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Committee on the Rights of the Child examines the report of Iran

GENEVA (12 January 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined third and fourth periodic report of Iran on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report of Iran, Mahmoud Abbasi, Deputy for Human Rights and International Affairs, Ministry of Justice, said that the issue of protecting child’s rights held particular importance in Iran, where 30 per cent of the population were children.  Iran had made great strides in practical, judicial and legal areas, and had taken major steps in implementing the provisions of the Convention.  A law adopted several years ago made it obligatory for any policy or judicial decision to consider the best interest of the child.  Iran insisted on the education of children and the education of those working with children, and the National Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child had instituted several campaigns to expand the education of teachers, judges, lawyers, social workers and others, in order to change attitudes.

Committee Experts recognized the efforts of the judiciary to limit the execution of children and urged Iran to abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders.  They were also greatly concerned about the age of criminal responsibility, which at nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys, was discriminatory and allowed for very young children to be treated as adults before the criminal court.  Girls suffered discrimination from a very early age and Experts wondered whether indeed it was in the best interest of Iran to discriminate against more than half of its population.  Very early age of marriage - 13 for girls and 15 for boys - was another issue that the Committee Experts wondered about and were concerned that it might even amount to sexual violence against children. 

In concluding remarks, Renate Winter, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, recognized the significant progress made in Iran since 2005, especially in health and education, and reiterated the concern about legal issues and discrimination in Iran.

Mr. Abbasi, in closing remarks, reiterated the commitment to work together with the Committee for the improvement of the situation of children in Iran and stressed that Iran had adopted laws, policies and strategies that aimed to protect the rights of children.  He expressed hope that sanctions against Iran would be soon removed because of their devastating impact on children.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Chairperson, concluded by recognizing new developments in Iran, and thanked the delegation for the detailed responses provided during the review.

The delegation of Iran included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Secretariat of the Judiciary, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Women Affairs in Presidential Office, State Welfare Organization, Ministry of Health and Medical Education, and representatives of the Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee is meeting in double chambers during its seventy-first session and will hold its next public meeting at 3 p.m. this afternoon.  In Chamber A, it will start the examination of the combined third to fifth periodic report of Latvia (CRC/C/LVA/3-5) under the Convention, as well as its initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/LVA/1), and the initial report under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/LVA/1).  In Chamber B, the Committee will consider the combined third and fourth report of Oman (CRC/C/OMN/3-4) under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Report

The combined third and fourth periodic report of Iran can be read here: CRC/C/IRN/3-4.

Presentation of the Report

MAHMOUD ABBASI, Deputy for Human Rights and International Affairs, Ministry of Justice of Iran, introducing the report, said that the issue of protecting child’s rights held particular importance in Iran, where 30 per cent of the population were children.  Iran had made great strides in practical, judicial and legal areas, and had taken major steps in implementing the provisions of the Convention.  A law adopted several years ago made it obligatory for any policy or judicial decision to consider the best interest of the child.  A Coordination Council composed of representatives of the Government and non-governmental organizations had been set up in the Cabinet; it advised the Government on policy and had established a comprehensive database on children with data from various relevant authorities and institutions which was electronically processed to inform those working on child rights protection.  This national body had also extended into provinces and coordination bodies had been established in various provinces.

Iran strongly believed that the adoption of policies alone could not change the situation of children; attitudes, particularly of policy-makers and those directly involved with children must change to respect children.  It believed firmly that children were a vulnerable part of society who needed special support.  Iran therefore insisted on the education of children and the education of those working with children.  That was why the National Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child had instituted several campaigns to expand the education of teachers, judges, lawyers, social workers and others, in order to change attitudes.  Because of the destruction of the environment, poverty, war, diseases, addiction and malnutrition, the security of millions of children was endangered despite the best efforts of all countries around the world to restore the rights of children.  Politicians and leaders of powerful countries must be held responsible for the consequences of their decisions that had an adverse impact on children around the world, stressed Mr. Abbasi in closing.

