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Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews report of El Salvador

Committee on the Rights of the Child

19 September 2018

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth to sixth periodic report of El Salvador on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Zaira Navas, Executive Director of the National Council for Children and Adolescents of El Salvador, in the introduction of the report, stressed that boys, girls and adolescents were prioritized as key populations in the national development plan 2014-2019, and then outlined the efforts to strengthen the country’s legal and institutional framework.  Mentioning in particular the 2009 Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Childhood and Adolescence in 2009 and the National Policy for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents (2013-2023), Ms. Navas said that those constituted a breakthrough in in harmonizing the legislation with the principles and provisions of the Convention, and demonstrated the State’s responsibility as a guarantor and protector of children’s rights.  Measures to expand the care of pregnant women and children up to the age of nine, coupled with the promotion of breastfeeding, contributed to the significant progress in the fight against infant and maternal mortality and child stunting, while the national security plan, Plan Seguro or Safe El Salvador, halved the homicide rates among children and youth.  Thanks to steps taken to curb school dropout, 97 per cent of students in 2017 had graduated, she said, and care and support programme for returning migrant children had been put in place.  Concluding, the Executive Direction outlined the challenges ahead, including maintaining and expanding basic services for children, reducing rates of violence, including gang and sexual violence, and supporting the victims.

Committee Experts commended the achievements in the protection of children’s rights, in particular the strengthening of the legal, policy and institutional frameworks, but noted the remaining legal gaps, such as the lack of legislation on administrative and judicial procedures, the complexity of the national child protection system which was very hard to understand, and the lack of disaggregated data on children which hampered the monitoring of the progress in the realization of children’s rights.  Violence, they said, was possibly the key problem in the country, which had one of the highest murder rates of children in the world: At least one child per day continued to be murdered in El Salvador, and this was a tragedy.  The dimension of the problem was partly explained by the existence of youth criminal gangs, but the root causes of this phenomenon, which was affecting all walks of life, had not yet been addressed.  The Plan Seguro, the national security plan, did not reflect the specific situation of children and should put more emphasis on the protection of victims and prevention of violence, and less on repression.  The recent Supreme Court decision, which described gangs as terrorist groups, carried a risk for those working on releasing the children from their ranks, to be accused of cooperating and collaborating with terrorists.  Teenagers paid a high price for the friction between police and gangs, and were frequent victims of police brutality.  While the budgetary allocations for education and health had increased since the mid-20th century, at 3.3 per cent of the national budget in 2014, they remained well below the Latin American average.  Some US$ 550 million – or 2.1 per cent of the gross domestic product - had been lost to corruption in 2015: what was being done to stamp out this scourge that detracted resources from child rights policies?

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on El Salvador, concluded by emphasizing the importance of addressing poverty and violence that were still a huge problem, and stressed in this context the fight against impunity.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Navas welcomed the Committee’s recommendations on how to improve and strengthen the child protection system which was only seven years old, as well as other recommendations to help the country improve the rights of children and adolescents.

Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their honesty and said that the Committee was very aware of the problems in El Salvador and the efforts to tackle them.

The delegation of El Salvador included representatives of the National Council for Children and Adolescents, Ministry for Social Inclusion, Direction of the Population Groups, and members of the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 20 September, to consider the combined third to sixth periodic report of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/SLV/5-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth to sixth periodic report of El Salvador under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/SLV/5-6).

Presentation of the report

ZAIRA NAVAS, Executive Director of the National Council for Children and Adolescents of El Salvador, in the introduction of the report, explained that the report presented to the Committee was an outcome of a process which had brought together over 25 institutions from the State, civil society organizations, and representatives of children and youth organizations; it outlined the progress made and challenges faced in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in El Salvador.  The national development plan 2014-2019 had as its pillars the transformation of the State and the participation of all citizens in development through public policies with a human rights, gender, and a cradle-to-grave focus.  In this process, said Ms. Navas, the State prioritized boys, girls and adolescents as key populations.  As recommended by the Committee, El Salvador had adopted in 2009 the Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Childhood and Adolescence, followed by the adoption of the National Policy for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents 2013-2023, and the National Action Plan 2014-2017.  Those instruments constituted progress in harmonizing the legislation with the principles and provisions of the Convention, and demonstrated the State’s responsibility as a guarantor and protector of children’s rights.

