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Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews report of Mauritius

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

15 January 2015

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic report of Mauritius on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Presenting the report, How Fok Cheung, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare and Head of the Delegation of Mauritius, said that Mauritius had very recently had a change of government, and affirmed its commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of the child.  The Child Protection Act addressed the situation of children vulnerable to violence, and a monitoring committee had been established to address the situation of children in difficulties. The Children’s Bill was being finalized, bringing all legislation regarding children under the same text, and taking into account the provisions of the Convention.  Education was free for all children until the tertiary level, while it was mandatory for all children, including children with disabilities, until the secondary level, and various measures had been taken to achieve inclusive access to education for children with disabilities.  Mauritius was also committed to ensuring free and non-discriminatory access to healthcare and safe drinking water and sanitation. 

In the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the efforts and initiatives taken by Mauritius to implement international standards relating to children’s rights.  They encouraged the ratification of further international human rights instruments, including the third Optional Protocol to the Convention.  They expressed concerns about cases of violence against children, including corporal punishment which was not explicitly prohibited in all settings.  Experts inquired on possibilities for children to express their views and opinions, including in judicial cases affecting them.  It was noted that despite the legislation on the issue being rather complete, discrimination against children with disabilities remained in practice in the school setting.  Finally, Experts raised a number of questions about alternative care for children. 

In concluding remarks, Benyam Mezmur, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, said that Mauritius was going in the right direction.  The remaining issues were related mostly to the implementation of measures that had been adopted.  Mauritius was encouraged to adopt the Children’s Bill as soon as possible, and to continue its efforts for the training of professionals, the improvement of the alternative care system and the participation of children

How Fok Cheung, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, reiterated the commitment of the Government of Mauritius to the promotion and protection of human rights, and to putting the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of children’s development.  The Children’s Bill would improve the situation of children and the effectiveness of the services provided to them. 

The delegation of Mauritius included representatives of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Permanent Mission of Mauritius to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m. to continue its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of The Gambia (CRC/C/GMB/2-3) in Chamber A and to begin the consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic report of Tanzania (CRC/C/TZA/3-5) in Chamber B. 

Report

The combined third to fifth periodic report of Mauritius under the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be read via the following link: CRC/C/MUS/3-5.

Presentation of the Report

HOW FOK CHEUNG, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare and Head of the Delegation of Mauritius, presenting the report, said that Mauritius had very recently had a change of government, and affirmed its commitment to promoting and protecting the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Children constituted one third of the population of Mauritius.  Mauritius had ratified the Convention and its first two Optional Protocols.  The third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure had been signed in 2012.  New legislation had been introduced in reaction to previous dialogues with the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  In December 2008, the Child Protection Act had been amended to address the situation of children vulnerable to violence.  A monitoring committee had been established to follow the situation of children in difficulty.  A Combatting Human Trafficking Act had also been adopted.  A residential care facility for victims of trafficking would be operational this year.  Specialized services were offered to victims. 

The Children’s Bill was being finalized, bringing all legislation regarding children under the same text, and taking into account the dispositions of the Convention.  Corporal punishment was addressed in this draft bill.  Juvenile justice was addressed in a separate bill.  In October 2012, the National Human Rights Action Plan was launched and it embodied all of Mauritius’ commitments to bring the protection of human rights, including the rights of children, in line with international standards.  Consultations, seminars and workshops for children were often organized.  Education was free for all children until the tertiary level, while it was mandatory for all children, including children with disabilities, until the secondary level.  The curriculum of the secondary level included human rights education.  Mauritius had taken various measures to ensure that persons with disabilities, including children, had full access to education and health services.  Mauritius was committed to achieve inclusive access to education for children with disabilities.  Children from vulnerable families were provided with school material to ease the burden on their parents. 

Public healthcare services were free and easily accessible throughout the country.  Measures were being taken to improve access to safe drinking water, and nearly the entire population had access to potable water and sanitation facilities without discrimination.  Mauritius provided free immunization services for a wide range of diseases affecting children, and encouraged a healthy lifestyle for youth, including education about transmissible diseases.  Computers and tablets were made available for children, guaranteeing access to the internet for all children in Mauritius.  In parallel, the Government took initiatives to raise awareness on dangers resulting from the use of the internet, including child pornography.  If children were found in the street, specialized agencies such as the “Service d’Accompagnement, de Formation, d’Insertion et de Réhabilitation de l’Enfant” (“SAFIRE”) could take prompt action for their protection.  Capacity building workshops and consultations had been carried out for professionals working with children who were victims of sexual abuse.  The Government was also launching awareness raising campaigns for children on the dangers of tobacco and illicit drugs. 

