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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers Saudi Arabia's implementation of the Optional Protocols on the sale of children and on children in armed conflict

Committee on the Rights of the Child

1 October 2018

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today examined the measures Saudi Arabia takes to implement its obligations under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Introducing the reports, Bandar Alaiban, President of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, said that, following the accession to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2010, Saudi Arabia had taken steps to strengthen the legal framework.  The national strategy in the field of human rights was being developed, the national plan against human trafficking 2017-2020 had been adopted, and a free hotline, a member of the Children Helpline International, had been established to support children under the age of 18 and receive complaints from children subjected to any form of abuse and neglect.  Children, Mr. Alaiban continued, were protected from being drafted in armed conflict, paramilitary groups were prohibited by the law, and a 2014 decree sanctioned the participation of Saudi nationals in hostilities outside of the national borders.  All interventions in Yemen, said Mr. Alaiban, were in line with international law and international humanitarian law.  The National Legal Council was advising the coalition forces on the legality of targets in conformity with international humanitarian law, and a joint team had been set up to address accidents, while all alleged breaches of international humanitarian law were investigated and prosecuted.

In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts urged Saudi Arabia to criminalize the full spectrum of the sale of children, for any purpose and in any form, including those facilitated through information and communication technology.  This would allow for the prosecution of Saudi citizens engaging in sexual exploitation of children abroad, including for the practice of “temporary marriage”, where men paid for short-term sexual access to girls and later abandoned them.  Experts asked whether the Sharia-based draft national strategy for human rights would explicitly prohibit acts that were contrary to human rights, such as “summer” or “temporary marriage”, marriage of girls to pay off debt, or to settle the family feuds.  Of particular concern was the harassment, detention and prosecution of human rights defenders, including children.

In the discussion on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Experts remarked that, when it came to the age of recruitment in military service, Saudi Arabia allowed recruitment at the age of 17, and also noted a severe lack of data on children entering Saudi Arabia who could have been involved in armed conflict abroad.  On the conflict in Yemen, Experts inquired about measures to end impunity for the killing and maiming of children by the coalition airstrikes on schools and hospitals, and the status of the many children aged eight to 17 arrested for their involvement with the Houthi militias.  Warning about the humanitarian consequences of the port blockade whose first victims would surely be children, “an innocent debris of this conflict”, Experts asked what the coalition was doing to avert the disaster unfolding before their very eyes.

Clarence Nelson, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, in his closing remarks, trusted that the dialogue would help Saudi Arabia improve the implementation of the two Optional Protocols, and reiterating the concern about the situation in Yemen, hoped that this potential catastrophe could be avoided for the sake of the children.

Mr. Alaiban concluded by reaffirming that the accession to the Optional Protocols was evidence that Saudi Arabia shared the Committee’s interests and worries about childhood anywhere in the world.

Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, in her closing remarks, and in reference to the Coalition forces in Yemen, stressed that children must not be considered a “collateral damage” anywhere in the world, not in Saudi Arabia and not in Yemen.

The large delegation of Saudi Arabia included representatives of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Council of Ministers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Prosecution, Ministry of Media, Ministry of Islamic Affairs Dawah and Guidance, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, Saudi Red Crescent Authority, and members of the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia 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, and the webcast of the Committee’s public meetings are available here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 5 October at 3 p.m. to publicly close its seventy-ninth session.

Presentation of the Reports

BANDAR ALAIBAN, President of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, introducing the report, said that Saudi Arabia, following its second review by this Committee in 2006, had acceded to the Optional Protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  A Royal decree of June 2010, which had stipulated the accession to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, had also given the competence to implement all the provisions under the Optional Protocol to the Cabinet of the President.  Sharia, the law of the country, prohibited the abuse of children and adults, with the abuse of children carrying very severe penalties.  A number of laws had been adopted to protect the child, directly or indirectly, from crimes under the Optional Protocols, including on criminal justice, and the 2014 law, which provided a definition of the child as any person under the age of 18, protected children from abuse and neglect, while the regulations adopted in September 2013 had strengthened the legal framework that protected the most vulnerable segments of the society, children in particular.  In May 2018, regulations had been issued to combat harassment and provide protection to the victim to preserve their dignity and personal freedoms as stipulated by Islamic Sharia and the regulations followed in the Kingdom.  The regulations on children issued in July 2018 regulated matters related to juveniles in conflict with the law, which had improved the system in handling minors under the criminal justice system.  A decree on domestic and sexual violence had been issued to prepare for the review of the legislation and regulations on domestic violence, custody and other relevant issues.

