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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers report of Senegal

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

Presenting the report, Mame Baba Cisse, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that in 1989 Senegal had been one of the first States to accede to the Convention without reservations.  Over the years, Senegal had been steadfastly seeking to improve indicators in the field of children’s rights.  Children were established as primary beneficiaries under the national social protection programmes.  The National Child Protection Strategy was a sign of the revolution in the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Senegal.  The Intersectoral Committee for the Protection of Children had been established in 2014, and was answerable to the Prime Minister. The Government continued to face a number of challenges, mostly because of the persistence of traditional harmful practices, including child begging, child trafficking, failure to register births and early marriages.  The implementation of the new Children’s Code and the establishment of the Children’s Ombudsman were expected to further help.  

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked numerous questions about the high prevalence of child beggars, early marriage, female genital mutilation and corporal punishment.  Conditions in the juvenile justice system, particularly in prisons, were raised by several Experts.  The Committee wanted to hear details about the accessibility of the education system, and conditions ruling Islamic schools daras, as well as about abuse of children in sex tourism.  Efforts of the State party to combat trafficking in human beings and domestic violence, as well as to decriminalize abortion were also discussed.  Other issues raised included the functioning of the Children’s Ombudsman, and the Children’s Parliament, the current status of the Children’s Code, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, birth registrations, and HIV-positive children and their treatment, among others.

Suzanne Aho Assouma, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Senegal, in concluding remarks said that malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and child beggars were among issues which required particular attention.  It was also hoped that structures would be put in place for children in conflict with the law.

Mr. Baba Cisse, in his concluding remarks, stated that decentralization was applied at all levels of the State.  The Children’s Code was very well advanced, as well as the bill on the Children’s Ombudsman; they were both parts of a revolution in standard setting.  Mr. Baba Cisse particularly stressed the importance of the programme for the modernization of daras

The delegation of Senegal included representatives of the Ministry of Woman, Family and Childhood, National Centre of Civil State, Office of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Dakar and the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m., when it will start its consideration in Chamber A 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 to fifth periodic report of Senegal can be read here: CRC/C/SEN/3-5.

Presentation of the Report
 
MAME BABA CISSE, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that, in 1989, Senegal had been one of the first States to accede, without reservations, to the Convention.  Significant national consensus had allowed for the swift ratification of the Convention by the Parliament.  In 1995, Senegal had submitted its initial report. 

The draft legislation of the Children’s Code had been submitted and was in the process of being adopted.  Regarding the National Action Plan, the Committee had recommended that Senegal draft a more comprehensive plan, which had been done with a document entitled “A Dignified World for Children”.  Over the years, Senegal had been steadfastly seeking to improve indicators in the field of children’s rights.  Children were established as primary beneficiaries under the national social protection programmes.  A major overhaul of the child protection system had been undertaken through a number of studies on what significant hindrances were in that regard.  An integrated child protection system had been established as a result.  The National Child Protection Strategy was a sign of a revolution in the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Senegal.  Childhood protection was a subject of cooperation and coordination among various actors.  The National Strategy consisted of three key pillars: prevention of all forms of ill-treatment, abuse and violence; effective response to cases and facilitating synergies and social cooperation; and the promotion of all children’s rights with linkages to broader human rights protection.

One of the major challenges remained the establishment of a consensual mechanism and intersectoral coordination at the highest level.  The Intersectoral Committee for the Protection of Children had been established in 2014, and was answerable to the Prime Minister.  The Committee met at least twice a year and sought to ensure implementation of various elements of the Strategy.  The Committee was supported by the National Childhood Protection Executive Secretariat, which worked with four technical committees.  The four committees at village, communal and district levels brought together all relevant stakeholders, and worked at harmonizing practices and promoting lessons learned, all with the best interests of the child in mind.  Thanks to the existing system, consistency and complementarity were ensured in the fields of intervention and reporting. 

Mr. Baba Cisse stated that the Government continued to face a number of challenges, mostly because of the persistence of traditional harmful practices, including child begging, child trafficking, failure to register births and early marriages.  Efforts were being made to provide appropriate responses.  The implementation of the National Family Security Programme and the universal health coverage, inter alia, were among measures taken to improve children’s lot, especially for children coming from the most vulnerable families.  The implementation of the new Children’s Code should further contribute in that regard.  The establishment of the Children’s Ombudsman was expected to further help.   With regard to the financial resources for the various plans in place, the Government was committed to increase the budget earmarked for social giving, which currently stood at 33 per cent of the national budget.

The Committee’s recommendations were guiding principles which led the actions of the Government and other actors in the field of children’s rights.  The will and commitment of the Government to continue and reinforce cooperation with the Committee were as strong as ever. 

