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Committee on the Rights of the Child examine report of Botswana

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

24 May 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of Botswana on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Frans Solomon Van Der Westhuizen, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, said that the report was a product of extensive consultations between the Government, led by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, and civil society organizations as well as development partners and the United Nations Children’s Fund.  Following the decision by the Government to lift its reservation to article 1 of the Convention, Botswana had embarked on a process of harmonization of its laws to comply with it.  Various laws had been enacted, and all laws defining children were also being reviewed concurrently, with the aim of identifying those with definitions that were detrimental to children.  In terms of programmes and services, the Government provided free health and basic education to all children as well as welfare support for children in need.  It also funded a 24-hour helpline manned by professional social workers.  There was a Children’s Consultation Forum, the members of which were elected every two years.  Furthermore, child participation in school governance was facilitated through student representative fora.  Law enforcement agencies and front line officers had been capacitated to detect and prevent human trafficking.  The country had witnessed a tremendous increase in access to early childhood education.  

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the progress achieved by Botswana.  They asked if a timeline for the lifting of the reservation to article 1 of the Convention had been set.  Was all new legislation assessed for its impact on children’s rights?  If so, who undertook such assessments?  On data collection, they asked if there were any efforts being made to ensure the collection of disaggregated data on all matters covered by the Convention.  There seemed to be a general lack of awareness of the Convention and the Children’s Act among the general public.  They enquired about the modes of consultation chosen by the Government.  Could children’s associations address the Government or the Committee directly?  Regarding corporal punishment, they recalled that it undermined the dignity of the child in the Committee’s opinion, which was backed by scientific evidence.  Did the Government have any plans underway to raise awareness about the damage caused by corporal punishment amongst teachers, parents and the general public?  Could the delegation provide more information on the protection of the human rights of migrant children and unaccompanied children?  Was it true that they did not benefit from the application of the best interest of the child principle?

In her concluding remarks, Ann Marie Skelton, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, thanked the delegation for a very fruitful dialogue which had been in the best interest of the children of Botswana.  The Government had made many efforts in many areas, and the Committee was encouraged by the delegation’s openness.

Mr. Van Der Westhuizen reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the fulfilment of the rights of the child as enshrined in the Convention.  The Government would intensify efforts to address the issues broached by the Committee, and ensure a multi-sectoral follow-up to its recommendations.  He assured that the Government was committed to the rights of children.  Botswana’s children were the country’s greatest national resource, he stated.

Luis Ernesto Perdernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and recalled that additional information could be submitted in writing within 48 hours.  The Committee was a technical body specialized in the rights of the child, and its mindset was one of collaboration.  The intensity of the dialogue and the number of questions were due to the Committee’s will to offer the best observations possible for the benefit of the children of Botswana.

The delegation of Botswana consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, the Office of the President, the Ministry of Basic Education, and the Permanent Mission of Botswana 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 on Friday, 31 May at 3 p.m. to publicly close its eighty-first session.

Report

The Committee has before it the combined second and third periodic report of Botswana (CRC/C/BWA/2-3 ).

Presentation of the Report

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, said that the Government was in the process of developing a comprehensive national human rights strategy and a national action plan to ensure better coordination in complying with its human rights obligations, notably as regarded reporting.  Botswana would move a step further by ratifying the following international instruments: the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption; the Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility; the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; and the Hague Convention Concerning the Power of Authorities and the Law Applicable in Respect of the Protection of Infants.

The report was a product of extensive consultations between the Government, led by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, and civil society organizations as well as development partners and the United Nations Children’s Fund.  Following the decision by the Government to lift its reservation to article 1 of the Convention, Botswana had embarked on a process of harmonization of its laws to comply with it.  Various laws were enacted, and all laws defining children were also being reviewed concurrently, with the aim of identifying those with definitions that were detrimental to children.  A bill on sexual offences was being drafted to consolidate all sexual offences, provide for stiffer penalties, establish a sex offenders register, and prohibit sex offenders from directly working and interacting with children and other vulnerable people. 

The implementation plan for the Children’s Act, which was the principal piece of legislation for child protection, was developed to monitor progress.  In that context, the Government had developed a Child Protection Protocol and Regulations.  It also continually sought to raise awareness and disseminate the act through various fora such as stakeholder workshops, broadcasting and print media; fostered inter-ministerial cooperation; and established partnerships with civil society, and supported them through technical assistance and policy planning, amongst others.  It also deployed efforts related to the development of critical skills, research, monitoring, evaluation and reporting, to measure family and community capacities to protect children; advocacy and social mobilization; resource mobilization; and financial monitoring.