Saudi Arabia was developing a national strategy in the field of human rights which would comprise all principles to protect human rights in accordance with Sharia, as well as regional and international conventions on human rights to which the Kingdom had acceded.  The strategy was being drafted by a committee, which focused on the legal framework, institutional capacity, civil society, the business sector, the culture of human rights, and regional and international cooperation.  The national plan against human trafficking 2017-2020 covered the protection and prevention of all aspects related to sexual and economic abuse of children, and all different forms of trafficking of children.  The Council for Family Affairs, established in 2016, was chaired by the Minister of Labour and Social Development and was composed of representatives of different ministries, the Islamic Council, and two women human rights experts.  The Council had established different technical committees, including on children, Syrians, and persons with disabilities.  The training centre for judicial and legal affairs had been set up in 2015 to strengthen the capacity of judges and lawyers, who had also been trained on the implementation of the human rights conventions, including on the two Optional Protocols.  To date, 808 judges and lawyers had been trained.

A free hotline, a member of the Children Helpline International, had been established to support children under the age of 18 and receive complaints from children subjected to any form of abuse and neglect, at home and in school, as well as in public and Governmental spaces.  To confront violence in schools, a programme had been adopted which contained measures to train students, teachers and parents on violence, its definition and manifestations, and to provide them with the knowledge of how to recognize, prevent and address violence.  In 2017, the school enrolment rate had reached 98 per cent; there were 38,368 schools with 6.13 million students, girls and boys.

A number of human rights training activities and awareness raising programmes had been organized under the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2012, for judges, public prosecutors, medical practitioners, and lawyers.  A number of education and awareness-raising campaigns on the rights of the child and human rights in general had been undertaken, including in the State media.  The Saudi Human Rights Commission had launched in 2016, a website on My Nation Protects My Rights to educate students and spread the culture of human rights.  In 2016, Saudi Arabia had organized an international conference on combatting sexual abuse of children through the Internet and had set up a centre for safety on the Internet called E-Safety.

The efforts to implement the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict were based on the Constitution which relied on Sharia and on the relevant international human rights instrument.  The child protection system included the prevention of children from acts that might harm their health and from being drafted in armed conflict.  The Council of Ministers had agreed to amend article 15 of the law on military academies to prohibit the acceptance of students under the age of 17, while the graduation from the military academy could not be granted before the student was 20 years old.  The military academy students were not part of the military and could not be used in hostilities.  Article 4 of this law provided for the age determination procedures in the recruitment in the army ranks.  There were no military institutions which provided education to children, because education was exclusively under the Ministry of Education.  Paramilitary groups were prohibited by the law, and the participation in such groups was prohibited.  The decree of 2014 sanctioned the participation of Saudi nationals in hostilities outside of the national borders.

All interventions in Yemen were in line with international law and international humanitarian law, insisted Mr. Alaiban, and advice by the National Legal Council was being sought to assess the legality of targets in conformity with international humanitarian law.  A joint team had been set up to address accidents and implementation mistakes of the coalition in Yemen, while all alleged breaches of international humanitarian law were subjected to investigation and prosecution.

Mr. Alaiban stressed that the major cause of child mortality in Yemen was the participation in hostilities: one third of the Houthi armed forces in Yemen were children, as the militias managed to tap into the prevalent poverty and the breakdown of the education system.  The Houthi militias had imposed quotas on local leaders for the recruitment of children, while families that refused were fined.  The international community, said Mr. Alaiban, was not responding adequately to this issue.  The Kingdom was doing its utmost to prevent Houthi militias from using children in the armed conflict.  All captured children were sent to the Yemeni Government and enrolled in rehabilitation and reintegration centres to facilitate their return to the society.  Furthermore, Mr. Alaiban stressed, the Kingdom was providing significant humanitarian support and assistance to the people of Yemen, in a range of sectors including the infrastructure and transport network, amounting to $ 11.1 billion since 2015.

