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In dialogue with Belarus, Committee on the Rights of the Child stresses need to address violence against children

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

21 January 2020

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Belarus on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Committee Experts stressed the need to implement legislation dealing with violence against children.  They also raised concerns about the State party's policies on drug use and family separations. 

Committee Experts said that while the implementation of a helpline was a positive step, there was not much on which to congratulate Belarus when it came to violence against children.  The implementation of legislation was the crux of the matter, they said, pointing out that laws were in place but not adequately enforced.  There seemed to be a will to harden detention conditions for people convicted of drug-related crimes, to a point where death would be preferable.  Could the Government explain how the best interest of the child was considered in the implementation of such a policy to minors?  Experts also requested information about the support provided to families to prevent family separations.  They sought clarification regarding the power to remove a child from his or her family.  Who made the assessments?  Who made the decision?  Who was tasked with working with families?  The sole criteria for the removal of children stipulated by the Convention was the best interest of the child, they stressed.  Could the Government explain how this principle was considered in the implementation of drug-related sentences and policies?

Igor Karpenko, Minister of Education of Belarus and head of the delegation, said that in January 2019, a law had been adopted on recognizing children at risk, which had led to a changed approach to preventive activities carried out with dysfunctional families and greater specificity in the criteria and indicators used to assess social risks for minors.  Delegates explained that a system of specialized prosecutors had been established for the protection of children's rights and they performed their functions in every region and city in the country.  They had the right to inspect any State body or organization, including "closed" institutions.  In 2019, prosecutors had investigated approximately 500 complaints related to violations of children's rights.  Responding to an upsurge in the use of drugs, particularly amongst children, the Government had amended relevant laws.  These changes had stabilized the situation: since 2014, there had been an overall fourfold reduction in the number of overdoses and a twentyfold reduction in the number of overdoses by minors.  This reflected the fact that the drug policy and related measures had been effective.  Decisions to remove parental rights were only taken by courts.  The decision to remove children could only be made when there was a real and serious threat to the children's wellbeing.

Renata Winter, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the interactive discussion and the information provided.  A lot had been done for the best interest of children in Belarus.  The Committee was aware that changes did not come about overnight, notably when they required a change in the population's opinion.  There were, however, some shortcomings, which the concluding observations would address.

Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in concluding remarks welcomed the positive assessment by the Committee of the progress made in Belarus.  Progress required time and a balanced approach, and involved education and training of parents, teachers and social workers, amongst others.  Of course, it also required budget allocations.  The Government of Belarus had the political will to achieve this.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks thanked the delegation for the openness it had demonstrated during the dialogue.  Belarus could count on the goodwill of the Committee, which would work with great responsibility to draw up the best concluding observations for the State party. 

The delegation of Belarus consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the Belarusian State Pedagogical University, the Brest Regional Executive Committee, the Supreme Court, the National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minsk State Linguistic University, and the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m., to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Costa Rica under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/CRI/5-6). 

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Belarus under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/BLR/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

IGOR KARPENKO, Minister of Education of Belarus, said Belarus was continuously working on reviewing the national legal framework to ensure its compliance with the provisions of the Convention.  In January 2019, a law had been adopted on recognizing children at risk, which had led to various outcomes such as a changed approach to preventive activities carried out with dysfunctional families and greater specificity in the criteria and indicators used to assess social risks for minors.

In 2019, the National Commission for the Rights of the Child, headed by the Deputy Prime Minister, had considered a wide range of issues related to child protection, including health, and the protection of children and young people from drug trafficking and drug use.  The Prosecutor's Office was conducting monitoring and supervision at all levels to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.  Authorized members of the National Commission also worked in regional centres of the Government.  In 2019, 56 citizens, including minors, had submitted requests to the National Office for the Rights of the Child.  This body had also received 72 written applications related to the protection of children's rights.  In total, it had received over 800 applications. 

