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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers reports of Vanuatu

GENEVA (22 September 2017) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded the consideration of the second periodic report of Vanuatu under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its initial reports under two Optional Protocols to the Convention, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  The review of the reports of Vanuatu took place via a videoconference. 

Jenny R. Tevi, Acting Head of the Treaties and Conventions Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu, in the introduction of the reports, said that 44 per cent of the total population of Vanuatu of 243,304 were children; such a large child population was the driving force behind reforms and measures taken to ensure that an enabling environment was provided for their holistic development.  Many positive steps had been taken but more collaborative efforts were needed to continue to promote the rights of all children, stressed Ms. Tevi.  She informed the Committee of the legislative steps taken to harmonize the national laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the adoption of the Family Protection Law in 2008.  Vanuatu had developed the National Child Protection Policy in 2016, National Inclusive Education Policy 2010-2020, Child Safeguarding Policy 2017-2020, and had adopted the strategy for reproductive, neo-natal, child and adolescent health for the period 2017 -2020.  The adoption bill, aligned to the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, was being discussed and a disability policy in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was under the development.  Vanuatu continued to face financial and human resources challenges, while the provision of adequate education and health services for all children remained limited due to the remoteness of islands scattered all over the archipelago, concluded Ms. Tevi.

Committee Experts welcomed the progress reflected in the adoption of new laws and policies and recognized the challenges that Vanuatu faced as a Small Island Developing State in the Pacific.  They asked whether resource allocation for the implementation of laws and policies – particularly the new child policy - were sufficient, and inquired about data collection systems and coordination mechanisms.  Concerns were raised about the definition of the child which discriminated against girls as it was set at 16 years for girls and 18 for boys, disproportionate school drop-out rates for girls, and very high rates of early pregnancies.  Despite the efforts, 30 per cent of children were still not registered at birth, infant mortality and malnutrition rates were high, and literacy remained low. 

During the examination of the report on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation was asked why the Penal Code criminalized trafficking but not the sale of children, and whether there was a specific action plan to address child prostitution and child pornography especially online pornography. 

On the involvement of children in armed conflict, Experts asked about the intention to criminalize the recruitment of children under 18 years of age by non-State armed groups and to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes under the Optional Protocol without applying the criterion of double criminality.

In closing, Ms. Tevi acknowledged the many gaps and challenges that existed in the area of protection of children’s rights and welcomed the Committee’s concluding observations which would present a fair assessment of Vanuatu’s progress.

In his closing remarks, Clarence Nelson, Committee Rapporteur for Vanuatu, said that this constructive dialogue was an opportunity to take stock of the state of play regarding child policy in Vanuatu, and that all pertinent issues would be included in the concluding observations.

The delegation of Vanuatu included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade, Ministry of Justice, Social Affairs and Community Services, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education and Training.

The concluding observations on the reports of Vanuatu will be made public on the session’s webpage after 29 September 2017.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday 25 September at 10 a.m. to review the initial reports of Guinea under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/GIN/1) and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/GIN/1).

Reports

The Committee is considering the second periodic report of Vanuatu under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/VUT/2), and its initial reports under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/VUT/1), and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/VUT/1).

Presentation of the Reports

JENNY R. TEVI, Acting Head of the Treaties and Conventions Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu, presenting the reports via a videoconference from Port Vila, said that 44 per cent of the total population of Vanuatu of 243,304 were children; such a large child population was the driving force behind reforms and measures taken by the Government to ensure that an enabling environment was provided for their holistic development.  All efforts were being taken in cooperation and with the support of non-governmental and religious organizations, and development partners.  Many positive steps had been taken but more collaborative efforts were needed to continue to promote the rights of all children, stressed Ms. Tevi.  She informed the Committee of the legislative steps taken to harmonize the national laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the adoption of the Family Protection Law in 2008.  Vanuatu had also developed the National Child Protection Policy in 2016, National Inclusive Education Policy 2010-2020, Child Safeguarding Policy 2017-2020, and the adoption of the strategy for reproductive, neo-natal, child and adolescent health for the period 2017 -2020. 