Consideration of the Report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Questions from the Experts

JORGE CARDONA LLORENS, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, welcomed the establishment of the central commission for statistics and was concerned that the data collected did not cover the whole spectrum of crimes under the Optional Protocol, for example sexual exploitation of children by Saudi citizens abroad.  What was being done to disseminate the code of conduct on sexual exploitation of children in the tourist and travel industry.  The Committee was also concerned about the practice of temporary or seasonal marriages and the consequent abandoning of girls.

On the national strategy for human rights, the Rapporteur noted that it would be based on Islamic Sharia, and expressing concern that the interpretation of Sharia might allow for impunity for crimes under the Optional Protocol, asked whether the strategy would explicitly prohibit acts that were contrary to human rights, such as temporary marriage, marriage of girls to pay off debt, or to settle family feuds.

The Committee was particularly concerned about the repression of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, including the arrest of Samar Badawi, who campaigned against the male guardianship system, and the harassment, detention and prosecution of human rights defenders working for children’s rights.  The Rapporteur, in this context, also raised concern about the disappearance on 24 May 2018 of Mohammed Saleh Al-Bajadi, co-founder of the now banned Association of Civil and Political Rights of Saudi Arabia.

VELINA TODOROVA, Co-Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, welcomed a wide definition of trafficking in persons in the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons Act, and stricter penalties when the victim was a child, but noted with concern that Saudi Arabia had criminalized the sale of children only in the context of trafficking in persons, while the Optional Protocol required Member States to prohibit the sale of children for any purpose and in any form.  Would all forms of the sale of children be prohibited, including those facilitated through information and communication technology?

In this vein, Ms. Todorova noted that the practice of Saudi citizens engaging in sex tourism abroad, including paying for short-term sexual access to children in “summer” or “temporary” marriages, only to abandon them afterwards, constituted a sale of a child, and yet offenders could not be prosecuted because this form of sale of a child had not been criminalized.  Furthermore, sexual exploitation of children was prohibited under the Child Protection Act, but there were no penalties for the crimes amounting to sexual exploitation of children for prosecution.  What was the situation of vulnerable children – migrant children, unaccompanied children and domestic workers – and how were they protected from sexual exploitation and sale of children?

The Co-Rapporteur commended that the anti-trafficking law and the Repression of Cybercrime Act had introduced the liability of legal persons, but regretted that – because not all acts under the Optional Protocol had been criminalized – the liability could not cover the full spectrum of offences.  On extradition, was Saudi Arabia using the Optional Protocol as a basis for extradition in absence of bilateral extradition treaties?  What mechanisms and procedures were available to children to report abuses, and which mechanisms were accessible to children in vulnerable situations?

Another Expert insisted that the Criminal Code must define the exploitation of children in forced labour and also define the full spectrum of the sale of children, and regretted the lack of disaggregated data on all crimes under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography which hampered the full assessment of the situation in the country.

Responses by the Delegation

In response to questions raised on awareness raising and training on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation said that the decree on the accession to this instrument had mandated the Saudi Commission for Human Rights to raise awareness on its provisions and to promote the culture of human rights in the country, including through education and awareness-raising activities using the media and the website that had been launched for the purpose.  Training and awareness raising activities were also being undertaken by the Committee on the Child, affiliated to the Council on the Family, as well as by the Ministry of Education.

The 2013 Royal Decree on the agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had prescribed the organization of special courses on human rights inside and outside the country, including on the two Optional Protocols on the sale of children and the involvement of children in armed conflict.  A seminar on the rights of the child had been held in 2014 for many Government agencies, as well as a human rights seminar in 2016.  The Agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also prescribed capacity building on other human rights instruments.  A royal decree of July 2017 had approved the agreement with the International Organization for Migration in the field of combatting trafficking in persons, especially children, which also included measures to protect and support victims.  In 2018, the Public Prosecution had held six workshops on sexual harassment, including on the human rights foundations of investigations and safeguards.

The delegation said that Yemen was a sisterly neighbour country, there were many Yemenis who worked in Saudi Arabia, and visits to Yemen were not for tourism, but for family reasons.  The delegate said that the practice of temporary marriages was a part of the customs and culture, which would be eradicated through education; such marriages did not in any case represent a sale of children, unless they involved young children and older men, in which case they were tackled through the appropriate channels.

Another delegate explained that child sexual exploitation in the context of tourism and travel industries was punishable by law, to which the Saudi nationals were subject, including for crimes committed abroad unless they had already been tried for those crimes in the country where the crimes had been committed.  The codes of conduct for tourism and the travel industry were being shared.