In terms of programmes and services, the Government provided free health and basic education to all children as well as welfare support for children in need.  It also funded a 24-hour helpline manned by professional social workers.  A Children’s Consultation Forum, the members of which were elected every two years, was also in place.  Furthermore, child participation in school governance was facilitated through student representative fora.  Law enforcement agencies and frontline officers had been capacitated to detect and prevent human trafficking.  In addition, the country had witnessed a tremendous increase in access to early childhood education.  Child mortality had been reduced to 38 per 1,000 live births from 48 per 1,000 live births.  Maternal mortality ratios had gone down between 2016 and 2017 from 156.6/100,000 to 143.2/100,000.   Acknowledging that these numbers remained high, the Minister said the integrated reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health and nutrition strategy (2018-2022) had been developed to tackle the challenges this posed.

Questions by the Committee Experts

CEPHAS LUMINA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, welcomed the progress achieved by Botswana.  He asked if a timeline for the lifting of the reservation to article 1 of the Convention had been set.  Was all new legislation assessed for its impact on children’s rights? If so, who undertook such assessments?  Regarding the national human rights strategy and nation action plan, he asked when they would be finalized.  He enquired about measures taken to ensure that patronage and nepotism did not impact the provision of services to children.  What was the Government doing to address the problem of illicit financial flows?

On data collection, he asked if there were any efforts being made to ensure the collection of disaggregated data on all matters covered by the Convention.  There seemed to be a general lack of awareness of the Convention and the Children’s Act among the general public.  He enquired about steps taken to remedy this situation.  Was the Government considering translating these documents into local languages?  Welcoming measures aligning the legal definition of the child with the Convention, he expressed concerns about the delays related to the harmonization of the State party’s legislation with the Convention.  Could the delegation provide more information on this?

He asked the delegation to outline the efforts undertaken to combat discrimination.  The Co-Rapporteur expressed concerns about the high number of neonatal deaths attributable to preventable causes.  How was the Government addressing this issue?  Turning to civil rights and freedoms, he pointed out that most children in remote areas were not registered.  What was being done to achieve universal birth registration?  Noting that the Children’s Act guaranteed children’s freedom of expression, he asked what steps had been taken to ensure that societal and cultural factors did not prove an impediment in that regard.

A Committee Expert enquired about the modes of consultation chosen by the Government.  Could children’s associations address the Government or the Committee directly?  Regarding corporal punishment, another Expert recalled that it undermined the dignity of the child in the Committee’s opinion, which was backed by scientific evidence.  Did the Government have any plans underway to raise awareness about the damage caused by corporal punishment amongst teachers and parents as well as in the general public?

Another Committee Expert requested information on the application of the principle of the best interest of the child in lower courts.  Could the delegation provide more information on the protection of migrant children and unaccompanied children’s human rights?  Was it true that they did not benefit from the application of the best interest of the child principle?

Replies by the Delegation

A delegate explained that the Government was reviewing current legislation to identify which laws offered adequate definitions of the child, and which ones included definitions that could be prejudicial to children.  Once that process was completed, the reservation would be lifted. The delegation could not provide a timeline, as the process entailed engagement with various stakeholders.

Another delegate explained that a decision had been made to amend the acts on marriage and adoption.  One had to bear in mind that the process to amend, repeal or adopt legislation was methodical, and required time.  Botswana had received the English common law, and many of the laws pertaining to family were inherited from the United Kingdom and had fallen into disuse, another delegate recalled.  While there was no deliberate policy to ensure that all laws were child-friendly, the ministers responsible for children and gender remained on the lookout when draft bills were put forward, to promote and protect children’s rights.

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, assured that the Government would not put in place any measures that would counter efforts to protect children’s rights.  

The Government's budget took into account the needs of children, a delegate explained.  For example, the allocation for nutritional programmes stood at $ 108.9 million.  The Ministry of Local Government had provided a desk and an officer to manage a secretariat for the National Children’s Council.  While it was minimal, a budget had also been allocated to it.  Civil society organizations benefited from subventions to carry out activities related to the implementation of the Children's Act.  Furthermore, the Council would meet with umbrella civil society organizations to ensure the cooperation was smooth.

A delegate explained that Botswana was proud of being the least corrupt country in Africa.  In any country, in any administration, nepotism could be a problem, but the delegation was not aware of serious nepotism-related problems.  There were 16 councils in Botswana, and most procurement was done at the council level.  There was a framework in place to ensure that public procurement was done in a transparent, appropriate manner, another delegate said.  If there was any whiff or suspicion that someone was practising nepotism, the police and prosecutors would take action.  On illicit financial flows, the Government had established protocols and bilateral arrangements with its neighbours to stem these flows.