The adoption bill, aligned to the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, was being discussed, as well as disability policy in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Strategies to include children with disabilities in service provision were being developed.  Vanuatu continued to face financial and human resources challenges, while the movement of people from one Government department to another made reporting difficult at times, including the reporting under the Convention.  The provision of adequate education and health services for all children continued to be an issue given the limited human resources available, while the remoteness of islands scattered all over the archipelago represented a formidable challenge to service delivery.  Despite those challenges, Vanuatu continued to be ranked “the happiest planet on Earth”, concluded Ms. Tevi.

Consideration of the Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Questions from the Committee Experts

BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Vanuatu, starting with questions on legislation asked about a possibility of ratifying the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, whether the Family Code and the law on right to health had been discussed at the Parliament, and at what stage of passing was the law on cybercrime.

The Rapporteur noted there were ten strategies in the area of education and asked how those numerus strategies and tools were coordinated, why so many existed, and were they properly assessed.  How did the children participate in policy development?

 

There were two data collection systems, one used by the Prime Minister and another by the Government – could the delegation explain the duplication?  In the same vein, there were two coordination mechanisms, the National Children’s Committee and the Ministry of Justice – what were their roles and functions and how was the National Children’s Committee funded?

The delegation was asked to explain how the needs were assessed prior to the allocation of funds and to provide data on the allocation of funds across priority areas.  How did the overall dependence on foreign aid affect budget constraints? Was the child protection policy funded by the Government, donors, or both?

Measures on disseminating the Convention had been taken, noted the Rapporteur and asked if judges, social workers, police officers and children themselves were involved in dissemination efforts.

The age of child was set at 16 for girls and 18 for boys - would Vanuatu ensure that the definition of the child was in line with the Convention and that it was raised to 18 years for girls and boys?

Mr. Gastaud noted the success of the campaigns conducted to raise awareness about birth registration which had resulted in 70 per cent coverage, and asked about the plans for the remaining 30 percent.  Was there a time limit for birth registration and were there sanctions for parents who failed to meet the deadline?  What were the objectives and planned activities of the National Child Protection Policy 2016-2026, and could children freely establish clubs and societies?

The Rapporteur then turned his attention to education asking if primary education was free and compulsory, and inquired about actions to tackle the low level of literacy, high drop-out rates and to raise the knowledge of teaching staff.  Was the human rights education included in the curriculum?

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Vanuatu, recognized the challenges of a Small Island Developing State in the Pacific and reassured the delegation that the Committee was available to offer its support in addressing those issues. 

Vanuatu had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities although it had not yet adopted a law or policy on the protection of children with disabilities.  How was the population protected during the natural disasters?  What was the state of affairs concerning anti-discrimination laws and policies?

Mr. Nelson took good note of the fact that courts in their decisions recognized the principle of best interest of the child, and asked whether this principle was enshrined in the law, particularly in cases of adoption.  Vanuatu had abolished the customary form of dispute resolution in which children were exchanged from one tribe to another – would this practice also be criminalized under the law?  How were the views of children taken into account in court and administrative procedures, and were the professionals working with children trained in this area?

Corporal punishment was prohibited in schools, noted the Rapporteur and asked what was being done to prohibit it in all settings, whether offenders were prosecuted, and what was being done to increase awareness and knowledge of alternative, non-violent means of punishment.  Were child-friendly complaint mechanisms in place?

On violence, family protection units dealing with domestic violence had been established in police stations, including in rural areas - was there a plan to extend their mandate to include sexual violence as well, and what was the country doing to address sexual abuse in family setting and domestic violence?   Turning to victims of violence, the Rapporteur asked about the availability of the assistance, shelters and recovery programmes, and about the role of women’s centres mentioned in the report.  Penalties for sexual offences against children had been increased – were the information about the application of new penalties by the courts available? 