El Salvador had further strengthened its legal and policy framework in the area of child’s rights, said Ms. Navas, mentioning in particular the Equality, Equity and Eradication of Discrimination against Women Act and the Law on Life Free from Violence against Women, as well as the legislation on the promotion and protection of breastfeeding, on social protection, on trafficking in persons, and on information technology crimes.  Child marriage had been prohibited in the Family Code, the rights of children deprived of their liberty strengthened in the amended Youth Criminal Act, and steps taken to protect children from all forms of pornography, harassment and bullying.  The reform proposal by the President of the Republic to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment was still being studied.  The Head of the Delegation then highlighted the creation in 2010 of a special chamber for children and adolescents and the appointment of three specialized judges in this area, as well as the creation of the National Council Childhood and Adolescence in 2011, which coordinated the protection of the rights of children and adolescents.  The national system for comprehensive child protection included public and private institutions aimed at children and adolescents were properly heard and that they enjoyed their rights, she said, adding that 123 Rights Committees had been set up since 2012, to hear children’s complaints of rights violations.

The budgetary allocations for social development had increased in the 2015-2017 period and targeted steps to fight poverty had reduced the proportion of the poor in the country.  Measures to expand the care of pregnant women and children up to the age of nine, coupled with the promotion of breastfeeding, contributed to the significant progress made in the fight against infant and maternal mortality and child stunting.  Ms. Navas also pointed out an important reduction in school dropout rates and the fact that in 2017, 97 per cent of all students graduated, while the national security plan, Plan Seguro or Safe El Salvador, had halved the homicide rates among children and youth.  Steps were being taken to support the return of El Salvadorian children in irregular migration situations, including through the implementation of a care program for returning populations.  Despite the country's progress in implementing the provisions of the Convention, a number of challenges remained, such as maintaining and expanding basic services for children, especially in the field of education, and ending sexual violence and putting in place a safe environment.  There was also a need for more funding for child rights institutions, she said, strengthening child-care programmes for victims of violence, and reducing rates of violence, including gang violence.

Questions by the Committee Experts

At the beginning of the interactive dialogue with El Salvador, an Expert commended the achievements in the area of protection of children’s rights, in particular the steps taken to strengthen its legal, policy and institutional frameworks.  Noting that the National Action Plan had ended in 2017, he asked whether its impact had been evaluated and whether the Plan would be extended.

Legal gaps remained too, such as the lack of the legislation on administrative and judicial procedures, while the national child protection system was very complex and hard to understand - could the delegation explain the place, the role, and the coordination of various institutions and instruments in this system?  The delegation was asked to explain how the staff in child protection institutions was being trained, particularly in terms of changing a protective-type approach to a rights-based one.

The Office of the Human Rights Advocate, a national human rights institution, had a unit for the rights of children and adolescents, but concern remained about an important reduction in the 2017 budget of this institution.

The lack of disaggregated data on children hampered the appropriate monitoring of the progress made in the implementation of policies and programmes, particularly for vulnerable children.  Noting that the Ministry of Finance had started the reform in early 2018 to introduce the results-based budgeting for public policies, the Expert asked about the expected impact on resource allocation for children.

While the budgetary allocations for education and health had increased since the mid-20th century, at 3.3 per cent of the national budget in 2014 - representing six per cent of the gross domestic product - they remained well below the Latin American average; furthermore, there was a clear downward trend in the funding for education.  According to independent reports and research, some US$ 550 million, corresponding to 2.1 per cent of the gross domestic product, had been lost to corruption in 2015 - what was being done to stamp out this scourge that detracted resources from child rights policies?