Questions by the Country Rapporteurs

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, said that, as Iran was a big country, the Committee was examining it with a task force composed of three members, and expressed hope that the upcoming discussion would be a frank and open one.  Changes in the environment were a huge issue for children around the world, said Ms. Winter, adding that this issue would be discussed during the next day of thematic discussion that would be dedicated to this issue.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, took positive note of the progress made in Iran, and asked about the plans to address some of the measures contained in the Islamic Penal Code which were discriminatory against girls, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups.  The judiciary had a very wide discretion in the interpretation of laws, and the Chairperson asked whether this discretionary power was excessive and how it was dealt with if it was.  Although the Committee urged Iran in 2005 to withdraw its reservations on the Convention, Iran had not yet done so; the delegation was asked to explain why the general reservation was being maintained.  The delegation was asked to inform the Committee about the resources – human, financial, material – for the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children, and how it would address the situation of vulnerable children. 

Mr. Mezmur also asked the delegation to explain coordination measures carried out on the implementation of the Convention in Iran and impacts and results achieved; to inform about the process of data collection, and resource allocation, including targeted resources allocation; and to elaborate on the cooperation with civil society, particularly in light of reports of limitations imposed on civil society organizations in addressing children’s rights, for example the closure of an non-governmental organization supporting street children.  Was the space for civil society organizations narrowing down, and if so, why?

Ms. Winter took the floor and said that one of the biggest problems in Iran was the definition of the child, as according to the law, children reached the age of criminal responsibility at nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys.  This definition was in multiple violations of the provisions of the Convention, first because it was discriminatory and very far apart for girls and boys, and also because it established a very low threshold for criminal responsibility and allowed very young children to be treated as adults before the criminal court.  The general reservation of Iran to the Convention was not very precise and did not define exactly what - this introduced lack of judicial and legal security because what was contrary to the Sharia law was open to interpretation and depended on the current party in power.  What steps was Iran taking to better define criminal responsibility of a child and civil responsibility in marriage? 

Discrimination was another major issue in Iran, said Ms. Winter and asked whether it was necessary to discriminate against girls from a very early age: was it in the best interest of Iran to discriminate against more than half of its population, and deprive its girl children from the right to play?  Discrimination against ethnic minorities was another key problem in Iran, for example the Baha’i were excluded from almost all aspects of life.  Iran had made huge strides in ensuring the best interest of the child, particularly in civil administration, which could overturn the provisions of family agreements if they were detrimental to children. 

The Rapporteur took up the issue of the right to life and asked about the right to life of children sentenced to death, who were imprisoned until maturity; what kind of childhood did those children have?  How were judges empowered and educated on the sentencing of children, and on commuting life sentences?  Ms. Winter commended Iran for its generous support of millions of asylum seekers for 30 years; Iran had the largest refugee population worldwide and had not received much help by the international community.  Iran was particularly active in supporting Afghan refugees, but the support for Afghan refugee children could be more regulated, and Iran could consider the ratification of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, took up the issue of violence against children and asked about the status of the Children and Adolescents Bill which criminalized various forms of abuse, violence and exploitation of children generally.  The 2013 Islamic Penal Code retained punishment of children for Hudud and Qisas crimes, and the delegation was asked about instances in which punishment such as amputation, stoning and flogging was applied against children, and about the flogging of girls for not wearing the hijab.  Mr. Nelson asked about the practice of child marriage as thousands of marriages of girls under the age of 13 took place every year, and there were cases of girls killing themselves to avoid such a fate.  Female genital mutilation was criminalized in Iran; as it still occurred in some provinces, what was being done to address this issue?  Were children required to witness public executions and if so, how was the State taking into account the psychological consequences and impact on children?  Reports before the Committee indicated that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children underwent “corrective” measures in order to “cure” the problem, including electroshocking, surgery, hormonal therapy and others.  Could the delegation comment on reports of police brutality against children living in the street?

Mr. Mezmur stressed that it was crucial for the Committee to understand the situation on the ground concerning death sentencing of children and how the law was being applied.  At the moment, 161 child offenders were on death row in Iran, and two juvenile offenders had been executed in October 2015.  The Chairperson asked the delegation for a very precise answer on the process of determining the age of the defendant, especially in case of doubt.  He noted that the 2013 Islamic Penal Code did not clarify in detail the sentencing regime for drug-related offences.

Replies by the Delegation

The establishment of the position of the Human Rights and International Affairs Deputy in the Ministry of Justice was a demonstration of Iran’s commitment to human rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The strategic goals, macro-policies and rules and regulations were a manifestation of that commitment to the rights of children, which were not just slogans and mottos but derived from Sharia.  As a member of the United Nations, Iran, together with other States, was committed to eliminating discrimination by 2030, so steps taken were an indication of a common goal and objective.  Almost 10,000 non-governmental organizations were active and operating in Iran, many of them in the area of children rights, and it was only natural for those who went against the statute to be banned from activities. 