Questions by Experts
 
SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Senegal, noted that progress had been made by Senegal, but there were a number of outstanding concerns.  Rights legal texts were in place, but a number of decrees rendering those texts operational were still missing.

How was Senegal addressing the situation of reported sexual abuses?

A question was asked about steps taken to prevent child begging, especially if it was promoted by Islamic teachers?  How was the legislation implemented in that regard, and was there no risk of children suffering re-victimization?

In rural areas, only 50 per cent of births were registered, she said.  Was there a problem with the lack of registers and registrars?  What awareness-raising campaigns had been conducted, and what was the cost for those who had not registered children on time? 

What measures had been taken to prevent the abuse of children in sex tourism?  Information was also sought about mechanisms in place to regulate adoptions.

Did the State party believe that the Children’s Code would actually be adopted?

Was there an umbrella coordinating body, and what were the budgetary allocations in that regard?  Would necessary human resources be made available?  What proportion of the budget was allocated to the protection of children?  There were some concerns about the budget.

The Expert asked how many street children there were in Senegal, and how many amongst them had been rehabilitated.  How many substance-dependent children were there?  Information was asked about the number of children who were HIV-positive and receiving treatment.  There were many questions outstanding regarding statistics.

On the issue of cooperation with civil society, the Expert wanted to know whether the Government provided technical and financial support or subsidies.

Another Expert asked whether the Convention had been translated into local languages.

On non-discrimination, there was a revised Nationality Code in place, which eliminated gender discrimination; it was, nonetheless, widely practiced, an Expert noted.  What practical measures were put in place to fight the stigmatization and ostracization of certain groups?

Having the Child Parliament was a great initiative, but was it still operational and how did its members get elected?

The Expert asked whether Senegal’s laws prohibited corporal punishment in all settings.  

The delegation was asked to provide an update on the progress to eliminate female genital mutilation.  What were the concrete results in that regard, especially in remote areas?

Girls as young as 13 resorted to clandestine abortions, noted the Expert.  What measures were being taken to minimize that practice?  Were there any educational programmes in place on sexual and reproductive health so unwanted pregnancies could be avoided?  

Maternal mortality rates were high, partly because of the prevalence of child marriage.  Was it prohibited by law and were there any awareness-raising initiatives in that regard?

There were some 50,000 talibés, young boys begging in Senegal, noted the Expert.  The delegation was asked to provide an update on how Senegal was addressing that scourge.

Details were requested on efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, including data on sanctions imposed on the perpetrators. 

Another Expert inquired about traditional attitudes in society which prevented children from voicing their concerns.  What had been done to make it easier for children to express themselves?  Did children have any say on the way schools were run?  How were children involved in the judicial system and could they voice their opinions?

Replies by the Delegation
 
On the issue of coordination, the delegation said that in 2013, Senegal had adopted the National Child Protection Strategy, establishing a coordination body led by the Prime Minister.  The National Intersectoral Child Protection Committee was responsible for developing and steering the national policy, and also served as the secretariat in the field of child protection.  Departmental child protection committees were established across various departments; such structures extended to village and neighbourhood levels. 

There were still street children in Senegal; recent research had shown that 100,000 children operated in street situations.  Some 1.5 million children were economically active, half a million of whom were involved in some of the worst kinds of child labour.  Programmes to combat worst forms of child labour had been developed, with a particular focus on vulnerable children and those in Islamic schools.

The State and civil society cooperated regularly and very well, and reports produced received support from civil society.  The State was yet to provide financing to non-governmental organizations, which was not possible for the time being.  Instead, financing through other channels was facilitated.

The Convention needed to be translated to five languages spoken in Senegal, and the United Nations Children’s Fund had agreed to include that in its annual working plan for 2016. 

Regarding discrimination against certain groups, the delegation said that wide-ranging social protection programmes covered all vulnerable groups.  Family grants were means-tested, and children of beneficiary families needed to be registered, enrolled in schools, and have health records.

The Children’s Parliament had most recently held a session in 2006, and had not been able to meet since then due to the shortage of resources.  Senegal was nonetheless trying to find ways to reinstate its work, and various criteria had been identified for children to enter the Parliament.  The preparatory process had now been finalized and the project was personally supported by the President. 

Challenges did remain with regard to child begging, the delegation said.  The Government was working with its partners to eliminate begging as soon as possible.  An ad hoc committee had been proposed, which would deal with begging eradication programmes.  The proposal had been tabled to donors, and a pledge had been received from UNICEF in that regard.  The focus was on specifically problematic geographic areas.