Questions from the Experts

BENYAM MEZMUR, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, welcomed recent developments, including the Children’s Bill.  On non-discrimination, he welcomed the establishment of a commission that dealt with the issue, and asked whether children had access to it.  He also asked whether members of this commission had been trained on issues affecting children specifically.  Other information on how non-discrimination was addressed would be welcomed, he said.  The Committee was interested in knowing what was being done to ensure that all children were registered after birth.  He regretted that Mauritius was not a State party to the two international conventions on statelessness. 

Corporal punishment seemed to still be occurring in the school setting, he noted.  How would the provisions of the Children’s Bill explicitly address and prohibit corporal punishment?  To which extent did the Child Development Unit have adequate resources to address and prevent violence against children?  Mr. Mezmur also inquired about cases and sanctions relating to trafficking and sexual violence against children. 

PETER GURAN, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, asked for information on the coordination framework for government agencies to work together on children’s rights.  He also inquired about the mandate of the Ombudsman and resources allocated to it.  Could the Ombudsman receive individual complaints?  Mr. Guran asked whether the Human Rights Action Plan adopted by Mauritius had had positive results and to which extent it addressed child rights issues.

Concerning the legal framework, Committee Experts welcomed that Mauritius had signed the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure and encouraged its prompt ratification.  Experts also encouraged Mauritius to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and the Convention on the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances.  An Expert regretted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was not directly invoked before the courts.  Judges should be trained on the provisions of the Convention, so that they could use it in judgments affecting children.  With regards to the definition of the child in the law, an Expert asked whether the law of Mauritius provided the same level of protection as required by the Convention.

On the participation of children, an Expert said that judges should be trained to understand children and hear their views to estimate what their best interest was.  Children needed to be heard in all other aspects of their lives.  How did children currently participate in school governance?  It seemed that there were several clubs to which children participated, one Expert noted.  Could children decide on the activities of these clubs or was it imposed on them? 

On violence against children, Experts welcomed that corporal punishment was prohibited in schools, and demanded information on the status of corporal punishment in other settings, including at home.  Were there any effective mechanisms to support victims of sexual violence against children?  What was being done to be sure that sexual violence was reported and to avoid impunity?

Response by the Delegation

On the issue of non-discrimination, the delegation said that the Equal Opportunities Commission was established under the Equal Opportunities Act and had the mandate to address issues affecting children.  This Commission acted as a watchdog, and aimed at eliminating discrimination in all sectors.  Its mandate also extended to the promotion of good relations and harmony between different groups.  It had published guidelines and a code of conduct that applied to all employees from the private and public sectors.  Children were able to report cases directly or via their representatives to the Council, if a discriminatory act had been conducted.   Complainants also had the opportunity to refer the matter to the tribunals.  The prohibition of discrimination was enshrined in the Constitution. 

With regard to the ratification of international instruments, a delegate said that the conventions on statelessness required further domestic measures to be adopted and funds to be secured before the government took the decision to become a State party.  The ratification of the third Optional Protocol on a communication procedure was under consideration, although existing domestic legislations already allowed children to go before the courts or the Ombudsperson in case of violations of their rights.    

On the applicability of the Convention, the delegation said that although judges could in theory refer directly to the Convention during rulings, cases where they did so were rare.  The Children’s Bill would allow further inclusion of the Convention into domestic law. 

The prohibition of corporal punishment had now been included in the draft Children’s Bill.  The definition actually in the draft bill was broad, and was still subjected to negotiations in the process of the adoption of the Bill.  Corporal punishment was currently prohibited by regulations in school settings.  Corporal punishment occurring in other settings could nonetheless be prosecuted under other criminal offenses. 

The Ombudsperson for children received complaints, summoned witnesses, and had the duty to ensure that the rights and best interests of children were promoted and protected in compliance with international human rights law.  The Ombudsperson for children had the mandate to make suggestions on modifications of the law in relation to children.  For example, she had participated actively in the preparation of the draft Children’s Bill.  She also visited schools and organized workshops with children on a regular basis, raising their awareness on their rights.  A hotline was available for children to file their complaints.  The new government had made a commitment to give the Ombudsperson for children more powers.

On the views of children, a delegate said that judges decided on a case by case basis if the opinion of children should be heard in court.  Judges also had the best interest of the child when hearing them in courts, and could for example hear children confidentially or through video conference.  Judges received human rights training which included training on the right to and the principle of the best interest of the child.

With regards to birth registration, the law required that all births were declared within 45 days; after that delay, other means and procedures existed to ensure that all children were registered.  After a 90 day delay, a court order was needed to ensure the registration of the child.  

Questions from the Experts

BENYAM MEZMUR, Committee Member and Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, asked for more information on the adoption and effective implementation of a number of announced initiatives, including the Children’s Bill.  On alternative care, he asked whether a deinstitutionalization process was taking place, in accordance with United Nations guidelines, and demanded details on this. 