More than 4,500 non-governmental organizations were registered with the Ministry of Interior and 171 of them specifically worked with children.  Non-governmental organizations were represented in the National Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the representatives were selected by non-governmental organizations every three years.  Activities in the provinces were carried out in close cooperation with non-governmental organizations, especially in poorer provinces where non-governmental organizations were more active.  It was important to say that non-governmental organizations could access a court and file a complaint on behalf of a child whose rights were violated. 

The National Plan of Action for Child Rights was in the last stages of ratification.  The Plan contained 11 strategies which addressed all aspects of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and aimed at the promotion of the fundamental rights of the child.  It aimed to remove discrimination, and guaranteed the right to life, survival and development, freedom and practice of belief, and the right of the child to be heard.  Non-governmental organizations were one of the instruments that could be helpful in pursuing those goals.  Information on human and financial resources needed for the implementation of the Plan would be provided next time.

In the new Islamic Penal Code, the legislator in Iran had asked for two major elements which established criminal responsibility of those under the age of 18: the knowledge of the illegality of the act and the knowledge of the nature of the act.  Expert opinion was available to assist judges in assessing whether those preconditions were met.  The National Plan of Action for Child Rights set criminal responsibility at the age of 18 while under the Criminal Code, children under the age of 18 who had committed crimes could show up before juvenile courts.  More time was needed for the education of judges and legal officers.

The general education principle in Iran was that children could study in their own language, and teachers could teach in their language.  Textbooks were available in minority languages and each province had their own geography textbook in order to facilitate in-depth knowledge about the home province.  There were efforts to provide specific training for border cities, including specific textbooks which included specific cultural points of view and the local way of life.  Ten specialized learning centres for children with disabilities existed in the country, five of them in Teheran, and there were plans to open one in each province and ensure space for leisure activities for children with disabilities.

In follow-up questions, Committee Experts noted that a number of issues raised by the Committee today were those already discussed during the last review of Iran in 2005, including the general reservation, and noted that many countries although Islamic, did not deem that fact as reason enough to enter reservations.  The Committee had waited for a long time for Iran to do away with all forms of discrimination and in particular to raise the age of criminal responsibility and prohibit the death sentence on children.  Experts inquired about the implementation of the right to be heard and how children participated in judicial proceedings that concerned them.

Responding to the questions concerning the reservation to the Convention, a delegate explained that according to Article 4 of the Constitution of Iran, laws and regulations should not contradict Islamic teachings of Sharia.  Iran had entered the reservation on Article 1 of the Convention concerning the definition of the child and was slowly moving towards this definition, but needed more time.

On birth registration and certificates, the birth of any child born in Iran must be registered within 15 days, regardless of the nationality of the parents.  It was important to understand that issues of identity documents and Iranian nationality were separate ones, stressed a delegate and confirmed that anyone born in Iran received a birth certificate. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Committee Chairperson noted that minority children made up most of those deprived from a family environment, and asked what was being done to assist those children, and the 20,000 children who were under the care of State.  How was the State facilitating the contact between children and their incarcerated parents?  How was Iran addressing the issue of temporary marriages?

Experts inquired about the support available for refugee and asylum-seeking children, and about the programmes to support poor rural families to protect their children from labour exploitation.  Sexual exploitation in Iran was affecting children transiting through the country and the delegation was asked to provide information about support programmes available for those children. 

Iran must be commended for the steps taken to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including the adoption of the law, ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and putting in place adequate programmes.  However, children with disabilities were still in specialized schools and the approach to disability was medical, which needed to change; specialized education centres needed to close and children with disabilities needed to integrate into mainstream schools.  What steps were in place to ensure that mainstream schools were truly inclusive and most importantly, what was being done to eliminate discrimination against children with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The policies and strategies in Iran, and the priorities of the Committee were moving in the same direction, said the head of the delegation and reiterated that the comprehensive view of child rights was a priority in the strategic plan of the Government, and that the family had a fundamental role in the social system of the country.