Finally, Mr. Nelson asked about helplines for children, whether they were staffed with trained professionals, and how accessible they were to the outer islands.

Another Expert asked about the reasons for which 16 per cent of children did not live with their biological parents: was it poverty or other reasons, whether they lived with the extended family, and how their welfare was monitored.  Social welfare unit was lacking, were there any measures to establish it?

Informal adoption had been reduced and a legal reform of the adoption had been initiated; an adoption bill was being discussed in the Parliament, noted an Expert and asked about the main changes it would introduce.  How many children were awaiting adoption?  Did the country plan to join the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption?  The delegation was asked about intercountry abduction and the plans to ratify the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The law allowed children under the age of two to stay with their incarcerated mothers – how was the best interest of the child considered in such cases?

Experts also asked about public policies to promote breastfeeding and the length of maternity leave; mental health disorders among adolescents including food disorders, substance abuse, suicide, depression and anxiety and the protocols for the provision of psychiatric care; and the existence of school programmes which targeted substance abuse.

In the area of health, the shortage of doctors and health infrastructure was noted, as well as lack of sanitation structures and limited access to drinking water.  An Expert asked about measures to reduce high infant mortality rates and address the leading causes of death including low vaccination coverage, malnutrition and malaria.  How was the child health service provision organised in hospitals, and in the outer islands?  Was there adequate support by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization?  The National AIDS Committee had been established and an Expert asked what its role was.

How were human rights incorporated in climate change adaption strategies?  Were schools equipped with early warning signals and did evacuation plans exist for children in remote areas?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the legal framework, the delegation said that there were no plans to ratify the Optional Protocol on communications procedure at the moment but that Vanuatu would continue to consider it.  The Family Code had undergone a series of consultations and the recommendations thus received had been incorporated in the bill.  The law on cybercrime had not been passed yet and the Office of the Prime Minister planned to launch a new round of consultations on this piece of legislation.
 
Concerning data collection and the unit at the Office of the Prime Minister, the delegation said that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education had two data collection systems which were coordinated by the Ministry of Justice.  Units in charge of data collection were undergoing training on the collection of data on children with disabilities.

The Ministry of Justice was in charge of coordinating the implementation of the Convention on the Right of the Child and in this, it was working with other line Ministries.  The Child Desk, operating under the Ministry of Justice, was staffed by one national child desk officer and two provincial child protection programme officers; those positions were funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Due to the budgetary constraints, no specific budget had been allocated for the implementation of the National Child Protection Policy, however, Ministries were working with the Ministry of Justice to request additional funding.  The core of the policy was to create an environment in which further promotion of children’s rights was possible.

Standard operating procedures had been developed to work with children on dissemination of the Convention, and teachers were being trained as well.

The definition of the child was included in the National Child Protection Policy, said the delegation and added that an amendment would soon be adopted to raise the age of child for girls from the current 16 to 18 year and so bring in compliance with the Convention.  There were efforts to increase birth registration rates, including through removal of fees and public information programmes, but this was a challenging task given the isolations of the islands.

The Disability Desk under the Ministry of Justice and Community Services was in the process of consultation on the inclusive education policy, which would be adopted before the end of this year.  The National Disability Policy 2016-2022 had been reviewed and the disability bill was being prepared.  Vanuatu was taking measures to ensure accessibility of all public buildings and schools, and was implementing awareness raising activities to remove stigma and inferior views of the community towards children with disabilities.  With inclusive education, it was becoming easier for children with disabilities to attend regular schools and teachers were being trained in inclusive teaching.

There was no specific law on the best interest of the child, but there were efforts to address this matter.  The draft bill on adoption was ongoing consultations.   There were child protection officers in communities who, inter alia, worked on training of professionals; trainings were conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund and regional organizations as well, and the judicial staff were receiving training in the context of the capacity building of the judiciary.