The Optional Protocol applied throughout the national territory without exception; if the crime was committed in the country, the Criminal Code assigned jurisdiction to the place where the crime was committed, or if the offender was not a national, to the place of the arrest.  Saudi courts had jurisdiction over crimes committed by a resident non-national.  As for the prevention of offences under the Optional Protocol, the delegation stressed that all the regulations passed were circulated to the implementing authorities.  All alleged offences were transferred to the police for investigation.

Temporary marriages were banned by law, and they did not exist – all marriages in Saudi Arabia were permanent and announced, the delegate insisted.  In misyar marriages, the spouses had the right to maintain separate residences, but all the duties and obligations of marriage applied.  There were cases where a marriage would be contacted abroad, and then the husband would either return to Saudi Arabia, or travel elsewhere, and abandon his children.  The Committee for Family Reunion addressed marriages of Saudis with foreigners and one of the issues it addressed was to hold the husbands who abandoned their families legally responsible and to ensure that the children from such marriages enjoyed the rights and benefits of Saudi nationals.  Another delegate stressed that Sharia prohibited coerced marriage, because marriage under Sharia was a consensual affair between a woman and a man, in which both enjoyed equal duties and responsibilities.

The national strategy for human rights was being developed, as was the national strategy for protection from family violence, while the national strategy for the protection of children from online violence had been already put in place.  According to the law, all victims had the right to compensation, which would be defined by the competent court.

Legislation protected the rights and interests of children victims of illegal practices under the Optional Protocol, while the Criminal Code protected the rights of child victims in criminal proceedings, including to be informed in a language that the child understood, and defined their rights to shelter, security and protection, and medical and psychological support.  A special court addressed the needs of non-national victims who needed to stay in the country for purposes of criminal prosecution of offenders, including to help them with residency permits and appoint a guardian.

A range of activities had been undertaken to protect children from sexual exploitation in law and in practice, including through a 2016 conference on sexual exploitation of children online which had put forward a number of recommendations to strength child protection online and towards harmonizing the legislation with international standards on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Consideration of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, remarked that the age of recruitment for military service was 17, in breach of the Optional Protocol, and acknowledging that the 17-year-olds were placed on temporary one-year probation, asked for guarantees that they would not be sent into active service, including during a state of emergency.  What age determination methods were being used, the Rapporteur asked, noting that the often-used x-ray of the child’s wrist had a two-year margin of error.  The recruitment of children into armed groups and hostilities by non-State actors and private security and military companies was prohibited in the law, but not criminalized as the act did not carry criminal sanctions.

There was a severe lack of data on children entering Saudi Arabia who might have served in armed conflicts abroad – was there any move to establish a mechanism to collect and disaggregate this data?

The Committee had already raised its deep concern about the conflict in Yemen, and had asked Saudi Arabia to provide information on all investigations into the killing and maiming of children in Yemen by the coalition airstrikes, the Rapporteur said, acknowledging that Saudi Arabia had established the Joint Incidents Assessment Team to assess the allegations of violations of international law, and conduct investigations.  This was problematic, Mr. Nelson said, on several levels, first and foremost because this Team was a “child of the coalition”, and therefore could not provide an independent inquiry and investigation.  Secondly, only a small proportion of the allegations had been investigated, only 20 per cent by some accounts; and thirdly, even a smaller percentage had been prosecuted.

The airstrikes, the Rapporteur continued, involved attacks on schools and hospitals in which children were killed and maimed; those were not accidents, he said and insisted on an independent investigation.  Had any other steps been taken to investigate and prosecute such events, and to prevent them from happening again?  Turning to the port blockade, the Rapporteur reiterated the dire warnings about its humanitarian consequences and stressed that its first victims would be children, “children of your God and my God” and “an innocent debris of this conflict”.  What was the Child Protection Unit of the coalition doing to protect the rights of children in Yemen and avert the disaster unfolding before their very eyes?

JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Co-Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said that the law prohibited the participation of children and adults in armed groups and they seemed to be doubly victimized, by the recruitment itself and the sanctions for participation in armed groups.  As for the prosecution of children accused of involvement with armed terrorist groups, the Co-Rapporteur asked about the many children aged eight to 17 who had been arrested in Yemen for their involvement with the Houthi militias, whether they were detained, and how the rehabilitation and reintegration took place.