Violence, said the Expert, was possibly the key problem in El Salvador, which was one of the countries with the highest rate of murders among the population aged zero to 18 in the world.  In El Salvador, at least one child per day continued to be murdered, and this was a tragedy.  The dimension of the problem was partly explained by the existence of youth criminal gangs, which recruited children as young as five.  To date, El Salvador had not addressed the root causes of youth gangs, and this was affecting all walks of life in the country, leading to stigmatization of very young children who joined the gangs.

The Committee was well aware of the national Safe El Salvador plan which sought to curb and prevent violence, the Expert said, noting that it did not reflect the specific situation of children: more emphasis should be on the protection of victims and prevention of violence, and less on repression.  In 2017, almost 70 per cent of the additional resources created by the country had been earmarked for the police and the national security forces, and not for prevention purposes.  How did El Salvador envisage to change this situation, tackle the problem, and monitor the progress?  How were the children associated with youth gangs reintegrated into the society?  Was there an integrated mechanism that monitored, recorded, and documented gang violence against children and youth?

The Committee was concerned that the recent decision by the Supreme Court had described youth gangs as terrorist groups, thus those working on releasing children from their ranks could be accused of cooperating and collaborating with terrorists.  Would this description be changed through some procedure?  One of the consequences of gang violence was internal displacement, he said and asked about measures adopted to protect internally displaced children.

Furthermore, teenagers paid a high price for the friction between police and gangs; the Office of the Human Rights Advocate had received hundreds of complaints in this area.  What training was being provided to police on how to reduce police brutality in interactions with adolescents and how the excessive use of force was being sanctioned?

It was deplorable that four out of ten children were subjected to corporal punishment, said the Expert, asking about a national strategy to end child abuse in the home.  He denounced high rates of sexual violence against adolescents, especially girls and raised concern about wide-spread immunity, evidenced by the fact that in more than 90 per cent of the cases, perpetrators had not been sanctioned.

Other Committee Experts asked about the progress in establishing a comprehensive data system for all the children’s rights under the Convention; whether there was a plan for disseminating the provisions of the Convention to the general public and children; whether children’s rights days were celebrated, with the participation of children with disabilities; and whether the Committee’s concluding observations had been circulated.

There were reports of seven-year-old children working on sugar cane farms, Experts said, asking how they were protected from exploitation and how companies exploiting children for labour were sanctioned, including the most prominent ones such as Coca-Cola.

What difficulties still had to be overcome to completely ban the marriage of minors, and what was being done to raise awareness on the issue, the delegation was asked.  Why was the increase in budgetary allocation to education minimal?

Committee Experts asked about concrete measures to fight discrimination against children, including through awareness raising, and steps taken to ensure that the principle of the best interest of the child was systematically applied in decision-making concerning children.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on El Salvador, took note of the difficulties in the birth registration system, including the fact that free service was provided for 90 days only, and asked about the concrete steps taken to ensure that birth of each and every child in El Salvador was registered.  The decree establishing the National Commission for the Search for the Missing Children must be transposed into the law, he insisted, to ensure the Commission’s clear legal status.

Was the consultation with children a widespread practice across all children policies, what were the criteria and the budget for children’s participation?  How could children express their opinions in the justice system, and how those under the age of 14 participated in children’s organizations?

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and member of the Task Force on El Salvador, addressed the question of children in places of detention and raised concern about the continued fights between gangs in prisons, in which children were frequently killed.  The Chair was concerned about the situation of children who were forced to disappear in order to get out of gangs, and about the protection of children returned from the Mexican border, who were reportedly often threatened.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to Experts’ questions and comments, the delegation said that the Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents provided for the harmonization of the national standards with the provisions of the Convention.  There was little clarity on the procedures for child protection measures, while the lack of a specific procedure in the law further complicated the situation, the delegation acknowledged, adding that this was one of the reasons why the law was being revised.  The National Council for Children and Adolescents had the maximum authority in the field of the protection of the rights of the child.

The National Action Plan and Child and Adolescent Policy was a cooperative and participative ten-year process of establishing whether the measures adopted by state institutions were efficient and in line with the new standards of children’s rights.  The Action Plan’s operation had been prolonged until 2019 to allow for a more precise overview of its effects.