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, said that when it came to the children’s budget, the problem did not lie with the budget itself but rather with the implementation.  Wherever there were children in need, councils had been instructed to ensure that money was not an issue.  On the steps taken to collect disaggregated data, there was an ongoing project to establish a single registry.  More broadly, the Government was considering measures to improve its use of technology.

While the Government did not have an integrated system, disaggregated data was available to a certain extent through systems managed by ministries, another delegate remarked.  However, all these systems were not yet interfaced.  This was a challenge which the single registry would address.

To disseminate the Convention and the Children’s Act, the Government had translated the Convention into Setswana.  A child-friendly version of it had also been developed.  The Government had engaged with traditional leaders to encourage them to talk about children’s rights and the need to protect them.  Furthermore, the Government had signed a memorandum of agreement with, and given grants to, civil society organizations to facilitate the dissemination of the Convention.  The Government had also signed memoranda of understanding with civil society organizations that had a national reach.  These memoranda could be renewed or updated every four years.

The Government was careful not to perform a blanket harmonization with the Convention as it might generate changes that could be detrimental to children.  Such a blanket harmonization would amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

On statelessness and citizenship, a delegate explained that there were few unaccompanied migrant children in Botswana.  Corporal punishment was still part of the system in Botswana, both in schools and the judicial system.  Parents still felt strongly about it.  The Government would continue to educate its population so that mindsets may change, and the country may move away from this practice.

Questions by Committee Experts and Responses by the Delegation

LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, turning to non-discrimination, asked how the State guaranteed all rights for all children.  He also requested information on the Government’s efforts to improve neonatal mortality rates.

A delegate said that Botswana did not discriminate against any persons, including children.  The Government had committed to adopting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  It sought to protect the rights of children, including those with disabilities.

In accordance with Botswana’s health policy and universal health coverage policies, all people in the country had a right to health.  In 2014, a national committee had been put in place to audit the deaths of children under five.  This committee examined the deaths that had happened in hospitals and in communities.  Following this inquiry, the Government had made available equipment for resuscitation; ensured the proper training of hospital staff; and developed a neonatal guideline for health professionals.  

CEPHAS LUMINA, Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, pointed out that the Deserted Child and Wives Act and the Wills Act were inconsistent with the Convention.  Harmonization should be seen as an ongoing process, he stated, asking the delegation to comment on the matter.  On corruption, there had been issues recently, and Botswanan legislation’s narrow definition of corruption was a problem in that regard.

A Committee Expert asked for concrete examples of children’s involvement in the dissemination process.  On corporal punishment, the responses received so far were concerning.  This practice amounted to a direct violation of children’s rights.  Was the Children’s Forum a creation of the Government, asked another Expert.  Was it necessary for a non-governmental organization to have a licence to be able to report to the committee?

Another Expert requested additional information on child protection measures at the local level.  Could the delegation elaborate on their competencies, the response system they used, and their reporting practices?  

Second Round of Questions

An Expert asked if it was possible for a father to obtain the custody of the child while the mother paid alimony.  Why was the review of adoption legislation taking so much time?  She asked the delegation to clarify what was being revised precisely.

Did the Government intern children in medical facilities or did it promote alternate care, another Expert asked?  What was the Government doing to increase the percentage of children being breastfed up until the age of six months?

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, noting that there were 11 facilities run by non-governmental organizations for children with disabilities, asked if these facilities were residential schools.  It seemed that the Government had outsourced its responsibilities related to children with disabilities to non-governmental organizations.  Was there a specific cash grant for caregivers?  Was there any other home-based system that could be put in place to allow children with disabilities to stay with their families?

In rural areas, if a child did not have a birth certificate, could he or she still access health care services?  She asked if anyone in Botswana could have access to HIV/AIDS-related healthcare services.  Cash grants could alleviate poverty, the Co-Rapporteur remarked.  Had the Government considered handing some out?  On corporal punishment in schools, she said the Government had to lead more strongly from the front if this practice was ever to change.  She asked for clarification about migrant children’s access to education in camps and expressed concerns about the refugee camps’ integration in the communities.  Was the Government planning any legal reform regarding asylum and migration?  On sexual exploitation and abuse, she enquired about the Government’s strategy on so-called “sugar daddies”.  Did it consider trafficking to be a serious problem in the country?

