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Committee on the Rights of the Child examines report of Seychelles

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Seychelles under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Jeanne Simeon, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, noted that Seychelles remained determined to further improve the protection of children’s rights.  Significant advances had been made in early childhood care and education, culminating in the establishment of the Institute on Early Childhood Care and Education.  The country was a regional leader in those areas, according to UNESCO.  The National Action Plan on Social Renaissance launched in 2012 focused on building a concrete foundation for children’s growth and development in a rapidly changing world.  Children remained a high priority in the country and in 2015 a dedicated child protection team had been set up to respond to child abuse cases.  The Government was currently partnering with UNICEF on three projects to strengthen child protection.  In 2016 the Family Tribunal had been transferred to the judiciary and a new board had been created, consisting of two magistrates.  There was an increased application of the principle of the best interest of the child.  Education remained one of the most important sectors benefiting from one of the highest percentages of the national budget, second only to the health sector, and it accounted for nine per cent of the budget in 2017.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts inquired about the status of the Convention in domestic law, children’s awareness about the Convention, revision of the Children Act of 1982, adoption of a new National Action Plan on Children, budgetary allocations dedicated to children’s rights, data collection on child-related issues, child marriage and the minimum age of marriage, cooperation with civil society, the best interest of the child, the right of the child to be heard, traditional parenting vs. the spirit of the Convention, acceptance of “reasonable chastisement” at home (corporal punishment), establishing paternity of children, economic exploitation of children, especially in the tourism sector, sexual abuse in the family, trafficking of children, juvenile justice, the minimum age of criminal responsibility, sexual education and adolescent health, teenage pregnancies, abortion, institutionalization of children and foster care, education and school dropout rates, inclusive education for children with disabilities, breastfeeding, healthcare, and social security for children.

In concluding remarks, Velina Todorova, Rapporteur for Seychelles, appreciated the constructive and open dialogue with the delegation and expressed hope that the dialogue would improve the leadership of those sections of the Government which were tasked with enhancing the rights of children.

Ms. Simeon noted that the dialogue would help the Government shed light on the work that needed to be done going forward and to improve outcomes for children in Seychelles.  She assured the Committee that all its recommendations would be duly noted and taken on board, and shared at every level.

Suzanne Aho Assouma, Committee Vice-Chairperson, encouraged the Government of Seychelles to keeping going forward in reviewing policies, plans and programmes for children, and to always be vigilant in ensuring the best interest of the child.  

The delegation of Seychelles included representatives of the Ministry of Family Affairs, and its Social Affairs Department.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 22 January, at 10 a.m., to review the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Spain (CRC/C/ESP/5-6).
 
Report

The Committee is considering the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Seychelles (CRC/C/SYC/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

JEANNE SIMEON, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, noted that Seychelles was a proud signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it was committed to developing the full potential of all children, free from hunger and want.  Since the ratification, a lot of effort had been made to disseminate the Convention widely and it was the most widely known convention in the country today.  Each report to the United Nations treaty bodies was an example of the country’s commitment to upholding and protecting human rights.  Seychelles remained determined to further improve the protection of children’s rights and significant advances had been made in early childhood care and education, culminating in the establishment of the Institute on Early Childhood Care and Education.  The country was a regional leader in those areas, according to UNESCO.  The National Action Plan on Social Renaissance launched in 2012 had focused on building a concrete foundation for children’s growth and development in a rapidly changing world.  More importantly, the major success of the initiative was reflected in the national networks and partnerships.  Children remained a high priority in the country and in 2015 a dedicated child protection team had been set up to respond to child abuse cases.  The Government was currently partnering with UNICEF on three projects to strengthen child protection.  In 2016 the Family Tribunal had been transferred to the judiciary and a new board had been created, consisting of two magistrates.  There was an increased application of the principle of the best interest of the child.  