The coordination of actions in the field of child protection and child’s rights was a very complex process indeed, which was still being established.  There were various levels of coordination: political, where the policies were approved and monitored; technical, where a coordination committee decided how public policies were to be implemented in practice; and the local, where the law provided for the creation of at least one committee for the rights of children and adolescents in each municipality.  However, this objective had not yet been achieved, but it was expected that by 2020, all municipalities should have created their own local committee.  Already established local committees were working on collective protection measures, such as opening schools or settling disputes.

El Salvador had adopted a children’s rights dissemination strategy for the general public, the delegation said, adding that it dealt with the doctrine of integral protection, the Convention, and other priority issues such as immigration.

In terms of training of staff who worked directly with children, the delegation said that 11,000 people had been trained to date, and that there were specialized training programmes on different issues and levels.  The staff of the National Council for Children and Adolescents received regular training on the principle of the best interest of the child, mechanisms to implement it, and the protection of particularly vulnerable groups of children.

El Salvador was conscious of the huge problem of gang violence and its impacts on the most vulnerable, especially children, the delegation acknowledged, and explained that for many years, the policy focus was on repression rather than prevention and protection.  The approach had changed, however; the recent establishment of the Vice Ministry for Prevention and Public Safety was an evidence of the attention – and resources - now given to prevention of violence.  Some of the recently-funded programmes aimed to promote access to youth employment or the creation of inclusive schools.

Almost 50 municipalities had adopted context-specific violence prevention plans, and as a result, murder rates in some of those municipalities were decreasing.  The delegation welcomed any recommendations by the Committee on how to improve the responses in this domain.  The strategy to reduce the recruitment of youth in the gangs had been adopted, and the delegate remarked that increasing the access to and the quality of education seemed to be the only long-term approach that could enable a substantial change.

According to the data from the Attorney General, 134 children had been murdered in 2015; 182 in 2016; and 56 in 2017.  A total of 751 cases had been closed, and there remained 19 active cases from 2015, 69 from 2016, and 55 from 2017.

The delegation confirmed that a national campaign to address the issue of teen pregnancies was in place.  The reform of the budgetary allocation system was being gradually implemented and staff from 84 public sector institutions had been trained.  Cases of violence were well recorded and classified.

In June 2015, the authorities had signed agreements with the sugar cane industry to eradicate child labour in the sector, which had reduced by 33,000 the number of children working on the farms.  The Ministry for Labour and Social Protection conducted regular inspections to establish the compliance with this agreement.

A direct helpline was available so support children of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity, and children living with HIV/AIDS, which also provided information on complaint mechanism the children could use for rights violation and discrimination.  Furthermore, the Government was working with the media to raise awareness in the society and so prevent discrimination against vulnerable children.  In relation to children with disabilities, the delegation explained that there were more and more staff trained to take care of children with hearing loss, while a number of measures had been taken to ensure that all schools were accessible - even if the objective of inclusive education was still far from being achieved.

Sexual violence had been recognised as an issue of great concern, thus the Ministry of Justice had proposed a draft law on the protection of victims of sexual violence by gangs.  Only education would put an end to the cycle of violence in the country, stressed the delegate.  The authorities were taking steps to combat gender stereotypes by sensitizing adolescent boys. Child marriage was legally prohibited at all levels.

As for children and adolescents deprived of liberty, the delegation explained that they were transferred to social integration centres and stressed that today, judges prioritized the use of alternative sentences over deprivation of liberty.  Young people in pre-trial custody were separated from convicted prisoners.  Measures were being taken to combat violence and reduce the number of deaths of children in social integration centres, and to improve the care of adolescents there.  Young inmates could get their bachelor's degrees remotely, the delegation confirmed.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on El Salvador, noted that data and statistics on the residential institutions and the number of children in care were not trustworthy, and asked about measures to strengthen the role of the National Council for Children and Adolescents and the Salvadoran Institute for Comprehensive Child and Adolescent Development in monitoring and oversight of residential institutions.  The Adoption Law had been revised in 2016 but many shortcomings remained - what steps were being taken to align the law international standards in the domain, and provide clear guidance as to the body in charge of assessing the adoption process?