Turning to the dissemination of the Convention, Mr. Karpenko said the Government maintained a website with resources on legal topics that had been developed for children and teenagers.  Students and trainees were systematically and purposefully educated on legal and citizenship matters.  Within the framework of the social studies programme, human rights were included in secondary institutional curricula with a structured and systematic approach.  Higher education institutions sought to raise awareness on legal issues such as Family Law, Criminal Law, Civil Law, and Social Work Legal Regulations, through courses.  In 2019, regional and national electronic media outlets had published 432 articles on the theme of improving the condition of children and the protection of their rights.  Leading national TV channels had broadcast 144 reports and videos on the protection of the rights of children and teenagers.

To promote the participation of children and young people in decision-making processes, as well as in the development and implementation of socioeconomic programmes at the city and district level, youth consultation and advisory bodies had been established, such as youth parliaments, the Public Republic Student Council, and the Republic Council of Young Trainees and Working Youth.  In 2019, the members of the Public Republic Student Council had become active participants in discussions surrounding the development of a draft law on change to the education code and a draft Strategy of Public Youth Policy Development 2030. 

On adoption, Belarusian legislation considered national adoption a priority for children who had lost access to parental care due to different reasons.  In 2019, nationals of Belarus had adopted 409 children.  Over the period spanning from 2011 to 2019, that number stood at 4,692 children, including 2,460 children from orphanages and social care homes. 

Furthermore, Belarus paid much attention to the prevention of violence against minors.  Mediation was being actively implemented as a way to resolve disputes through the intervention of a neutral third party.  In 2019, school mediation services had been rolled out in 58 educational institutions, which allowed teenagers to learn how to overcome crises and reduce the number of conflicts occurring in schools, amongst others.  In 2019, the Ministry of Education had supported an initiative by the United Nations Children's Fund and the Maxim Tank Belarusian State Pedagogical University to adapt and implement the Croatian model of "Safe and Enabling Environment in Schools" in Belarusian institutions. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, thanked Belarus for having joined the Committee and other actors in November to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In paragraph seven of the report, the State party had informed the Committee of ongoing reviews of its legislation that only seemed to concern children facing forced migration.  Was a comprehensive review for all children also being considered?

Did the Government allocate necessary funding for the implementation of its action plans related to the Convention?

Why was the Secretariat of the National Commission under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Education?  Why was that Ministry coordinating the implementation of the Convention?

While drafting its budget, did the Government conduct a needs assessment survey to ensure the adequate allocation of resources to the needs of children in various areas?

She requested information on the manner in which the Government ensured a harmonized process for the collection and analysis of data and asked for further details on the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention.  Who was in charge of receiving and processing complaints related to violations of the Convention?

What mechanisms had the Government put in place to ensure that children could fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression and express their views freely, in schools, for example?  She inquired about laws adopted, if any, to strengthen that right.

AISSATOU SIDIKOU, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, pointing out that children with HIV/AIDS did not have the right to enter educational institutions, asked how the Government intended to address this issue.

It seemed that the best interest of the child was not systematically applied, she noted, and asked for additional information on this matter.

Did the Government envisage amending legislation to put an end to the detention of children based on their migratory status? Was it considering non-custodial measures?

She asked if the Government intended to improve parent support programmes to increase the participation of fathers and implement the principle of equal responsibility sharing within the family.  Were there any training courses or support programmes for new parents, including to encourage breastfeeding?

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, turning to statelessness and nationality laws, said there were issues that required further discussion.  Could the delegation provide more information on birth registration of Roma children and measures put in place to prevent that children be born stateless in Belarus?

When the media reported on cases of violence, how was the right to privacy of children upheld?  The Co-Rapporteur inquired about children's access to the Internet and the protection of their rights online.

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, said that while the implementation of a helpline was a positive step, there was not much on which to congratulate Belarus when it came to violence against children.  The implementation of legislation was the crux of the matter, she said, pointing out that laws were in place but not adequately enforced.

There seemed to be a will to harden detention conditions for people convicted of drug-related crimes, to a point where death would be preferable.  Could the Government explain how the best interest of the child was considered in the implementation of such a policy to minors?

There seemed to be a real possibility to obtain secondary education for children held in institutions, but in practice it was either not the case or access was insufficient.  Some institutionalized children were carrying out work akin to slavery, without any access to health care, be it medication, doctors or nurses.  It seemed that access to medication was dependent entirely on the discretion of the personnel of institutions.