Concerning the training of judges in children’s courts, the delegation said that 10 years ago, Iran had nominated a Judge Training Deputy in charge of judicial training, both initial and the in-service training.  In addition, the Staff Education and Training Department delivered continued professional education programmes, and necessary training in human rights was being organized for judges in provinces.  Attending training sessions and programmes was essential for the promotion of judges.  The Children and Juvenile Protection Law of 2003 prohibited violence against children, psychological harassment and preventing them from getting an education.

The law adopted three years ago had revised the age of criminal responsibility from nine years for girls and 15 years for boys.  It had removed the difference in age between girls and boys and had set the age of criminal responsibility at the age of nine.  Children aged nine to 15 who committed a crime were handed over to their parents or legal guardians, who would then punish them according to the legal and moral framework; children aged 12 to 15 who committed Qisas or Hudud could receive a sanction of three to nine months in a correctional facility.  Children aged 15 to 18 who committed a crime but did not realize the nature of the crime, could receive a financial punishment.  Children convicted under the Criminal Code, for example for buying and selling drugs, which carried the death sentence, could not be executed.

In follow-up questions, Experts stressed the concern of the Committee about the execution of children under the age of 18 and noted that the Criminal Code revised in 2013 gave judges a possibility to attenuate a death sentence imposed on a minor, but it was not clear under which circumstances this could be done.  Experts inquired about legal representation of children in conflict with the law, and about their right to be heard in proceedings, and if the new revised Criminal Code retained the “blood price” and whether it was the same for women and for men.

Responding, the delegation said that the unconventional punishment of children had been defined in the Children and Juvenile Protection Law of 2003.  In Iran, the right to life was separate from the punishment for Qisas.  Children under the age of 18 who received a sentence, for example for murder, could appeal to High and Special Courts; there existed the right of the “blood owner” to forgive or to demand execution.  Some of the Qisas cases had been reviewed in 2015 and some of them had been retried, following which sentences had been downgraded, with the assistance of non-governmental organizations which provided support to the convicted juveniles.

The Chairperson cited several cases of juveniles who had been found in their retrial to have had sufficient mental growth and maturity at the time of the commission of crimes, and had their sentences confirmed.  How were juvenile offenders informed about their right to demand retrial?

In response, the delegation said that the National Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child was doing its utmost to revise the sentences, even those handed out before 2013 when the Islamic Penal Code had been revised.  The cases that the Chairperson mentioned were on the agenda of the judiciary, and were being followed up by the National Body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A Committee Expert noted that it was clear from the responses that the death penalty was still in force in Iran even though the courts were doing their utmost to reduce the executions.  Still, this was not enough as the Committee’s objective was to see the death penalty for children completely abolished.  The Committee Chairperson added that this was the most critical question in the discussion today.

In response, the head of the delegation said that positive steps had been taken since 2005, laws had been revised, strategies and policies changed, and reiterated that all children had the right to a lawyer who would not be silent in requesting a retrial.  Trials were completely legal and law-based, in which sentences were handed down by skilful, well-trained and well-experienced judges.  A delegate stressed that the Islamic Penal Code was in favour of the defendant and it had set up in its Article 91 specific protective measures for children under the age of 18 for Qisas sentences; this law could be applied to crimes committed before its adoption and would be used in the retrial.

Turning to the question of children on the streets, the delegation said that a range of relevant stakeholders and organizations had formed a Council set up to deal with this issue.  It was important to note that 90 per cent of the children in the street lived with at least one parent, and less than one per cent actually lived in the street.  Iran had adopted social emergency services in 2006 which was accessible via a 123 hotline.  At the moment, 37 centres for children in the street were in operation in the country, and several years ago, the Government had established daily care centres, or drop off centres in 15 provinces, where the children could spend their time.

It was important to note that 70 per cent of the population in Iran lived in urban areas, and therefore the presence of kindergartens was denser in urban areas, with the exception of less developed provinces.  There were more than 1,200 kindergartens in deprived areas in the country, through which specific support, including nutritional, was being provided to the children coming from poor families.  A Committee had been set up under the Sixth Five Year Development Plan, which promoted early childhood development, early identification of developmental problems and support for children in need of special support.  The Sixth Plan had recommended that at least one per cent of the gross domestic product be allocated to childhood development programmes.

Thanks to the investments in health programmes, the infant mortality rate had been reduced ten-fold, from 100 deaths per 1,000 live births 30 years ago to 10 deaths per 1,000 live births today.  A special attention was being accorded to primary health care services in marginal areas where some 12 million people lived; at the moment, ten million had access to health care and Iran aimed to ensure universal health insurance coverage for its population.