There were few children in conflict with the law; this should allow Botswana to do the very best for them, the Co-Rapporteur stated.  Laws should state clearly that children below the age of 14 do not have a criminal capacity.  There were a few status offences remaining in Botswana’s legislation, which should be removed as part of its “colonial clean-up” efforts.  On the detention of female children, while acknowledging that there were so few of them that they could not be put in separate buildings, she suggested that Botswana simply refrain from putting girls in prison.  When adolescents engaged with one another in consensual sex, they should not be treated as criminals, she added.

Responses by the Delegation

Children had been consulted through focus group discussions and Botswana’s Children Consultative Forum, a delegate said.  While more could be done, the current membership of the Children’s Consultative Forum ensured representation of all the districts.  After participating in the Forum, children went back to their districts to disseminate the Convention.  The delegation could not provide information on the procedure through which the commission invited non-governmental organizations.  Non-governmental organizations, in particular those that were in direct contact with children, were expected to register and obtain a licence prior to start providing services. 

Fathers and mothers were recognized as having equal rights.  Fathers could therefore be granted custody if it was in the best interest of the child.  With respect to orphans, placement with family members was considered the first option.  The Government was reviewing the Adoption Act, and extensive consultations had been conducted in that context.  Adoption being deeply entrenched in Botswanan culture, this issue was delicate.  Inter-country adoption was also examined, as it was not adequately addressed in the current version of the act.  There were programmes in place that provided cash transfers, including disability cash transfers.  The Government did not have any recent data on street children.

Another delegate explained that the best interest of the child was given prominence and served as a guide tool when courts were making decisions on custody.  When children had to testify before a court, the magistrate assessed their understanding of the situation as well as their ability to provide a testimony.  Children’s courts were magistrates court sitting as children’s courts, a delegate explained.  As the manner in which the judges dressed might be intimidating, they tried to remove the gowns when addressing children.

The offence of smuggling was recently added to Botswanan legislation, another delegate said.  The Government would build a centre to house asylum seekers while they waited for refugee status decisions.  In that new centre, families would not be separated, unlike what was currently the case.  Consensual sex between adolescents was not penalized as per recent reforms, and neither was consensual sex between an adolescent and an adult if the latter was no more than two years older than the former. For instance, consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old would not be penalized.

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, said the Government made sure that refugee children had access to schools.

A delegate explained that where services were needed, children were not denied access on the basis of not having identification documents.  The service was provided first, and the identification issues were addressed subsequently.  The 2011 Inclusive Education Policy focused on disadvantaged children, and the Government continued to train teachers in specialized education, another delegate remarked.  While the State operated special schools for learners with impairments, it was now moving towards inclusion.  Children with mild impairments were integrated in mainstream schools -- this indicated that the Government intended to move towards greater inclusivity.  The Government gave subventions to non-governmental organizations to offer special education programmes operated through residential facilities.  

Another delegate said that the 1996 National Care Policy on People with Disabilities was based on a charity or health model that the Government intended to change.  The new approach had a human rights-based, social development approach.  There was great appetite on the part of Botswana to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In that context, the new policy would seek to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities.  The Government had put in place disability cash transfers to assist caretakers.  It also provided caretakers for learners in schools.  A study on disability had been conducted and it informed the ongoing developments on disability policies and legislation.  The Government was also working on amending the main act on mental health to make it compliant with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Allowing persons with disabilities the opportunity to study abroad promoted their self-development and made their parents proud.  It showed that Botswana did not discriminate against persons with disabilities and that they were given the opportunity to excel, like everybody else.

On sexual and reproductive health education, at all levels of education, pupils were offered comprehensive modules.  Gender roles and norms were addressed in various school subjects, including social studies and moral education.  Currently the access rate for preschool education stood at over 79 per cent.

On malnutrition, the Government provided food rations, and rolled out high impact interventions.  All children were treated equally and provided with services regardless of the availability of their birth certificates.  All clinics offered youth-friendly services, and nurses were trained to provide such services. 

Questions by Committee Experts

On parental custody, a Committee Expert said that asking children to choose with which parent they would like to live was problematic.  Had the Government developed techniques to avoid posing that question directly to children?  Another Expert asked about the Government’s plans to work with children who had alcohol issues and how they related to education.

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, said that, while opportunities to study abroad were great, based on the report, it seemed that some children with disabilities were sent off after being separated from their family.  Could the delegation provide more details about this practice?  It was time to rethink residential schools as the best way to provide education to children with disabilities?  Could the Government encourage non-governmental organizations to change their approach in that regard? 

Turning to violence against children, another Expert asked if there were hotlines or centres in place.  What measures were in place to foster the reintegration of children who had been victims of violence and ensure their access to justice?