The situation of women detained with their children, and the death of four babies due to problems such as lack of food, was alarming, the Rapporteur said, and then asked about steps taken to reinstitute and restore the rights of returned migrant children, especially members of gangs.

The Rapporteur commended the juvenile justice legal framework which was of high standards, but noted a gap between law and practice, for example concerning the specialized training for law enforcement officers, the lack of sufficient non-custodial measures, and the lack of prevention programmes and what was being done to enlarge them.  What was being done to prevent violence in juvenile detention centres and investigate and prosecute incidents that had already happened, and to include the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility into the political agenda?  There was a stereotypical representation of adolescents as being dangerous, promoted by the mass media – how was this being combatted?

El Salvador was one of the most dangerous countries for women and adolescents, he said: 3,000 women had been murdered between 2010 and 2016; the murder rate for children and adolescents stand at 48 per 1,000 inhabitants; and in the first months of 2018 alone, there were almost 2,000 cases of sexual violence of which over 70 were against children, boys and girls alike.  The level of impunity was alarming, the Experts stressed, asking about strategies being developed to seriously address impunity and provide effective redress to victims.  Was the sale of children classified as a crime and what steps were being taken to prosecute the sale of children, sex crimes and child pornography?

Another Expert acknowledged the progress made in inclusive education, but said that it was not enough; especially concerning was the situation of children with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities for whom inclusion remained virtually non-existent, while children with disabilities in rural areas were often forced to beg.  Was the forced sterilization of children with intellectual disabilities still legal?

The Experts congratulated El Salvador on the advances in reducing infant and child mortality rates, but remained gravely concerned by the extremely high discrepancy between urban and rural areas where mortality rate for children under the age of five was 41 per cent higher than in cities.  What was being done to counter the high number of neonatal deaths?

El Salvador had – alarmingly – one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies in the region: 74 per 1,000 inhabitants aged 15 to 24, and 30 per cent of pregnancies in 2016 were young girls.  Was it true that sex education was prohibited before the age of 12, the Expert asked, also raising the questions of the availability of contraception, and the criminalization of abortion.  What was being done to address the high rates of suicide among pregnant women?

Other Experts noted that private institutions that provide residential care to children without parental care were not registered, and asked how the quality of service in those institutions was assured, monitored and reviewed.  Why were the institutions not registered?  How many children with disabilities were among the residents and what system was in place to ensure that their placement in institutions was due to disability?

The State party’s report was silent on the issue of mental health, the Expert noted, asking about the situation in that field, especially in case of children victims of any type of violence.

The Committee was concerned about the level of violence in schools, which was one of the drivers of high dropout rates, and noted that the presence of security guards in schools had not significantly changed the situation.  In the light of pervasive violence, where was is safe for children to play, they asked.  On pre-school education, the delegation was asked how it was budgeted, and about the availability of and the conditions in day care centres for working parents.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson and member of the Task Force on El Salvador, was concerned about high rates of child labour, noting that outside the sugar cane sector, over 126,000 children were in work.  There were 150 instances in which the inspection had found violations of the child labour laws and standards, she said, asking how the violations were being addressed.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation recognized the absence of reliable data on children in residential care and said that there were currently 776 children in 23 institutions.  All residential institutions had to be registered, but no deadline for the completion of the registration process had been given, which was why some of them had delayed the registration.  The authorities were working on setting up an electronic registry.  The delegation said that 21 percent of the institutionalized children were children with disabilities.

The Council for Adoption had been set up in 2017, and was monitored by the National Council for Children and Adolescents.  A law on adoption had been passed but had not yet entered into force; it prescribed the process and criteria for the approval of an adoption.

Responding to questions raised about mothers detained with their children, and the death of four babies, the delegation said that the detention centre in question was Granja de Izalco, and explained that, since September 2017, the National Council for Children and Adolescents was monitoring the conditions of children detained with their mothers, through unannounced visits.  One of the centres had been closed after a monitoring visit, and mothers and children had been transferred to a better institution.  Finally, those visits did not need to be announced.