A delegate informed that the Government had been working with UNICEF to increase the awareness of law enforcement officials on the issue of child begging.  The best interest of the child was a leading principle; empathy and listening were also among skills promoted in such training.  The attitude and approach of law enforcement officials were very important.

After each law was voted in, the Government ensured that it had its implementing legislation, and both were then published in the Official Gazette.

All relevant stakeholders had been asked to put together the Childhood Code, which lay down the primacy of the best interest of the child and the right to express himself.  Paternal authority would be replaced with parental authority so mothers and fathers would have the same rights over children.  

Regarding the prosecution of trafficking, the delegation said that there was a question of proof before the courts, and when there was no proof, the judge would not hand down a sentence.  The new Criminal Code allowed for no confusion for prosecuting cases of trafficking when facts were established.

The former nationality code had been amended; any discrimination in assigning nationality was now prohibited: any child was Senegalese if either parent was Senegalese and any adopted child would become Senegalese if one of the adoptive parents was Senegalese.  A child found in Senegal, for whom it could not be proven to possess another nationality, would be automatically granted Senegalese nationality.

Abortion was currently prohibited in Senegal, said a delegate.  Provisions would be included for medical abortions, cases of rape, incest and child pregnancies. That way, the child would be spared of double punishment. 

Violence and corporal punishment were prohibited in both State and private schools, including Islamic schools.  Teachers using corporal punishment against their pupils were prosecuted.  Corporal punishment in families was to be repealed.

In 1993, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption had been adopted.  The related law, however, was not yet fully operational.

A central committee was in place to monitor all aspects of civil registration; the necessary budget was in place for that purpose.  The national average of birth registrations stood at 75 per cent.  Measures were being taken to improve access, also trying to ensure that health and registration services worked hand in hand.  Local authorities were managing registrars; a registration fee of 700 Senegalese francs was in place.  Through regular circulars, mayors were reminded of the importance of carrying out registrations and as a result, increases could be observed.

The number of children affected by HIV was decreasing thanks to advocacy efforts and cutting down on mother-to-child transmissions.  It was not possible to currently provide the number of children receiving anti-retroviral therapies.  

A State programme to combat female genital mutilation had been designed in such a way that it could be applied both regionally and nationally.  The prevalence of that harmful practice stood at 25 per cent in 2014, and was decreasing further.  

Regarding the movement of children in the region, it was explained that a West African support network, consisting of 15 countries, monitored children traveling between countries in the region, ensuring that they could raise relevant issues and be heard.

The Government was working on ensuring that all children were educated, regardless of their birth registration.

Follow-up Questions
 
What support was provided for children whose mothers were serving prison sentences, an Expert asked?

Could children make complaints about corporate punishment? Was it prohibited in all or only primary and public schools?  How about family settings?

A question was asked about rehabilitation.  What was the percentage of children with disabilities in the country?  What was being done to promote their schooling?

What was the budget for health and what was being done to combat maternal mortality? How was prenatal care provided for women in rural areas?  What was being done to ensure that HIV antiretroviral drugs were available for expectant mothers? Details were also asked about family planning programmes.

The cost of education was often seen as prohibitive; for that reason, poor families sent their children to Islamic schools.  Schools often provided only six years of primary education, for which an explanation was sought.

What support was provided to families so that they did not need to put their children into institutions, or to ensure that children did not end up on the street?  Was community care a formalized foster care system or rather informal?

An Expert inquired about training programmes available for judges, lawyers and police officers in the field of children’s rights.  Were there separate facilities in places of detention for keeping adults and children?  Was the fundamental principle of the best interest of the child applied?

What measures had been taken to ensure that victims of domestic violence received the treatment they needed, asked another Expert.

Replies by the Delegation
 
Corporal punishment was explicitly prohibited by decree in all primary schools, the delegation reiterated.  Any reported case led to charges being brought against alleged perpetrators; parents and children alike could lodge complaints.  In secondary schools there was no corporal punishment.  The Family Code enabled parents to apply corrective reprimands towards their children, but children in foster institutions could not be subject to corporal punishment.

The Children’s Ombudsman would be an independent institution in line with the Paris Principles and would receive children’s complaints and visit foster and detention facilities.

A 2000 decree allowed women serving prison sentences with children below the age of three to be held in prison with their child until the child reached three, after which alternative arrangements had to be made.  A visiting programme allowed children to maintain links with their mothers in prison. 

From the bottom to the very top of the education system, pupils and students were involved in the ways schools and universities were run and developed, the delegation informed.  Once the child was 15, hearing him out was mandatory; under that age, the judge would assess whether or not to hear the child.