Through the Education Amendment Act in 2017, the Government had been able to ban corporal punishment in schools, and it was committed to ban it in all settings.  Education remained one of the most important sectors benefiting from one of the highest percentages of the national budget, second only to the health sector, and it accounted for nine per cent of the budget in 2017.  The Education Medium-Term Strategy 2013-2017 focused efforts towards ensuring that investments were made in the sector to improve the quality of education on offer and to provide children with the knowledge and skills to become highly productive citizens.  Nonetheless, multifaceted challenges remained, such as a decrease in extended families and family support networks, absent fathers and the continued rise in female-headed families, the effects of development and globalization on the family unit, the rise in substance abuse, the change in gender roles, the cost of living and many others.  The risk was that today’s problems would undermine the hard-won economic gains and progress.  In conclusion, Ms. Simeon noted that children’s rights would continue to remain high on the Government’s agenda.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Seychelles, congratulated Seychelles on all its efforts in upholding children’s rights.  She asked why the Government had not submitted the initial reports on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  

What was the status of the Convention in domestic law?  Was it invoked by national courts?  Were those working with children specifically trained on the Convention provisions?  When would the Children Act be revised and when would the Civil Code be adopted?

Ms. Idrissi welcomed the National Action Plan on Children 2005-2009.  What were the main results of the evaluation of that plan that was conducted in 2012?  Why was it that the State party had not adopted a new plan?

What were the details of budgetary allocations dedicated to children’s rights?  What measures had been taken to improve data collection on child-related issues and better use such information?  What was envisaged to meet the challenge of data collection?  

Would the national human rights commission be used for the collection of children’s complaints?  What measures was the State party taking in terms of sensitization about the minimum age of marriage?  How widespread was child marriage?  

To what extent was the best interest of the child understood as a right and a procedure?  What was the number of judicial decisions that specifically dealt with the best interest of the child?

How did the Government cooperate with civil society?  How many non-governmental organizations had been involved in the preparation of the State party’s report?  How were children involved in the drafting of the report? What measures were being considered to ensure that non-governmental organizations conformed to international standards on child protection?  Did civil society organizations have access to funding?  

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Seychelles, reminded that the Children Act of 1982 provided the legal basis for the right of the child to be heard.  Were there standards and practices on how the child expressed his or her views, and on preparing adults to listen to the child?  The major issue in that area seemed to be the hearing of children by the parents.  Were there policies to create a supportive and participative environment at home?  

There was a widespread perception among many children that their views and opinions were not adequately respected or acknowledged.  It was obvious that traditional parenting contradicted the spirit of the Convention that the child was a person with his or her own rights.  The State party’s report justified the concept of “reasonable chastisement” at home and the denial of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of association and assembly.  Were there any actions that encouraged the media to adopt codes of conduct on ethical rules in presenting children.

Ms. Todorova inquired whether the establishing of paternity of children was still pending.
What measures had been taken to ensure that asylum-seeking children and refugee children and their families had effective access to registration and identity documents.  

As for children’s rights and the business sector, were there any plans for the Government to expand its attention to the business sector and to encourage the adoption of codes of conduct in order to prevent the economic exploitation of children?

Turning to violence against children, what progress had been made to explicitly repeal the right to “administer proper chastisement” in the Children Act?  What measures had been taken to prevent sexual abuse of children in the family?  Was there a child-specific helpline and how did it function?  What kind of support did children receive from that service?  What services were available to the victims of abuse for their recovery and reintegration?  

An Expert wondered whether pregnant girls could continue their education.  
   
Replies by the Delegation

JEANNE SIMEON, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, explained that the National Commission for Child Protection had been established under the Child Act of 1982, whereas the Social Affairs Department was responsible for inter-institutional coordination.  The National Commission comprised key officials in the area of children’s rights and it was the main promoter of the Convention rights.  It engaged sectors in dialogue on children’s rights and placed focus on coordination.  

There were different kinds of positive parenting programmes delivered by the Government and civil society, and they had become an important part of the Social Renaissance Plan.  The number of recorded calls through the helpline set up for victims of violence had declined.  Social workers maintained the helpline, while school counselors provided information about it to children.  Victims of abuse received support services from the national police and the National Health Service.

The minimum age of marriage was still being reviewed by the Ministry of Immigration and Employment.  The number of early marriages remained extremely low, noted Ms. Simeon.

As for the budgetary allocations for child-related programmes, the programme-performance budgeting had been rolled out in all ministries and the allocation for child-related activities was yet to be assessed.  The National Council for Children had received a significant increase in budgetary resources.  The private sector also contributed to the fund on early childhood care.  