On corporal punishment, Ms. Winter cited remarks by officials in media outlets that condoned this practice and pointed out that a law banning it had been vetoed.  She requested information on how the Government intended to address this issue.

Other Committee members asked for further information on child-friendly cities and services for child victims of sexual abuse.

Replies by the Delegation

Delegates explained that a system of specialized prosecutors had been established for the protection of children's rights; they performed their functions in every region and city in the country.  They were endowed with broad powers and had the right to inspect any State body or organization, including "closed" institutions.  Any child could seek the support of a prosecutor for the protection of their rights, and it was an obligation for citizens, organizations and officials to report violations of children's rights to a prosecutor. 

Prosecutors had investigated approximately 500 complaints related to violations of children's rights in 2019.  Overall, approximately 300 lawsuits had been filed in the interest of minors and more than 2,000 inspections had been conducted.  As a result, thousands of violations had been redressed.  More than 5,000 people had been brought to justice.

The efficient protection of children's rights in the country was the result of the joint work of the prosecution authorities, ministries, departments, institutions, local authorities, public organizations, citizens and children.  The Government worked closely with the United Nations Children's Fund, delegates underlined.

An analysis had shown that certain legislative acts needed to be closer in line with the provisions of the Convention dealing with the best interest of the child.  This principle had been enshrined in the marital code through a series of amendments.  Further amendments would enshrine this principle in legislation dealing with asylum-seekers and statelessness.  Law making in Belarus was conducted on an ongoing basis.

Turning to non-discrimination, delegates said a draft law on persons with disabilities included a definition of discrimination, and forbade discrimination based on disability.

The National Plan of Action to Improve Children's Rights 2021 aimed to improve the situation of children; bolster mechanisms for the protection and implementation of rights related to social protection and inclusion; support the family; fully realize the right of a child to upbringing in a family; and systematically combat threats to children's welfare, amongst others. 

The National Commission for the Rights of the Child would not be merged with other commissions, delegates assured.

The education authorities carried out ongoing work to prevent violence against minors.  Currently, work was underway with 40 pedagogical centres that had created drop-in rooms for adolescents, hoping to shape a culture of non-violence in society.  All reports of violence led to fast responses by the Ministry of Education. 

There had been an upsurge in the use of drugs, particularly amongst children, which had led to changes in legislation.  These changes had allowed stabilizing the drug situation: since 2014, there had been a fourfold reduction in the number of overdoses overall and a twentyfold reduction in the number of overdoses by minors.  In addition, since 2015, there had not been a single case of fatal drug overdose by a minor.  This reflected the fact that the drug policy and related measures had been effective.  To call these measures excessive did not do justice to the Government's work in this area.

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, asked for more information on how, precisely, the legislation had been amended.

Delegates replied that the range of responsibility had been increased; following changes in legislation, courts had more discretion in determining the degree of criminal responsibility, including for minors.

Turning to minors in places of deprivation of liberty, the delegation added that juveniles were detained only in extreme circumstances, when there were no alternatives to isolation from society.  Twenty years ago, there were three educational colonies; there was only one such an institution today.  A majority of the people detained there were aged 16 to 18 years.

In 2018, a law on amnesty had been published which provided that minors who had not committed a serious crime could serve their sentence outside of institutions and those that had committed a serious crime would see their sentences reduced by two years.

Over the last four years, the number of minors who suffered from domestic violence remained considerable.  Therefore, the Government needed to keep a close eye on violence against children, and carry out a great deal of awareness-raising work and early interventions.  Today in Belarus, any form of violence against children was unacceptable; society condemned it.

As of 1 January 2020, among all refugees and stateless persons, there were 70 minors.  Minors were treated as citizens of Belarus: they had the right to attend school free of charge, and receive health care on the same basis as children of the same age who were citizens of Belarus.