On the issue of quality education, Mr. Mezmur welcomed that Mauritius was one of the few African countries providing genuinely free and equal education services. 

On health issues, an Expert welcomed investments made in healthcare infrastructure, but regretted that malnutrition and mothers’ health seemed to have been neglected.  Was drug danger awareness included in school curricula?

An Expert welcomed that discrimination was prohibited under the law, but noted that discrimination remained on several grounds, included against children with disabilities.  These children for example faced difficulties to access secondary education.  There was also a reported case of a child in a wheelchair being refused registration to a school.  What training plans existed to educational staff on inclusive education for children with disabilities?

An Expert welcomed that the legislation on child labour was in line with international standards set by the Convention and the International Labour Organization.  What was the Government doing to check the situation of children employed in the informal sector? 

Experts were doubtful about claims by the delegation that there were no street children in Mauritius, and asked for more details on how this issue was dealt with in the country.    

Experts raised questions on juvenile justice.  One Expert was concerned that there seemed to be no minimum age for criminal responsibility.  Experts noted that no youth courts existed, but that a special setting for courts existed for children in conflict with the law.  An Expert regretted that access to legal aid for children was not always guaranteed, in direct contradiction with the provisions of the Convention. 


Response by the Delegation

On HIV/AIDS, the delegation said that the legislation of Mauritius provided that minors could undertake medical tests without the approbation of their parents. 

There was currently no minimal age of criminal responsibility, the delegation said.  This was determined by the prosecutor’s office on a case by case basis.  When an accused person was under the age of 14, it was possible to acquit him/her if it was established that the person acted without discernment.  The Children’s Bill would provide that no children under the age of 12 could be charged with criminal offenses.  The draft Bill would be debated and would possibly be modified.  Although there was no minimal age for criminal responsibility yet, a juvenile justice system existed, providing alternative sentences for juvenile offenders, including probation and community service.  This juvenile justice system would also be reviewed. 

On allegations of police brutality against minors in conflict with the law, the delegation said that although this might have happened, this was not the rule.  Minors were protected in detention centres.  Handcuffing of minors occurred in very isolated cases, usually for their own safety.  There were no longer cases of police brutality, and police officers received training on human rights.  Videotaping of questioning of minors and adults would ensure that brutality did not occur.  There were some financial obstacles to the establishment of an independent mechanism monitoring police activities.  The National Human Rights Division already had a Police Complaints Division. 

There were no specific courts for juvenile offenders, but district courts acted as juvenile courts when necessary.  There would be provisions in the draft Juvenile Justice Bill on this matter.  Judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel received broad legal training, including on international and regional human rights standards and protection mechanisms.  There was no specific training on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a delegate said.

The Legal Aid Act was amended in 2012 in order to ensure that free legal aid was available to all, including children. 

The Ombudsman for children had received seven complaints between June 2013 and May 2014 from children and anonymous sources. 

The National Child Protection Strategy was funded by the European Union in 2013, and worked in the area of child protection.  Its implementation would cost around $ 2 million. 

Concerning education, pre-primary education was available to all children aged between 3 and 5.  A monthly allocation of $ 7 per child was given to all families.  The Child and Family Welfare Programme focused on combatting poverty and facilitating the inclusion of children in pre-primary education.  The tailor-made curriculum was broad and diversified, and allowed children to be well prepared for the future.  To reduce over-reliance on private tuition, the Government had adopted measures to control additional tuition.  The Ministry of Education had a number of pedagogical programmes that were free of charge.  Secondary schools recently built all included inclusive facilities for children with disabilities.  The Ministry of Education was providing training for educational personnel dealing with children with disabilities. 

Follow-up Questions from the Experts

On criminal responsibility, an Expert noted that the Committee encouraged States parties to set the minimum age for criminal responsibility at 13 and encouraged the adoption of alternative sentences for juvenile offenders. 

Experts noted that legislation on education seemed to be good, but expressed concerns at problems remaining in practice.  Children with disabilities seemed for example to continue being subjected to discrimination.  An Expert asked what languages was education provided in, and whether cases of corporal punishment remained in the education setting.  An Expert asked what the enrolment rate in early-childhood education was. 

With regards to health, an Expert asked for details on malnutrition programmes undertaken in Mauritius, and whether adolescents had access to sexual health services and sexual education as a mean to prevent early pregnancies. 

Response by the Delegation

Many measures had been put in place to improve access to free education.  Creole was being taught as a subject; it was used by teachers to explain and make sure all children understood.  All allegations of corporal punishment in the school setting were taken to the police, and the prosecutor’s office then decided whether or not to prosecute them.  The Government had taken measures to raise the population’s awareness on the necessity to respect and include persons with disabilities.  A change of mind set was underway, and, in time, progress would come.  A law had recently been passed to make sure that accessibility facilities were included in the construction of all new buildings.  The enrolment rate for children aged from 3 to 5 in early-childhood education was 98.3 percent. 