Teachers and parents were sensitized about the ban of corporal punishment and they received adequate training.  Ms. Simeon acknowledged that more had to be done in that area.  

The delegation explained that since the ratification of the Convention, the Government had always ensured that it had a relevant plan of action for children.  Following the evaluation of the Social Renaissance Plan, it had come up with new policies and programmes, namely the Plan of Action on the Family 2018-2022 which would encompass the protection of children.  The goal was to uphold the family as the central unit of society.    

Collecting reliable data continued to be a challenges for Seychelles due to the lack of human resources.  A major review of the Civil Code was underway and it was expected that the relevant committee would present its findings.  One of the aims was to remove all discriminatory language, such as “illegitimate” children.  
     
With respect to the measures to prevent sexual abuse in the family, the authorities had made a great effort to educate the public about abuse and children about their rights.  The Government placed a lot emphasis on the capacity-building of professionals and caregivers working with children.  There had not been any separate studies on sexual abuse, but there had been various others studies that indirectly reflected on the issue.

On establishing paternity of children, there had been a decrease in the number of children not recognized by their fathers.  The legislation allowed the mother to bring a case forward to establish the paternity of the child.  

With respect to the Optional Protocols, the delegation expressed its commitment to compiling and submitting the two initial reports.  

The Government had taken steps to allow citizens to report corruption and to raise their awareness about the issue.  The Anti-Corruption Commission had been established in 2016, while the Public Ethics Commission had existed for quite a while.   The Anti-Corruption Commission had the power to investigate corruption cases and seek remedies.  So far, no corruption cases had been sent to courts.  

The best interest of the child was of primary concern for the Government.  Only two of 13 judgments made by the Family Tribunal had not mentioned the best interest of the child.  Children were placed at the center of the development of policies on education.        
 
There were cases of teenage pregnancies.  Those girls received the necessary support in order to continue their education.  

Responding to the question about civil society’s participation in the compiling of the State party’s report, the Government had a good working relationship with non-governmental organizations, which were represented in the National Commission for Child Protection.  The Government monitored the non-governmental organizations that ran certain social programmes, their budgetary spending and the quality of the services they provided.  

The authorities made sure to include children’s opinions, but also recognized that more should be done in that respect, notably in sensitizing parents to allow their children to freely express their opinions and preferences.

The National Human Rights Commission was comprised of members appointed by the President, in consultation with the chief justice and the speaker of the Parliament.  The Commission was not well known to citizens.  Children, however, used other channels to be heard, such as the National Council for Children.  The Seychelles Youth Council was another mechanism that used input from youth.    

There was no record of child labour in Seychelles.  An inspection unit within the Ministry of Labour was in charge of combatting the economic exploitation of children.      

Concerning climate change and its impact on children’s rights, the delegation noted that children were included in relevant debates.  

Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Seychelles, inquired about the legal reform aimed at the equality of parents.  As for alternative care, how did the Government monitor the standards of placement and which standards were applied?  What were the reasons for placing children in institutional care?  Were there measures to reintegrate institutionalized children in their biological families?

Why was the Government inclined to place children with difficult behaviour in institutions, while believing that institutionalization should be the measure of last resort?  Could information be provided about the amendments on adoption and child abductions?      

Ms. Todorova reminded that Seychelles did not have a national asylum law and provisions regarding asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons.  

Turning to child labour, was it prohibited for children under 18 to work in hazardous labour activities?  Was the involvement of a child in the production and trafficking of drugs expressly prohibited under the Penal Law?  Did the Government consider raising the minimum age for light work to 13?  

As for sexual exploitation, there was information that children, predominantly girls, were induced into commercial sexual exploitation by peers, family members and pimps.  What kind of prevention measures were in place to raise the awareness of the public and parents about that problem?  How many prosecutions had been initiated and convictions pronounced?  What services were available for the recovery and rehabilitation of victims?

Ms. Todorova commended Seychelles for the enactment of the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2014.  How many cases of trafficking had been identified and prosecuted?  Was the business sector accountable?            

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Seychelles, asked about the concrete content of disability policies.  Was there an existing medical infrastructure and could more information be provided on it, namely concerning the number of medical doctors, the vaccination of children, the number of children infected by HIV, measures to combat drug use, and the prevalence of pregnancies and abortion among girls?  Had the Government studied the root causes for suicide among children and adolescents?  