Bodily harm, beatings or infliction of pain, physical or mental suffering caused by a parent, as well as bodily injuries caused by other persons were punished with the imposition of an administrative fine or administrative arrest.  Since 2015, more than 500 parents and other family members had been prosecuted for physical and mental violence against children (127 in 2019).  In such cases, families were subjected to rehabilitation measures.  In case of threat to the life or health of the child, she or he could be removed from the family and placed under State care by a court decision.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, asked for information about the support provided to families to prevent family separations.  She sought clarification regarding the power to remove a child from his or her family.  Who exercised it?  Who made the assessments?  Who made the decision?  Who was tasked with working with families? 

There were reports that children could be removed from their family because their parents had incurred too much debt.  The sole criteria for the removal of children stipulated by the Convention was the best interest of the child, the Co-Rapporteur stressed.

Regarding the decreasing institutional care, which was a positive trend, could the delegation provide information on mechanisms in place to monitor the situation in places of deprivation of liberty?

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, asked for further information on measures taken to provide medical treatment to drug users.

The Co-Rapporteur inquired about the promotion of penal inspectors.  Was it true that this was dependent on the number of arrests they oversaw?  If so, how did the Government protect the population from inspectors who could conduct arrests zealously to be promoted faster?

She inquired about oversight of detention.  Pointing that responses to some of the Committee's questions regarding deprivation of liberty started with "it shall" or "it would", the Co-Rapporteur asked when these measures would be put in place.

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, turning to suicides, said that while positive steps had been taken, a lot more had to be done.  Suicide was the first cause of death amongst adolescents in Belarus.  What studies had been conducted to identify the root causes of this phenomenon?  How were teachers trained in identifying children at risk?  She requested information about counselling services and treatment offered in schools in that context.

One in eight people living in the areas still affected by the accident that occurred in Chernobyl were children.  Could the delegation provide information on measures taken to address the negative effects that this accident still had on the population?

She asked the delegation when Belarus intended to shut down all closed institutions.

AISSATOU SIDIKOU, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, asked about measures put in place to ensure migrant children's access to legal aid.

She inquired about measures in place to combat the sale and trafficking of children.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation of Belarus said the Government sought to prevent the separation of children from their families.  Even temporary removals, which lasted up to six months, were avoided when possible.  The separation of children from parents was seen as an extreme measure. 

Removals were imposed when, for instance, parents were chronic drug users or the place in which the family lived posed a real threat to the children's wellbeing.  Removals could only be imposed by a court decision, when all other options had been exhausted.  The removal of children from parents could not imposed when parents only had temporary health issues.  Prior to the imposition of removals, professionals, such as psychologists, provided support to the family, aiming to improve the situation and thus avoid the separation.  When a removal did occur, the children were not put in institutions, but rather in foster homes.

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, said the Committee was not against removals if it was in the best interest of the child.  She asked who had the mandate under the law to conduct a social assessment of the family.  Were the people who carried out this task adequately trained?

The delegation reiterated that decisions to remove parental rights were only taken by courts.  The decision to remove children could only be made when there was a real and serious threat to the children's wellbeing.

Regarding the training of specialists, the Pedagogical University trained various types of professionals to ensure a quality assessment of the situation of children.  It also coordinated a cluster of courses on lifelong learning, which provided training to professionals on inclusive education.

A national body at the State-level was in charge of gathering statistics and coordinating the work of other governmental bodies in that area.  The Government published a statistical journal on children and adolescents, describing the various aspects of their lives.  It provided data broken down by age and sex, amongst others.  The Government sought to constantly improve the collection of disaggregated data on children.  In September 2019, it had held meetings with experts from the United Nations Children's Fund to that end. 

Belarus had a programme that allowed 20,000 disadvantaged children to spend the summer in summer camps.

In Belarus, there was no human rights institution that met the standards of the Paris Principles.  The Government was looking into this matter, but so far had not come to a decision regarding the relevance of bodies abiding by these principles.  There was, however, a whole range of institutions that performed related work, such as the National Mechanism for Handling Citizen Complaints.  State bodies had the obligation to look into complaints submitted to them by citizens, and the law regulated the delay of responses, delegates explained.

