Those included increased enrollment rates, improving attendance and punctuality of students, but also of teachers. Fines were imposed on parents who did not send their children to school. Conversely, an allowance of five dollars as a daily school attendance was paid to families, including refugees. That was conditional on attendance and good results in school.
The disabled centre was a result of the request by parents who had approached the Government in 2009. It was not compulsory for parents to send their children with disabilities to that school. T raining of students and teachers was available in the centre, including for Braille.
In response to the health related questions, the delegation replied that the budget for the Health Department was four million Australian Dollars. The health sector was actively working to prevent obesity. There were at present no HIV cases. The public health care slogan was prevention rather than curing. Vaccination was free, and people were encouraged to vaccinate their children. Community clinics helped with vaccination.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert asked for a clarification on the disabled centre alluding that as it was open for adults as well, and that it taught gardening and other crafts, that it was taking away the right to education from children with disabilities. What was being done to ensure inclusive education?
Another Expert asked for more information on school drop-out rates, especially with regard to refugee children.
An Expert wondered whether the high rates of truancy were both in primary and secondary education, and whether schooling was compulsory until the age of eighteen.
Replies by the Delegation
Regarding the disabled centre, the delegation said it was the best the Government could do at that time. People could not be forced to bring their children there. Apart from gardening, the centre provided courses in reading and writing.
Truancy rates mostly affected secondary education children. Education was compulsory until the age of eighteen, since 2011, in order to prevent the practice of child labour. Truancy rates among refugee children were encouraged by refugees when they wanted to make a statement against the country.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert stated that the reason for truancy among refugee and asylum seeking children was discrimination. What was being done to curb discrimination? What were the components of the training programmes against bullying in schools?
Regarding compulsory education, another Expert wondered whether the Committee had understood correctly that if a child did not have disabilities, and did not go to school, there was a fine of 200 Australian Dollars.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation clarified that in Nauru parents did not see it mandatory that their disabled children get an educational qualification, as life was not as hard as in other parts of the world. In addition, parents did not trust their disabled children with other children. Parents were encouraged by the Nauru Disabled Persons Association to bring their children to the centre.
Regarding refugee children truancy, Australian teachers who looked after refugee children were always present at all schools. The issues of bullying and discrimination against refugee children were not the reality on the ground, but rather stories from Australian media. Bullying did happen and younger and adolescent students were separated in order to avoid it. Busses were available to take refugee children to school, and camps were operational 24 hours a day thus easing school attendance.
On the maternal mortality rates, the delegation acknowledged that Nauru was a country of expats and that local nurses and teachers left their jobs for higher paid jobs at the Processing Centre. There was thus a brain drain, with people not leaving the country, but rather going to work in the refugee camps.
Regarding tobacco and alcohol consumption, there was a programme whereby every shop and every counter had a poster that advised that children were not allowed to consume tobacco and alcohol. Those also stipulated that selling them to children was an offence. Smoking was not allowed inside. Alcohol was a problem, and the Health Department was working on countering it through public awareness raising programmes.
The delegation informed that, in order to fight obesity, the Health Department had organized a national exercise programme and a weight loss programme, as well as home visits to ensure those. Teenage pregnancy was countered through the 2015 programme for family planning, which started at grade nine. There were discussions to start those educational programmes at an earlier age. HIV-Aids testing was part of all medical check-ups, including maternal check-ups. Giving out condoms, as well as information on HIV, was practiced.
Refugee housing was fully equipped, including with air-conditioning. Access to the hospital was available for all.
It was explained that there was a full-time counsellor available in the safe-house, however in matters of child abuse the first point of contact was the family. Nauru was a matriarchal society, and, as such, many of the decisions were made by women.
In response to an Expert’s concern about juvenile offenders being kept in cells with adults, the delegation clarified that young offenders aged fourteen to eighteen did not serve their sentence in jail. Rather, they lived at home under supervision, and after a day at the prison, they were sent out to do community service for the rest of their sentence. In the rare cases of murder, the courts would consider the gravity of the case. There were no separate facilities for incarceration of juvenile offenders.
In Nauru all spoke English, and thus there was no problem in terms of communication. Refugees that arrived in Nauru had their own interpreters.
On a question on kinship care, the delegation replied that there had been no cases where the court had taken away a child from a family. If a child was orphaned and inheritance was in question, the court decided who would look after the child. That was simple as Nauru was a small country and people knew each other well. In cases of child abuse, usually the child ended up going back to their families and the problem was resolve there. Nauru was a matriarchal society, and in cases where divorce was concerned, children usually stayed with the mother.
Was corporal punishment prohibited under all circumstances, including in schools and at the home, an Expert wanted to know.