During the visits, the quality of the lodging, hygiene and communal areas, as well as the type and quality of food and medical services were being regularly checked.  Breast-feeding was being promoted and baby and infant food was being provided through a private company, with the overall process being closely monitored.  Water purification was also mandatory.  The delegation explained that the four babies had died due to medical reasons and not because of lack of food.

The number of returning migrant children had reached its peak in 2014, the delegation said.  A comprehensive human rights-based support and protection programme had been developed with the participation of children, adolescents and their families, and there were six reintegration centres for this category.  There were no specific measures and provisions for returning underage gang members, said the delegation, explaining that only adults were subject to follow-up.  One hundred and ninety children had been separated from their families in the United States as part of that Government’s "zero tolerance" to immigration plan; sixteen children were still waiting for family reunification and consulates were making every effort to speed up the process.

With regard to police capacity building, a delegate explained that there were continuing education and training programmes which aimed to strengthen the investigative skills and capacities, and that there was a number of online courses on basic security, juveniles in conflict with the law, juvenile detention centres, and human rights.

All deaths of children and adolescents in custody were registered by the Salvadoran Institute for Comprehensive Child and Adolescent Development; the cases were being currently investigated by the public prosecutor.

On raising the age of criminal responsibility, a delegate said that many members of Parliament wanted to increase the penalties for violent teenage gang members, and that the legislative assembly was holding working meetings of the issue.  The issue was very political in nature, the delegate explained, admitting that they had a populist sound.  The change in approach had to start in the political sphere first, by emphasizing deprivation of liberty did not contribute to social reintegration, unlike alternative sentences.  However, given the prevailing voices of conservatism, there was no official proposal on raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Initiatives had been launched to improve relations between police and young people, particularly through sport.  The programme “I Love El Salvador” had been set up in 2015 to promote voluntarism and change the stereotypical view of the adolescents in the society.  The National Institution for Youth had established a media observatory to monitor youth-related news and reporting the news on youth.

El Salvador was working to combat sexual abuse of children and child pornography on the Internet, including through awareness campaigns to combat the harassment of young people on the Internet.  Public Internet access points had filters to prevent children from accessing pornographic content, while a special law on cybercrimes of 2016 criminalized sexual harassment of young people on the Internet.

With regard to abortion ban, the delegation explained that El Salvador was a conservative society in which the church had a strong influence.  An open and interdisciplinary dialogue on the issue had taken place from 1997 to 2016, resulting in reform proposal which had set out four exceptions to the abortion ban: to save the mother's life, in case of rape, in case of foetal malformation incompatible with life, and in case of teenage pregnancy.  However, the proposal had not been favourably received by the legislative assembly, as many believed that the right to life of the unborn child could not be denied.  It would be very difficult to reopen the debate in the country, the delegate continued, noting that the issue was very complex for the children's associations because they had to also take into account the right of the child to be born and to live.

Two public policies had been adopted to protect children from forced marriage, trafficking and prostitution: one against trafficking in persons, in the context of transnational organized crime, and the second was the National Justice Policy 2014-2019 which contained measures to control and prevent delinquency.

With regard to children with disabilities, the delegation acknowledged that there was still much to be done in ensuring their aces to education and inclusive education, and stressed the progress in ensuring accessibility.  There were training activities in adjusting and adapting curricula for children with disabilities, including with intellectual disabilities, and as of 2018, there were 19 guiding centres in specialised schools and four in mainstream schools.  The social investment fund for social development had implemented a social welfare system that provided for a basic pension system for people with disabilities.

It was still possible for a judge to authorize forced sterilization of a woman or a girl with disabilities, but El Salvador remained committed to do everything possible to repeal this provision.

Teaching sex education to children under 12 years of age was not prohibited as all girls and boys had the right to receive sexual and reproductive education.  There were training programmes for teachers in comprehensive sexual education.  No contraceptive method was forbidden for adolescents who could access any type of contraception without a legal document from the adult.