Other Experts, talking about independent monitoring and follow-up, expressed concern that the Saudi Human Rights Commission was not the best place to provide independent monitoring.

The Committee acknowledged that the recruitment by armed groups other than the national armed forces was prohibited, as was the participation in terrorist groups and organizations, and asked about the laws that prohibited such acts.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegate stressed that child victims of sexual exploitation and prostitution were not criminalized and were not considered as offenders.  The rights of victims of trafficking in persons were defined by the law, which prescribed that they had the right to communication in a language they understood, and the right to medical and psycho-social support.  Victims also had the right to safety and protection, the delegate said and added that sometimes it was difficult to identify the victims and that sometimes “even victims do not know they are victims”.

The Law on the Protection of Children prohibited the participation of children in sports or leisure activities that undermined their health, and this included camel races, thus the use of children as camel jockeys was prohibited.  The purchase of child organs was banned under any circumstances.

The Saudi Human Rights Commission was tasked with the coordination of all actors and stakeholders in child protection.  The Council for Human Rights was a governmental body which supervised the Human Rights Commission, and it was presided over by the Ministry.  The Saudi Human Rights Commission was independent in reviewing Government reports, it could receive complaints and undertake unannounced visits to prisons and hospitals, and it prepared the report on behalf of the Government.  The Human Rights Association was a non-governmental organization, and it shared the objective of the promotion and protection of human rights.   The Saudi Human Rights Commission, the delegate continued, respected the Paris Principles, as did the Council for Family Affairs, and had the authority to undertake random visits and inspections, including of places of detention.

The formation of armed groups outside of the national armed forces was prohibited, a delegate said and added that Saudi Arabia was seeking to unify the laws that concerned the forming and operation of armed groups.  The recruitment of children in armed conflict was prohibited, while children could be recruited into the armed forces at the age of 17, and could only join the army after one year of training.  No one under the age of 18 took part in military activities.  All the laws were subject to periodical reviews in which new societal developments and new legal obligations surfaced.

On the measures taken to implement the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the delegation said that the Ministries of Defence and of Interior monitored the implementation of the Optional Protocol and safeguarded its provisions.  The decree of November 2014 prohibited any action that would harm children, including participation in armed conflict, and it had defined a child as any person under the age of 18.  The delegate further stressed that Saudi Arabia did not have compulsory inscription.

In the absence of the birth certificate, age was determined by a medical examination, and this decision could be appealed.  The final decision on whether a person was allowed to join the armed forces was that of the medical authorities, and the main objective was to ensure that there was no doubt that a candidate was not under the legal age.

The delegation explained that the activities of the Ministry of Education on training and awareness raising among the population and pupils, including the general programme for extending the culture of human rights, were based on the Optional Protocol and aimed to protect children from extremism and violence, instil the values of peace, coexistence and tolerance, and raise a generation that rejected violence.

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre had been set up in 2015 as an international centre for humanitarian and relief work, and was active in 40 countries.  In Yemen, the Centre was specializing in rehabilitating and reintegrating children recruited by the Houthi militias through the proper authorities of the Government of Yemen: there were also programmes for orphans, as well as food security and food aid programmes.

The Ministry of Education had recently set up a department on human rights which would, inter alia, work with other Government bodies and agencies on promoting human rights and providing training of staff, as well as to integrate human rights into the school and university curricula.

There were 22 operational border crossings into Yemen, which allowed the delivery of humanitarian aid to this brotherly nation, said the delegation, explaining that the Kingdom’s humanitarian strategy for Yemen involved the provision of humanitarian assistance and the rehabilitation of maritime port infrastructures as well as other ports, in order to allow for the scaling up of relief efforts.

The coalition forces in their operations in Yemen were fully committed and fully compliant with international humanitarian law and customary law.  The coalition forces solicited the advice of experts in the selection of targets to ensure that all were legitimate targets in line with international humanitarian law.  The list of prohibited targets, which was regularly updated and shared with other relevant actions, involved at the moment 64,000 targets such as schools and hospitals.