What was the impact of the measures to fight against school dropout and gender discrimination in education?  What access was available for children in vulnerable situations to cultural and leisure activities?  

How come the Government had not developed a code of conduct for tourism professionals?  Where could children report abuse and be given guarantees for security?  How many child psychiatrists were there in Seychelles, asked Ms. Idrissi?  

An expert referred to “pockets of poverty” and unequal distribution of wealth in Seychelles.  What was the present rate of poverty among children?  

Another Expert asked about the policies to promote breastfeeding for the first six months of the life of the child or longer.  

What had the Government done to ensure social security for children from low-income families?  

Was there a programme to prevent HIV?  

Replies by the Delegation

JEANNE SIMEON, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, said that there had been a marked increase in the number of medical staff, as part of the Government’s effort to build capacity in the medical field.  Each district in the country had one trained medical practitioner, whereas the total number of psychologists was 11.  There was nearly universal immunization coverage in the country.

Seychelles had ratified the World Health Organization strategy on exclusive breastfeeding, and the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the country stood at 89 per cent.  The maternity leave was extended for six months for working mothers, Ms. Simeon explained.  

There had been a decrease in the number of legally obtained abortions in the past three years due to targeted health education sessions for youth at schools.  There were no deaths recorded as the result of abortions outside medical facilities.  There were 543 abortions in 2013, and 484 in 2015, out of which 68 were carried out in official medical establishments.  The authorities knew about the figures of unofficial abortions because hospitals provided aftercare, Ms. Simeon stated.  

The National Sexual and Adolescent Reproductive Health Strategy had been in place since 2015, and sexual education was part of the general school curriculum.  Responding to the question about the prevention of relationships between girls and older men, and resulting early pregnancies, the authorities tried to provide skills and resilience to adolescents in order to make informed choices.  There was no information on girls under the age of 14 cohabitating with older men, which was an offence.  Social officers monitored any such cases.    

As for mother-to-child HIV transmissions, affected mothers underwent relevant medical programmes.  There were no transmissions recorded in 2015 and 2016, while one case was reported in 2017.  The National AIDS Council implemented engagement with youth in order to start sensitization as early as possible, using the age-appropriate language.  

Climate change was integrated across subjects in school curriculum and different environmental clubs.  All schools had a disaster management plan, and were built on high grounds.  Safety standards for buildings were very meticulous and carefully monitored.  

The delegation explained that some teenage mothers chose not to return to school and the authorities respected that choice.  Pregnant girls were allowed to continue their schooling until the sixth month of pregnancy.  Those who did not return to schools after childbirth were encouraged to enroll into vocational programmes organized by the Ministry of Labour.  Compulsory education ran up to the age of 15.  

Most institutionalized children ended up in alternative care due to abuse within the family.  Social services visited homes for children and reported on how their financing was used.  Children in care homes attended school like all the other children and had an opportunity to participate in extracurricular and sport activities.  Reintegration depended on the assessment of the home environment, and the aptness of biological parents and any other biological relatives.  There was a formal and informal system of foster care, the informal system involving extended family members taking care of the child.  

The children’s helpline was one of the measures to provide avenues for confidential complaints.  In the school system children could address their complaints to counsellors and teachers, as well as to social workers at the community level.  Most of the complaints were addressed to social services for follow-up.        

There was no information that sexual exploitation of minors was directly linked with poverty, but rather with drug abuse.  Pedophilia was criminalized under the Penal Code.  The authorities were conscious of the problem and they endeavored to sensitize the tourism industry and raise awareness about the risks of sexual exploitation.  As for potential adoption of a code of conduct for tourism professionals, the delegation stated that the Government intended to start relevant consultations with tourism professionals.          

Turning to the delay of the review of the Civil Code, the delegation explained that it was due to the long list of reviewed articles.  The Government was committed to having legal frameworks corresponding to the needs of the time.  The most pressing review was that related to corporal punishment.  

As for the list of hazardous work for children under the age of 12, it would be included in the national legislation.  There was also a regulation that prohibited employers from requiring children under the age of 18 from working before or after certain hours.  There were currently 11 labour inspectors in the country who could conduct surprise site visits.  No policy decision had been taken by the Government on light or holiday work for children.  The delegation could not state whether there were any cases of children in domestic work.    