Children with severe disability were in special schools, where 70,000 of the 121,000 students with disability studied while the others were in mainstream schools.  Iran aimed to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, which was a crime, but it was still practiced in four provinces.  It was mainly practiced among the Sunnis, who had the right to practice their customs and traditions according to the Constitution of the country.  A programme had been put in place to stop this and other traditional practices that were harmful to women, which foresaw research into the practices, training and education activities, and others.  The National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child was finalizing its Five Year Programme on Children, which would also address female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices.

Iran had undertaken legislative and practical measures to address and prevent early marriages.  The Civil Code set the age of marriage at 15 for boys and 13 for girls; marriage of children under the age of marriage required a request by parents or the guardians, and an approval by a family court which issued it upon the examination of whether the marriage was in accordance with the best interest of the children.

Follow Questions by the Committee Experts

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, noted with concern a provision in the law allowing for sexual intercourse with a girl as young as nine lunar years and asked about the plans to abolish the right of a husband to limit access to education for his wife. 

A Committee Expert noted that the age of marriage was far too low and amounted to sexual violence against children, particularly girls who were allowed to get married at the age of 13. 

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, commented on the regulations of the age of marriage and the conditions under which marriage of children under the age of marriage could be authorised, and asked whether there was no bottom limit on marriage of children and if, for example, a girl as young as nine could be legally married off.

Replies by the Delegation

Concerning labour exploitation of children, the delegation said that labour inspectors exercised monitoring functions pursuant to the Labour Code and the International Labour Organization Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour.  The National Plan for Decent Work had been put in place with collaboration with social partners, in the framework of which a number of training activities were being held for decision and policy makers.

A delegate reminded the Committee that 13 years ago Iran had revised its age of marriage and that it could be done again should the need arise.  Failure to register marriage or divorce could result in two years imprisonment.  The punishment for not wearing veil or hijab was a financial fine or up to 81 days imprisonment, which a judge could revert to financial punishment.  Iran agreed that witnessing a public execution could have a negative impact on children, and that was why public executions were rarely ordered and then only in order to pre-empt negative behaviour; all public executions took place before sunrise so that children would not witness them.

Convicted women with children under the age of two did not have to separate from their children unless they were not satisfied to have their young children in prison with them.  The State had set up kindergartens in some prisons for the very young children whose mothers were jailed.  In Iran, honour killings were rooted in ethnic and tribal culture.  Custody of children was a right and an obligation; if one parent died, custody would be given to the surviving parent.  In case of separation or divorce, custody of girls and boys under the age of eight was given to a mother, and from the age of eight to 18 to the father; after the age of 18, children could decide by themselves who they wanted to live with.  Custody of children over the age of eight could be given to women if the father was indisposed, for example if he was an alcoholic.  Inheritance was governed by Sharia and boys received double the part of girls because they had the responsibility to take care of the widowed mother. 

The Sixth Development Plan, which would be implemented from 2016, defined priority allocation of budgets for deprived provinces, in order to accelerate their development.  In Iran, human trafficking and organ trafficking was a crime and close cooperation and collaboration was in place with Interpol and other stakeholders.  Clear statistics on the issue was not available, but the crime was being closely followed up by the police. 

Concluding Remarks

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the open discussion and fruitful dialogue.  Significant progress had been made since 2005, especially in health and education, despite financial difficulties.  The Committee Experts remained concerned about legal issues and discrimination, which it hoped Iran would take into consideration and undertake steps to address them.  The Committee’s concluding observations would be a useful tool to help in this process.

MAHMOUD ABBASI, Deputy for Human Rights and International Affairs, Ministry of Justice of Iran, reiterated the commitment to work together with the Committee for the improvement of the situation of children in Iran.  Laws, policies and strategies that Iran adopted aimed to protect the rights of children, while the new administrative and legislative structure and the increasing participation of non-governmental organizations would help in moving forward. Mr. Abbasi regretted that the Experts did not ask a question about the impact of sanctions against Iran and expressed hope that they would be soon removed because of the devastating impact they had on children.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur, recognized new developments in Iran and thanked the delegation for the detailed responses provided during this review and invited them to provide in writing answers to questions that could not be answered because of the lack of time, including on temporary measures, the impact of hijab on children’s cultural activities, particularly girls, birth registration of children born out of wedlock, and others.

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