Turning to the issue of inclusive education, delegates said parents could decide whether their child would go to integrated classes or specialized schools.  Specialized transportation was provided to children with disabilities in rural areas.  Additional sign-language classes were provided to children with hearing disabilities who attended specialized classes.  The Government was working toward reducing the number of specialized schools.  Specialized boarding schools would be transformed into centres that provided support to parents and helped children get ready to be transferred to regular schools.

The birth registration system in Belarus ensured that all children were registered within the period defined by the law.  Changes would be made to automatically harmonize the birth registrar and the population registrar.

Child suicide was an important topic for the Government.  A study had been conducted on this phenomenon, and it found that the main causes of suicide were loneliness, lack of understanding or contact with their parents, and unrequited love.

Children could not be separated from their families only based on their parent's financial difficulties.  Parental rights had been restored to 135 parents in 2019.  Parents could appeal to courts to get back their parent rights.  Children who were 14 years or older could state their opinion on the matter, and it was considered by courts.

Questions by Committee Experts

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, encouraged the State party to consider using the definition of disability in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  On the prevention of tobacco and alcohol use, she requested information on measures that targeted merchants and sellers of such products.

The Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation to provide information on the extraterritorial application of the law related to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  What kind of services were in place to support the victims and foster rehabilitation?

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, asked if the Government was considering bringing the minimum age of admission in military schools to 18 years old, as opposed to 17 years old.

Would the Government consider removing the double-criminality for extraterritorial offenses covered by the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict?

Replies by the Delegation and Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

Delegates said that national legislation covered all the crimes that the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography dealt with.  Double criminality was excluded: people would bear criminal responsibility for acts committed outside Belarus.  However, this would only be the case if the crimes in question were considered as such in the country in which they had been committed.

The number of victims of sexual exploitation had dropped.  All of them had been supported by the Government.  The Ministry of the Interior directed them to the actors best suited to assist them.

The national legislation criminalized the participation of children in armed conflicts.  Criminal liability was only for citizens of Belarus or persons living permanently in Belarus. 

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, said the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was not about trafficking.  The concluding observations would elaborate on this matter.

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, regarding armed conflict, said her questions and concerns related to assistance, not punishment.  Was the Government considering establishing a system to identify children coming to Belarus who had been involved in armed conflict or criminal activities abroad?  Such a child would need support from the Government.

Delegates said that children whose rights had been violated benefitted from assistance and services on par with children who were citizens of Belarus.  Psychologists determined trauma that children had suffered from prior to arriving in Belarus, so support could be provided accordingly.

As provided for by the law, there was public oversight of detention centres, notably by an observatory commission.  All questions related to the detention of minor inmates as well as any changes to these conditions had be approved by this commission.

The Ministry for Education and the Ministry for Healthcare ran the "My Lifestyle" programme, which allowed pupils to study issues including drug use and HIV/AIDS and then lead extracurricular activities on these topics.

The Centre for Human Rights in Belarus had conducted a study in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, including the Belarus Helsinki Committee on the application of corporate responsibility principles.  The Government had met with various stakeholders to discuss the findings of the survey and future work in this area.

National legislation already provided for the protection of the rights of children in their dealing with businesses; therefore, there was no need to adopt a special law.  The Government would nevertheless continue discussions on this matter.

Children had access to the Internet.  They could send electronic communications to any State bodies, which carefully reviewed them.

In Belarus, the National Commission on the Rights of the Child worked on combatting violence against children, and it discharged its mandate in accordance with relevant regulations.

Concluding Remarks

RENATA WINTER, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, thanked the delegation for the interactive discussion and the information provided.  A lot had been done for the best interest of children in Belarus.  The Committee was aware that changes did not come about overnight, notably when they required a change in the population's opinion.  There were, however, some shortcomings, which the concluding observations would address.

YURY AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the Committee's positive assessment of the progress made by Belarus.  Progress required time and a balanced approach, and involved education and training of parents, teachers and social workers, amongst others.  Of course, it also required budget allocations.  The Government had the political will to achieve this.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the openness it had demonstrated during the dialogue.  Belarus could count on the goodwill of the Committee, which would work with great responsibility to draw up the best concluding observations for the State party.

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