What would happen to an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child? Would a guardian be appointed?
Question was asked on prosecution of those who sold alcohol and tobacco to children. Could the delegation provide instances of such prosecutions? Were those who sent children to buy alcohol prosecuted?
Replies by the Delegation
Corporal punishment was illegal in schools as well as in homes since 2011. The police had been trained on that issue.
The maternal mortality rate had been recorded as being only four between 2012 and 2013, informed a delegate.
There had been no prosecutions of people who sold cigarettes and alcohol to children, or who sent children to buy cigarettes and alcohol. Those who sold alcohol and cigarettes to minors lost their business licence, but were not put to jail.
In response to whether there were complaints mechanisms in schools for refugee children, it was explained that every single refugee family was assigned a case worker, and if they had a problem, they would go to that case worker. The case worker would then file a complaint to the principal of the school, who would then file it to the Prosecutor. There was also a Special Commission by the Australian Parliament that looked into the issue. Additionally, within the schools there were internal mechanisms within the school, whereby refugees were not treated more differently than others.
Regarding the remark that children of school-going age undergoing community service, in lieu of prison, were being deprived of their right to education, the delegation welcomed the suggestion by the Committee and admitted the Government had not looked into the matter from that aspect.
There were three regional processing centres for refugees: one was an administrative centre; the second was for families as well as single females; and the third was for single adult males. The Multicultural Affairs Department was responsible for ensuring the integration of refugees into the community. The Justice and Border Control Department was in charge of processing the refugee determination status papers. The refugee children had initially been going to school by themselves. When the agreement between Australia and Nauru was signed for exclusive education, there was a discussion of space, which was limited. Australia thus built a new school, which would soon be opened. The authorities ensured that refugee children received the best education, and this was made possible through recruitment of Australian teachers, interpreters, counsellors, psychologists, and the service provider “IHMS” which was responsible for the well-being and health of the community.
The main problem was propaganda against Nauru by the Australian media. The Head of the Delegation deplored that the situation of Nauru had been compared to that of Lebanon, whereas, quite the opposite was true, as the country was doing everything it could for the refugees. The courts had no time for national issues, as they were concerned with refugee cases. In that context, Australia had built a new courthouse.
The first way of improving the regional processing centre was to ensure that whatever came out in the media concerning it was true. The only way to do this was to have the people who were concerned on the ground, and not to rely on media stories.
The Community Resource Centre had just been constructed to ensure interaction with the local community and the refugee community. The Government had made Ramadan an official holiday, and observed the Refugee Day. Refugees worked in the Justice Department and in other sectors of society, however they were encouraged by their peers to paint a negative picture of Nauru for the media. That was because those people had an agenda and did not want to stay in Nauru.
An Expert stated that delegation could not accept the claim that
Save the Children was making children inflict self-harm. That was not an acceptable accusation. There were serious organisations that did not at the outset have an agenda to harm Nauru – they were arriving because they had heard about problems of discrimination and child abuse. The Expert asked the delegation to take some of the accusations seriously and try to find out what was really happening on the ground, by talking to the children.
Reply by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation stated that she had not blamed
Save the Children, but rather the parents. Inquiries were conducted in regards to everything that was happening on the ground. The Department of Multicultural Affairs would have the mandate to conduct a study, not the Department of Home Affairs.
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Nauru, thanked the delegation for the very constructive and open dialogue. The two days had allowed the Committee to understand the problems on the ground in Nauru, and to take note of the real desire of the Nauruan authorities to improve the situation. He encouraged Nauru to proceed with the legal interventions. In particular, he asked them to focus on countering discrimination against refugees and disabled children, eradicating violence against children within the family, schools and processing centres, and establish separate centres for juvenile offenders. Recommendations would be made to the Government to draw up a policy that was well suited to Nauru’s needs. He asked that Nauru do not wait another 20 years to respond.
CHARMAINE SCOTTY, Minister for Home Affairs of Nauru, assured the Committee that the Government of Nauru took its commitment to children’s rights seriously. It was committed that all children’s rights, including those of refugee and asylum-seeking children, were promoted and protected. She called upon the international community to provide technical and financial support to assist in the implementation of its commitments, and more specifically, for its commitments to statistics and data, the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, enabling reforms and awareness building, and involving family and children in implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obligations. Ms. Scotty stated that the Government of Nauru was grateful for that opportunity, and acknowledged the lengthy time it had taken the country to draft the report. She called upon the international community to acknowledge that Nauru children were just as important as children of refugees and asylum seekers, and deserved equal treatment. Ms. Scotty thanked all stakeholders for ensuring the rights of children in Nauru. She looked forward to the recommendations and assured the Committee that the following report would not take another twenty years.
For use of the information media; not an official record