CEPHAS LUMINA, Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, said that the Committee was aware of the content of Botswana’s acts and policies, and stressed that his questions related to implementation.  What measures were in place or were planned to ensure that cultural attitudes and practices did not undermine children’s right to privacy?  He also enquired about measures to assure the online safety of children.  Turning to freedom of expression, he asked what measures, if any, were in place to ensure that cultural and societal attitudes did not impede children’s freedom of expression and that children of all ages were able to freely express their views within the family, in schools and in their communities.

Stressing the importance of awareness-raising, dissemination and training, he asked if the Government had any plans to conduct systematic training of traditional leaders on the Convention and the Children’s Act.  Had the State party’s report been made available to the public in Botswana?  The Committee had received information to the contrary.

Another Expert drew the delegation’s attention to the issue of underreporting of sexual abuse.  Did the Government have a strategy to prevent the re-victimization of children who had been victims of abuse and violence?

Responses by the Delegation

A delegate explained that, when custodial arrangements were being determined, the Government’s engagement with children sought to make sure they were able to express their opinion about the arrangement that may follow, and not merely find out with which parent the children wanted to live.  The Convention had been translated into Setswana and the Government would look into translating it into other local languages.  The Children’s Act had been translated into Braille.  Efforts had been made to train teachers and various service providers on children’s rights, and a hotline was in place.  It operated 24 hours a day and could be accessed free of charge.

Learners were sent abroad to access specialized education that was not available in Botswana.  For instance, some learners had gone to Toledo, in the United States, where very good education for people with visual impairment was offered.  Upon returning to Botswana, these children could find jobs. 

On children’s testimony, a delegate explained that judicial officers first engaged in an inquiry to assess whether the child was of age, and if he or she had the mental ability to be a competent witness.  The Cyber Crime and Other Related Offences Act included 10 provisions that dealt specifically with the protection of children, and the punishment prescribed by these sections was quite stiff.  

On local infrastructure, another delegate said there were existing structures that, at the grassroots level, were expected to identify abused children.  Traditional and religious leaders had also been trained to deal with these issues.  To combat malnutrition, the Government had put in place school feeding programmes as well as training for mothers on nutrition, best ways to respond to illnesses, etc.  The Government worked hand in hand with the relevant non-governmental organizations to tackle drug and alcohol abuse problems affecting youth.  To address obesity, it had notably installed gym equipment in public parks.  Botswanan prisons had clinics, and, when they could not provide the services that the situation required, local hospitals and clinics were used.

Adhering to the “Nothing for us without us” principle, the Government collaborated with non-governmental organizations and stakeholders in its work to improve the situation of children with disabilities.  On cultural attitudes, while the Government did not believe it was an excuse not to take action, it had to tread carefully not to condemn such attitudes continually.  The report had been made public.  Regarding the numerous amendments suggested by a Committee Expert, a delegate remarked that she could not commit to making them, as the delegation did not hold legislative power.  It would, however, inform parliamentarians of the Committee’s recommendations.

The Ministry of Education was seeking to improve its national curriculum and had taken into consideration the need to include a more comprehensive life skills programme, which would go a long way in addressing issues related to teenage pregnancy, another delegate added.

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, said legislation penalizing corporal punishment would eventually be introduced, and the Government would continue to educate the population on the matter.  The delegation had not denied there was corruption in Botswana; it was something the Government was fighting on a daily basis.  In that regard, it was unfortunate that a Committee Expert had referred to the Botswana Democratic Party and comments by its Secretary General, as it was not relevant to what was being discussed in the Committee, he stated, asking for a retraction and an apology.

Concluding Remarks

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Co-Rapporteur for Botswana, thanked the delegation for a very fruitful dialogue which had been in the best interest of the children of Botswana.  The Government had made many efforts in many areas, and the Committee was encouraged by the delegation’s openness.

FRANS SOLOMON VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, reaffirmed Botswana’s commitment to the fulfilment of the rights of the child as enshrined in the Convention.  The Government would intensify efforts to address the issues broached by the Committee, and ensure a multi-sectoral follow-up to its recommendations.  He assured that the Government was committed to the rights of children.  Botswana’s children were the country’s greatest national resource, he stated.

LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and recalled that additional information could be submitted in writing within 48 hours.  It was not the Committee’s intention to offend the delegation or comment on the political situation in Botswana, he said, apologizing for any comment that could have been perceived as doing so.  The Committee was a technical body specialized in the rights of the child, and its mindset was one of collaboration.  The intensity of the dialogue and the number of questions were due to the Committee’s will to offer the best observations possible for the benefit of the children of Botswana.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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