A delegate informed that every year on 20 November, events were organized, with the involvement of children, to promote children’s rights, which was a great opportunity for awareness raising. 
 
The delegation said that education, health care and free access to public services were provided for disadvantaged, vulnerable groups.  Equal opportunity cards were available to those most vulnerable, who were identified with the help of local communities.  Community rehabilitation programmes were in place to assist persons with disabilities. 

The 2010 Law on Education and Training guaranteed access to education to all children; children with disabilities enjoyed free access to school, received family cash grants and had equal opportunity cards.  Orthopaedic devices were provided by social centres with the help of the Government.  It was emphasized that education was provided to all those children who were able to receive it.  Some children with disabilities required that adaptations be made, which was, unfortunately, not always possible.  Early age education and play facilities were well equipped, providing possibilities for learning and socialization.  A number of certain schools already followed inclusive models of education. 

Special awareness raising days and activities were in place to persuade girls not to drop out of school.  The campaign on child marriage had also helped reduce the number of girl drop-outs.  Whenever the authorities became aware of a child marriage, procedures were immediately put in place to annul such a marriage.  Pregnant girls were allowed to return to education once they delivered their babies; sometimes they went to different schools in order to avoid stigmatization. 

More than 4,400 classrooms in primary education had been constructed in recent years, the delegation said.  The number of temporary classrooms had been cut down to 11 per cent.  The Government was now looking into consolidating secondary education.  Steady growth had been noted in the sector of education over the previous decade.  A comprehensive bill was in the pipelines on modernizing Islamic schools daras.  A programme was in place in cooperation with the World Bank to establish 100 modern daras.

A delegate explained that a social budget observatory had been established in 2014.  From 2016, the observatory would be producing reports which would allow for a clearer understanding on budget use and allocation.  Senegal possessed some relevant statistics from different stand-alone studies, if not disaggregated data.

Recently, a tourism police force had been set up, while a national plan to combat sex abuse and tourism had been updated.  It was not a very visible phenomenon, and young girls sometimes acted as intermediaries.  Tourism establishments and hotels were patrolled by both regular and tourism police.  Further efforts were clearly needed in that regard, and Senegal would reassess its criminal machinery in order to combat both foreign and national sexual predators.  The Senegalese justice system regularly convicted such offenders and statistics could be provided. 

On adoptions, it was explained that Senegal gave preference to in-the-country adoptions over international adoptions.  There were no difficulties in that regard.

The authorities supervised all centres which hosted children.  Some centres had been closed down because they had not respected the instructions given to them and had not corrected the existing shortcomings.  Any child held in such centres should in advance be presented to a child judge.  The judge would entrust the child’s case to a specific service.   There was an official document stating that a child could be held in a public centre, which had to report regularly to the judges.  Regular monitoring visits were conducted by inspectors, who could propose follow-ups.

With regard to the juvenile justice for minors, a delegate said that specialized judges dealt with such cases.  Each child court had specialized education services attached to it.  Social investigations and inquiries were ordered by judges, all with the view of the protection and rehabilitation of children.  There were currently 26 social protection services in rural areas.  Reforms of the criminal system had been undertaken, and the public was now being informed about the changes.  The justice system modernization programme had been supported by the French Development Agency.

The prison population of children stood at over 1,780, the large majority of whom were boys.  The problem was that there was only one special prison for minors, in Dakar, whereas all others only had separate cells for minors.  The delegation specified that there existed separation between women and girls in prisons; each was placed in their respective wings.   It was emphasized that the justice system was being made more accessible to users, especially minors. 

Training and awareness-raising activities were provided by a training centre for all parts of the judiciary system.  Lawyers were provided with both ethical and practical training; the same was the case for police forces and the gendarmerie.  A two-year juvenile justice module had been rolled out.  Efforts were being made to avoid any possible stigmatization of youth offenders. 

The best interest of the child was a principle enshrined in all judicial proceedings and guided all considerations.  Assistance to child victims of sexual violence was assured, and reintegration of such children into their families was promoted through three pilot centres.  In the centres, children were protected from potential dangers, were heard by judges and given psycho-medical support.  The idea was to further roll out such centres across the country. 

Questions by Experts
 
A question was asked on the status of the demining programmes in the Casamance region.  What were the State party’s plans in that regard before more limbs and lives were lost?

Information was asked about the registration of refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Mauritania.  Did they have access to social services?   The delegation was asked to provide data on the repatriation of children.

Another Expert inquired what was being done to ensure the birth registration of children whose families had been displaced by armed conflicts.

Questions were asked about Caesarean births and blood transfusions, and a clarification was asked on who decided on those and whether they were free of charge.  The Expert also wanted to know about treating malnutrition and proving antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive children.