On the national framework for orphans and vulnerable children and adolescents, the Government would identify services on offer and potential lacunae in order to design a comprehensive care package.  Those children were already taken care of through other mechanisms.  

With respect to the domestication of the Convention, the whole Convention had not been domesticated, but its key principles had been applied.  For example, a list of considerations for the best interests of the child was applied by courts.         

As for poverty and social security, according to a 2013 study, the income poverty rate stood at 39.3 per cent.  In 2016 the World Bank reported an extreme poverty rate of 1.1 per cent, whereas moderate poverty stood at 2.5 per cent.  According to a 2017 poverty survey conducted on the main island in Seychelles, the most important problems related to housing, running water, electricity, toilet facilities, overcrowding, unemployment and drug abuse.  Hence, the post of Secretary of State for Poverty Alleviation had been created.  The new tax policy ensured that people with low salaries did not pay taxes.  A comprehensive welfare assistance programme was in place as a safety net for families.  Upon the death of a parent, children could automatically benefit from semi-orphan financial assistance regardless of their financial situation, which reflected the Government’s determination to remain avant guard in the provision of social protection.  

Seychelles currently did not have measures to specifically address asylum-seekers and refugees.  If such cases were to identified, current structures could be used to tackle that issue.  But the country could not establish the kind of structures that other countries had for asylum seekers and refugees.  

Ms. Simeon clarified that the Education Sector Medium-Term Strategy was in its final stage of implementation and work was in progress to finalize the next Medium-Term Strategic Plan 2018-2022.  The Ministry of Education had already finalized the initial phase of the review of the previous strategy for the 2013-2017 period through an audit exercise.  The plan had been implemented only partly due to the constraints of resources, including budgetary and human resources.  One major achievement of the previous strategy was the finalization of the Education Amendment Act which updated some of the provisions of the Act to better correspond to current needs, namely responsibilities of teachers and safety of educational institutions.  

Girls in Seychelles were increasingly enrolling into professional programmes traditionally dominated by boys, such as maritime professions.  Inclusive education for children with disabilities was limited due to the lack of qualified personnel and the relevant plan was only partly implemented.  Nevertheless, the Government continued to focus on providing training to those staff already implementing special needs programmes and to encourage new people to take on work in that field, Ms. Simeon said.        

In order to tackle school dropout, the authorities had in place preventive programmes for those at risk of dropping out.   The Government was currently conducting a detailed survey on school dropout in order to design suitable educational and skills development programmes.  Since 2016 the Ministry of Education had operated school attendance officers to follow up on cases of children regularly absent from school in order to notify and involve parents.  

Turning to juvenile justice, the delegation noted that pre-trial detention was applied to juveniles only in extreme cases, and that juveniles were not detained together with adults.  Most of them received community-service orders.  Police custody for children lasted up to 24 hours.  Pre-trial detention could last up to seven days in cases when further investigation was necessary.  There were no juvenile prisons or wings in the country.  

There were no specialized judges for children’s issues but the Family Tribunal had special magistrates for children’s cases.  As for contradictory provisions on the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the delegation clarified that it was 12.  However, children between the age of seven and 12 could be held responsible if they demonstrated the capacity to understand that they had committed a criminal act.  

Concluding Remarks

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Seychelles, appreciated the constructive and open dialogue with the delegation which clarified many positions of the Government of Seychelles and filled in the Committee’s gaps in understanding the country.  Ms. Todorova expressed hope that the dialogue would improve the leadership of those sections of the Government which were in charge of enhancing the rights of children.

JEANNE SIMEON, Minister of Family Affairs of Seychelles, extended gratitude to the Committee for its suggestions and recommendations.  She noted that the dialogue would help the Government shed light on the work that needed to be done going forward and to improve outcomes for children in Seychelles.  She added that the authorities were aware of the remaining challenges, and she reassured the Committee that all its recommendations would be duly noted, taken on board, and shared at every level.        

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Vice-Chairperson, encouraged the Government of Seychelles to keep going forward in reviewing policies, plans and programmes for children, and to always be vigilant in ensuring the best interest of the child.

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