The mental health programme had been adopted in 2011 and the Mental Health Act had come into force in 2017.  Within this framework, institutionalization was the last resort and it was used solely in situation of extreme crisis.  There were 18 mental health centres as well as multidisciplinary teams to support children and adolescents with mental health issues.  Clinical and technical guidelines had been adopted, and prescribed the use of medication only when absolutely necessary.

Outlining the steps taken to reduce neonatal mortality, the delegation highlighted the strengthen of the risk assessment process, increased coordination between paediatricians and specialized community units, the setting up of 22 breastmilk banks and 43 breastmilk collection centres, and a series of training activities to improve conditions of birth.

El Salvador had in place the multi-sectoral strategic plan for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases for the 2016-2020 period.  It focused on the early identification of new infections, increasing access to information about health services and treatments available, and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.  Everyone had the right to receive anti- retroviral medicine in specialized centres.

Preschool education was financed from the early childhood budget which represented seven per cent of the national budget, in addition to a donation from Luxemburg.  A special act, to enter into force in 2020 - obliged all workplaces with more than one hundred employees to set up professionally run day care centres for children up to three years of age.

Recovered public spaces could be used for safe play, said the delegation, noting that despite a 20 per cent drop in number of children working since 2013, this remained one of the country’s key challenges.  Substantial efforts to eradicate child labour were being undertaken by the Board for the Protection of Children and Adolescents.

There was a Secretariat for the fight against corruption and for transparency in the executive; high courts had their own system to regulate judicial corruption, and there were specialized units that deal with corruption.

There were various instances and mechanisms where children could lodge a complaint, said the delegation, mentioning in particular the helpline, the Office of the Prosecutor, local protection boards, and the Office of the Human Rights Advocate.

Local centres to support children victims of gang violence and wars had been established, with 16 of them currently providing first aid, properly equipped safe spaces, and legal and psychosocial support.  Children could be referred by municipal protection boards.  There were also specialized women’s units to support child victims of sexual violence.

There was a 30 per cent increase in exclusive breastfeeding during the 2008 to 2014 period.  There were still shortcomings, but with the implementation of the latest decisions and the increase in the number of family-friendly health care units, the situation was improving.

A strategy for the care of children living and working in the street was being developed in order to provide care and support to the children but also to investigate the root causes of the phenomenon.

The issue of teenage pregnancy was a complex one, due to the patriarchal and macho culture and attitudes in the society, which saw the role of a woman as primarily reproductive one.  Early pregnancy was also linked to high incidence of violence as well as poverty.

On impunity for crimes against children committed during the armed conflict, the delegation explained that the 2016 law on general amnesty had been declared unconstitutional because it prohibited the sanctioning of serious human rights violations.  A special prosecutorial unit had been set up; one of the cases it was prosecuting concerned 18 military personnel accused of perpetrating the 1981 El Mozote Massacre in which some 500 children and youth had been killed.

El Salvador was also making efforts to combat the moral and historic impunity by saving memory.  The events were thus included in school curricula and the memory of children forcibly disappeared in the armed conflict was celebrated on 29 March every year.  There were also initiatives to promote the historic memory and return dignity to the victims, including through the media.

Concluding Remarks 

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on El Salvador, concluded by emphasizing the importance of addressing poverty and violence that were still a huge problem, and stressed in this context the fight against impunity.  The recommendations that the Committee would provide should be taken as a roadmap in a child-friendly language.

ZAIRA NAVAS, Executive Director of the National Council for Children and Adolescents of El Salvador, in her concluding remarks, acknowledged the important challenges ahead, in particular the protection of children and adolescents, but also poverty, access to quality education, and gang violence.  El Salvador welcomed the Committee’s recommendations on how to improve and strengthen the child protection system which was only seven years old, as well as other recommendations to help the country improve the rights of children and adolescents.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their honesty and said that the Committee was very aware of the problems in El Salvador and the efforts to tackle them.
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