Concerning corporal punishment, awareness raising activities were being conducted amongst parents, communities and teachers.  Corporal punishment had been criminalized in schools but not yet in other settings; child protection focal points were in charge of monitoring and reporting on the violations of the ban.  Parents were informed and educated about alternative non-violent methods of sanctioning their children.

Family protection units in the police stations provided counselling to victims of sexual violence.  Pilot studies were conducted in this area, since sexual abuse in family continued to be one of the main problems in the society.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts asked about available statistics concerning child labour, and the legislation on teen pregnancies and teen prostitution which had become a prominent issue in Port Vila.

While guidelines incorporating principles on juvenile justice system existed, was there a draft law in this area, asked an Expert, noting that it had been discussed for a long time.  Were there separate facilities for children in detention, and what was the situation concerning pre-trial detention of juveniles?

Consideration of the Reports under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

GEHAD MADI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Vanuatu, on the involvement of children in armed conflict noted that Vanuatu did not conduct wide awareness raising activities to disseminate the provisions of the Optional Protocol and asked whether there were any plans to do so.  Were there any trainings conducted for professionals working with children in this context? 

Did Vanuatu participate in any United Nations peacekeeping operations, and if so, were the peacekeepers trained in the Convention and its Optional Protocols?

Was there an intention to criminalize the recruitment of children under 18 years of age by non-State armed groups, and to establish extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes under the Optional Protocol without applying the criterion of double criminality?

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Vanuatu, addressed the matters under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and asked whether the unit in the Office of Prime Minister would be in charge of collecting the data on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?  Were there any awareness raising activities to disseminate the Optional protocol on the sale of children?

Noting that the Penal Code criminalized trafficking but not the sale of children, the Rapporteur said that an amendment was needed to rectify this.  The age of sexual consent was 15 – were there any efforts to raise it to the internationally recognized age of 18 years?  What was being done to tackle child prostitution and to combat child pornography and online pornography?  Did Vanuatu plan to adopt a specific plan of action regarding the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?

Was the extraterritorial jurisdiction for all the offences under this Optional Protocol established in the legislation?

In a round of follow-up questions, Committee Experts said that data showed that almost 50 percent of girls quit school in the seventh grade, so the delegation was asked what had been done to address this problem, including to support pregnant girls to continue their education.  What was being done to prevent early pregnancies?

Would a new child safeguarding policy be implemented in all schools and were children aware of its existence?  What considerations were being given to the ratification of the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children?

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions on the protection and services for victims of violence, a delegate said that a system had been set up under the Ministry of Justice to provide support to victims, while an officer from the Office of the Public Prosecutor was in charge to ensure that victims were provided adequate assistance.  There were no special shelters for victims, however the police units were able to provide assistance.  Several centres covering different regions had been set up to house women victims of domestic violence, but there were no centres for children.  Helplines were provided in Port Vila 24 hours a day.

Concerning the increased penalties for sexual offences under the amendments to the Penal Code adopted last week, the court could elevate the sentence to life imprisonment. 

The delegation was aware of the figure of 16 percent of children who did not live with their parents and noted that family ties were still strong in Vanuatu and that most of those children stayed with their extended families.

There was no social welfare unit, but the Ministry of Justice was working with the provincial committees to raise their capacity to provide protection to children.  A 2011 child protection survey had led to a pilot project in one of the islands which had strengthened the role of the provincial committee to implement the child protection policy.

There was an increase in the number of adoption cases assigned by the courts; the law regulating the adoption was the Adoption Act of the United Kingdom 1958, which was why it had to be amended.

Mothers were encouraged to breastfeed and guidelines on this topic had been recently approved.  Mental health policy was in place and trainings had been recently conducted on the issues of depression, schizophrenia, and suicide. 