On health, the delegation said that pregnant women were well cared for in the protection system of Mauritius.  Sexual education was part of the school curricula.  Sensitization campaigns on sexual and reproductive health were undertaken by the National Children’s Council.  Youngsters had access to contraceptives, including in a confidential way.  All pregnant women were screened in the first three months of their pregnancies to detect risks for them and their infant. 

Measures had been taken to combat poverty and had already shown results, including a decrease in the number of homeless persons.  Poverty had however not been eradicated, and Mauritius was committed to continue its efforts towards that end.  Mauritius had no street children, the delegation said.  Children who were in the street during the day systematically went home for the night.  A hotline was available for people in case a child was seen in the street at night, and then social services would promptly intervene. 

Dissemination of the Convention on the Rights of the Child had led to some complaints by parents saying that this undermined their authority, a delegate noted. 

Follow-up Questions from the Experts

An Expert asked what was being done to address the impact of climate change in Mauritius. 

Another Expert wanted to know whether specific measures had been taken to combat child labour, and whether surveys had been conducted to measure the phenomenon of sexual exploitation of children in Mauritius. 

An Expert reiterated a question on the respect of the views of children, and whether it was being considered to include children’s participation in the Children’s Bill.  Was children’s participation fully recognized? 

An Expert asked for details about a new law on adoption.  It was noted that adoption was a rather rare thing in Mauritius.  The determination of adoptability seemed to have problems, particularly for inter-country adoption, an Expert noted.

An Expert asked whether probation bail was made available for children who were not able to pay bail. 

Response by the Delegation

With regard to the views and participation of children, a delegate said that several forums and youth clubs allowed children to express and share their opinions.  Children were invited to express their views on issues of national or international interest.  The draft Children’s Bill would contain a specific provision on children’s participation, guaranteeing children’s right to participate in matters affecting them and underlining the importance of taking these views into consideration.  A National Forum for Children would be created to serve as a platform to promote dialogue, debate and tolerance among children. 

On child labour, many inspections led to the identification of child labour cases.  Six were prosecuted during the past year.  Aggressive information campaigns were deployed to target employers on child labour. 

A study on alternative care would not be undertaken in the short term, a delegate said.  Several civil society organizations provided foster care for children.  The removal of babies from their parents remained a last resort measure, when there was no other choice to ensure the baby’s safety.  Services were trained to provide alternative care for babies.  The Government had developed minimum standards to be observed in places of alternative care for children, based on United Nations guidelines.  A Residential Care Act provided for monitoring of alternative care facilities. 

The draft Adoption Bill was being debated, and would change the procedures on adoption. 

Mauritius had adopted in 2003 an Action Plan on combatting trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.  This was also criminalized by the Child Protection Act.  In 2009, a Trafficking Law had domesticated United Nations standards on combatting human trafficking.  A high-level coordinating mechanism was being instituted to address trafficking of children.  Surveillance mechanisms were in place in high risk areas, and local authorities there received training to be able to identify cases of child prostitution or trafficking. 

With regards to climate change, a delegate said that measures were being taken, including for example the closing of schools, in case of natural disasters.  Planning was organized in terms of access to food and child protection in case of natural disaster. 

Cases of drug use in the school premises were addressed by the school authorities.  The criminal part of these cases was dealt with by the police and the courts. 

The delegation had no knowledge of cases of children having to stay imprisoned because they were not in a position to pay their bail, but would let the Committee know once it had more information on this. 

Concluding Remarks

BENYAM MEZMUR, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Mauritius, said in concluding remarks that the Committee appreciated the cooperation of Mauritius during the dialogue.  Although a new Government was in place, this did not mean that Mauritius did not have obligations under the Convention.  The implementation of the Convention was still in progress, but Mauritius was going in the right direction.  The remaining issues related mostly to the implementation of measures that had been adopted.  Mauritius was encouraged to adopt the Children’s Bill as soon as possible, and to allocate the necessary resources to the implementation of the National Human Rights Plan of Action.  Efforts had to continue for the training of professionals dealing with children, including teachers, the police and judges.  The need for additional social workers was also noted, together with further improvement of the alternative care system.  The allocation of more funds was important but not enough.  The inclusion of children in the efforts to implement the Convention was key.  The main outcome of this discussion would now be the concluding observations of the Committee and the extent to which Mauritius would decide to implement them. 

HOW FOK CHEUNG, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare and Head of the Delegation of Mauritius, reiterated her delegation’s support for the work and recommendations of the Committee.  She also reiterated the commitment of the Government of Mauritius to the promotion and protection of human rights, and to putting the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of children’s development.  The Children’s Bill would improve the situation of children and the effectiveness of the services provided to them.

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