The coalition forces had a permanent commission to learn from previous engagement and mistakes in targeting, and had a team for evacuation and humanitarian action, which coordinated with international humanitarian organizations to ease the movement of humanitarian convoys and to ensure their safety during hostilities, in coordination with the legitimate Yemeni Government.  Furthermore, a joint task force had been set up with the legitimate Yemeni Government to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and customary law; it had investigated a number of accidents and had recommended the prosecution of offenders and restitution to victims.

Asked in a follow-up why there had been no prosecution for any of those events, the delegation said that Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the coalition forces, was working hard to respect the rules of engagement in this war and said that most of the accidents were the result of Houthi activities, and their use of sites such as schools, which led to those accidents.

After the accident involving the bombing of the school bus, the coalition had dispatched a team to investigate, while the accident had been documented by the airplane which had been involved in the airstrike.  It had been established that the convoy had not been a legitimate target and that, once it had been recognized that it had not been a legitimate target, the order to abort the airstrike had been given, but too late.  The Joint Incidents Assessment Team had called upon the coalition to hold the perpetrators accountable, and the Coalition Joint Command had expressed its condolences to the families and the willingness to take all measures to hold those responsible to account in line with regulations in force.

The delegation stressed the importance of keeping in sight the illegal activities of the Houthi militias, and their illegal use of schools and other civilian objects and the rocketing of Saudi cities.  Additionally, most of their victims were children.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the delegate continued, reiterated its regret for this incident and its firm commitment to continue to work to stop the recruitment of children by the Houthi militias in Yemen, which was the main cause of child deaths in this country.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their responses and said that it must be remembered that this was the review of Saudi Arabia and that the issue would be raised once Yemen came before the Committee.

The delegation said that Iran supported the Houthi militias, who instead of protecting the Yemeni people and children, had recruited children and sent them to fight, and their families were being threatened.  The coalition saw those children as victims and was working to rehabilitate them in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international bodies, in line with Sharia principles and the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The children were returned to the Government of Yemen, including Jamila, a girl aged 3 years and 8 months, who had been used as a human shield by the Iran-supported Houthi militias.

As for migrant and refugee children in Saudi Arabia, the delegate said that all Yemenis were received as guests and all children were enrolled in school, while parents were allowed to work in line with recognized standards.   About 500,000 Yemenis had benefitted from the programme.  Saudi Arabia had also received hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the outbreak of the crisis in that country, and had treated then with hospitality and dignity.  Those wishing to stay received full residency rights, access to health and education, and employment.  Today, there were 140,000 Syrian students in the country, including 100,000 who enjoyed free education at all levels.  Saudi Arabia also supported Syrian refugees who were hosted by other countries in the region, Jordan and Lebanon in particular.  Citizens of Myanmar were provided with residence, educational and health services, and jobs.

Another delegate explained that all procedures related to minors in conflict with the law were well established.  A minor could only be arrested in the presence of the parents, it was prohibited under all circumstances to detain a minor, except in centres of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, which were subject to unannounced visits by the Saudi Human Rights Commission.  The maximum sentence for a minor was imprisonment for 10 years.

Asked about the disappearance, detention and arrests of human rights defenders, including children, and measures and steps taken to ensure that children human rights defenders could operate freely, the delegation stressed that all citizens enjoyed their human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the laws and regulations.  All rights violations could be denounced by well-known channels.

On extradition, the delegation explained that Saudi law enforcement did not have extraterritorial jurisdiction.  Given its membership in the Interpol, Saudi Arabia pursued the offenders in cooperation with other States.  

Concluding Remarks

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, in his closing remarks, stressed that the two Optional Protocols were “children of the Convention” and contained matters of incredible seriousness and complexity.  Therefore, it was hoped that this dialogue would help Saudi Arabia to improve their implementation.  The concerns raised in the dialogue included the full criminalization of offences, impunity, data collection, and in particular, a persistent serious concern about the situation in Yemen.  The Committee hoped that this potential catastrophe could be avoided for the sake of the children.

BANDAR ALAIBAN, President of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, in his concluding remarks, said that Saudi Arabia shared the Committee’s interests and worries about anything that had to do with childhood anywhere in the world.  The accession to the two voluntary Optional Protocols was evidence of the Kingdom’s commitment to children.  Human rights work was cumulative, learned year after year, and there was no State in the world that was perfect.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, in her closing remarks, and in reference to the coalition forces in Yemen, stressed that children must not be considered a “collateral damage” anywhere in the world, not in Saudi Arabia and not in Yemen.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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