In terms of child’s health, the delegation explained that paediatricians were not available in all the provinces.  An assessment into the field situation had been conducted in order to prepare the new vaccination programme, and it had been decided that vaccines would be flown to remote locations by drones.  A consultant would be hired in 2018 to assess the integrated management of childhood diseases, especially diarrhoea.  Numerous water, sanitation and hygiene activities implemented by the United Nations Children’s Fund aimed to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions and increase access to clean drinking water.

Climate change had been integrated in the curricula and training programmes for teachers on disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management had been developed but, due to the lack of funds, had been rolled out in two provinces only.  The Ministry of Education worked on an emergency policy and preparedness for the cyclones, while schools were being encouraged to have emergency plans in place.

Free education policy was limited, since boarding fees were still to be met by the parents.  The Ministry of Education continuously organized awareness raising activities on the importance of mandatory education. 

Responding to questions on sexual violence, the delegation said that in June 2017, the child safeguarding policy had been launched.  It targeted children and teachers, and devised a referral mechanism to which complaints or incidents of sexual violence could be reported.  Each school would have a child protection focal point to receive complaints and raise the issue with the provincial education officer, who would contact the police, depending on the severity of the issue.

The State was encouraging the continued education of pregnant girls and so far, two schools had accepted to re-enrol girls after they had given birth.  Awareness raising activities were being conducted to address the problem of early pregnancies in schools.  Youth clubs were being set up in cooperation with high schools in four provinces, on a pilot basis, and they were actively disseminating information on reproductive health.  It was hoped that those activities would reduce the incidence of early pregnancies.

A special malaria unit in the Ministry of Health worked in cooperation with the provincial malaria units, supported by the Global Fund; insecticide-treated bed nets had been introduced as an important prevention mechanism.  The National AIDS Committee was overseeing the HIV/AIDS programmes in terms of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the national response for the effective prevention, treatment, care and support.

In the education sector, a road map was in place which had set up the agenda and the overall objectives.  Teachers were continuously undergoing trainings to improve the quality of education at the Vanuatu Institute of Teachers Education, while 29 teachers had been granted scholarship this year.  The Australia-Pacific Technical College also offered six-month courses.

In response to questions on child labour, the delegation explained that the minimum age for work was 18, in line with the International Labour Organization Conventions.

Outlining the efforts in the domain of juvenile justice, the delegation said that the sectoral strategy and the business plan of the Ministry of Justice had been prepared.  The draft bill on juvenile legislation was being considered and the construction of juvenile centres was underway.  There were no separate pre-trial detention facilities for minors thus Vanuatu was discussing the support with several development partners to establish such facilities.

Turning to the questions raised under the two Optional Protocols, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation regretted that it could not provide full replies to the questions raised due to the fact that some staff members had moved to another department, making the reporting difficult.

In terms of the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation said that a
general training was being provided to all police officers and it included a human rights component.  Extradition law was in place, but so far, there had been no instances requiring the establishment of the extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes under the Optional Protocol.

Concerning the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation said that the Penal Code did criminalize trafficking; many people from Vanuatu were going for seasonal work across the region, and incidents of human trafficking had been reported.  The International Organization for Migration was collecting data. 

The delegation asked the Committee to ensure that all the gaps and inconsistencies identified in the Penal Code, were put forward in the concluding observations.

At the moment, Vanuatu was not in a position to commit to the ratification of the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and the delegation urged the Committee to include this point in its concluding observations.

Concluding remarks

JENNY R. TEVI, Acting Head of the Treaties and Conventions Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu, thanked the Committee on behalf of the Vanuatu Government and recognized the many gaps and challenges in the area of the protection of children’s rights.  This dialogue was a chance to obtain a fair assessment of the progress achieved and Vanuatu welcomed the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations.

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Vanuatu, expressed the appreciation for the dialogue and the regret that the delegation did not include the Minister, hoping that the Committee’s views would be conveyed to the decision-makers.  The dialogue was an opportunity to take stock of the state of play regarding child policy in Vanuatu, he said, adding that the Committee would address all pertinent issues in its concluding observations.

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