An Expert asked about children’s recreational and leisure activities inside schools and their communities.

Why had the Prime Minister’s 2010 decree on banning of begging been annulled by the President?

Replies by the Delegation
 
A delegate stated that the budget of the Ministry of Health had experienced a drop of over 11 per cent in 2015.  Every year a joint annual review was organized. 

Maternal mortality in Senegal was still high, said the delegate, and explained that the emphasis was now placed on the training of health care providers as well obstetric treatment for new-borns and new mothers.  Strategies were in place for rural and faraway areas as well, which included the recruitment of hundreds of mobile midwives.  Forty per cent of women were enrolled in pre-natal classes, which helped identify warning signs in pregnancy.  The screening of risk factors was undertaken, while qualified assistance was provided during child birth on a more and more regular basis. 

When a woman was pregnant, three months needed to pass before pre-natal consultations started.  Access was not always easy because of the inaccessibility of roads.  Training of matrons and the multiplication of health centres were among tools in that regard.

Family planning was used as one of the strategies to reduce maternal mortality.  The rate of contraceptive use had gone up by 27 per cent in recent years.  A social franchise with 50 private clinics provided services in that field.  An advocacy scheme had been developed vis-à-vis family planning in cooperation with religious and traditional leaders.  There had been an impact of family planning on the population, and an estimated 92,000 unwanted pregnancies had thus been avoided.

The use of contraceptives among girls between 15 and 18 years of age was not high.  In southern regions, for example, the rate of teenage pregnancies stood at 30 per cent, but in some regions that percentage stood at two to four per cent.

On the question on Caesarean births, it was explained that their prevalence stood at three per cent.  Complete Caesarean kits were provided when required as they were rather expensive.  Health care for new-borns until the age of five was provided free of charge.  The delegation stated that remote areas were prioritized when it came to the hiring of mobile midwives.  Mobile family planning clinics were also in place.  

Psychologists were trained to provide assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence.  The Ministry of Health provided coverage for such victims, which included medical and psychological support.  Funds had been received from the Global Fund and the Vaccine Alliance - GAVI to acquire vaccines, and the situation was reassuring.  As far as the public budget was concerned, the Government had been acquiring vaccines from its resources prior to the arrival of GAVI and the Global Fund.  That would be the case again once the two donors stopped their support; preparations were under way for such a development.

The number of children under 14 who were HIV-positive stood at over 5,000 in 2014, and a slight increase was expected in 2016.  Antiretroviral drugs were normally not available in remote areas, but rather at district levels.  Needs were forecast on an annual basis, and some stocks had been missing because of the technical obstacles with the institution validating the orders. 

Plans were in place to step up the availability of nutrition services, including through advocacy and training. 

Regarding the issue of floods and the Government’s response to them, a delegate informed that a national disaster risk strategy had been designed.  An emergency plan for children’s protection had also been prepared.  The work was conducted by school inspectorates and a mechanism for providing trauma support was in place.  Ad hoc reception centres for displaced populations had been established when the need had arisen. 

The Government of Senegal had established a national demining centre back in 2007.  Those demining operations were humanitarian, not military, in nature.  Awareness-raising campaigns on risks associated with mines continued.  They also involved setting up posters and warning signs in dangerous areas.  In Casamance, the situation had returned to normalcy and children attended school.  Statistics were available, but were partial in nature.

Cultural and leisure activities were given due attention.  During special events, drawing, painting and poetic workshops were organized.  Some of the activities were organized by children for children.

A legal framework had been necessary before modernizations of the daras could be undertaken.  Civil society had already started its activities to decrease child begging.
 
Concluding Remarks

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Senegal, noted that the delegation had been quite frank during the dialogue.  Everything said in the chamber was in the best interest of the child.  Some questions remained without a reply.  Malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and child beggars were among issues which required particular attention.  It was also hoped that structures would be put in place for children in conflict with the law.  The State party should ensure that all children living on the Senegalese soil had access to birth certificates.

MAME BABA CISSE, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that a revolution was underway in Senegal – in standard settings and programming.  The ultimate objective of the revolution was to ensure the better protection of children.  The 2010 mapping exercise had made possible the adoption of the National Strategy for the Protection of Children.  Consequently, decentralization was applied at all levels of the State.  The Children’s Code was very well advanced, as well as the bill on the Children’s Ombudsman, which was all part of standard setting.  Mr. Baba Cisse particularly stressed the importance of the programme for the modernization of daras.  The Government of Senegal thanked all partners who assisted it in the protection and promotion of children’s rights.  The delegation valued the dialogue with the Committee, which was a sign of international interest in supporting Senegal.

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