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Committee on the Rights of the Child tackles various forms of violence against children in dialogue with Costa Rica

Committee on the Rights of the Child

23 January 2020

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Costa Rica on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Committee Experts raised concerns about the various forms of violence against children, including bullying, feminicides and corporal punishment.

Committee Experts pointed out that there was still a lot of violence against children and adolescent girls in particular.  They noted with concern that 15 per cent of adolescent girls were victims of feminicides and requested information on measures taken to stamp out sexual and domestic violence.  Violence at school and bullying were also a source of concern.  They asked if children had access to complaint mechanisms that could be used in a confidential manner and without any fear of reprisals.  The Experts inquired about the implementation of the national strategy to combat violence against women and the indicators and procedure used to assess the outcomes.

Shara Dunca Villalobos, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, said that the Law on the Right to Time of May 2019 had extended the statute of limitation for sexual crimes against minors.  A series of protocols that strengthened the justice system and protection mechanisms for minors had been issued as well. 

Despite the efforts to create a culture of peace and respect for the rights of all people, violence against children and girls, in particular, had not abated, said the delegation.  But Costa Rica would not give up and would strengthen its efforts in this regard.  Parenting academies sought to foster positive parenting skills allowing children to be brought up without facing humiliation or corporal punishment.  To address feminicides and persistent violence against women, the Government had drawn up a plan that sought to eradicate the chauvinist culture.

Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, in her concluding remarks, commended the country for the continued efforts to improve the situation of the child despite the budgetary crisis.  It was important to tackle the remaining challenges, especially violence and its social and structural drivers.

Shara Dunca Villalobos, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, in her concluding remarks, said that one of the great challenges for her country was the need to improve inter-institutional coordination and increase the capacity of institutions such as the National Child Welfare Agency that had the titanic task of protecting the rights of the child.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, asked the State party to take ownership of the Committee's upcoming concluding recommendations and disseminate them in a manner that made them accessible to the boys, girls and adolescents of Costa Rica.

The delegation of Costa Rica consisted of representatives of the National Child Welfare Agency, the Criminal Appellate Division, the Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m., to consider the sixth periodic report of Hungary under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/HUN/6).

Report

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

Presentation of the Report

SHARA DUNCAN VILLALOBOS, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Costa Rica recognized the crucial work of this Committee and its importance in guaranteeing and protecting children's rights.  Costa Rica had celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and reiterated its commitment to combat all situations that led to vulnerability amongst, and discrimination against, minors. 

The National Child Welfare Agency was the governing institution in matters of childhood and adolescence and was responsible for promoting actions that prevented violations of rights that affected both minors and children.  Minors in Costa Rica made up 29.7 per cent of the total population of inhabitants, around 1,486,000 people.  Of that population, 10,510 were in some form of protection system as a result of the loss of parental care.  Of these, 82 per cent remained in foster care compared to 18 per cent in residential care.  During the year 2019, regulations regarding foster care had been updated in line with the guidelines issued by this Committee.  Work was being carried out jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund to enact a shift towards the deinstitutionalization of minors. 

In order to guarantee the effective application of the laws and current regulations, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy had issued a "Guide for the Development of Public Policies", which stated that public policies must incorporate and implement a human rights approach as the basis of policymaking. 

The Law on Strengthening of the Legal Protection of Girls and Adolescents from Situations of Gender Violence Related to Abusive Relationships criminalized sexual relations with persons under 15 years of age and increased the minimum age for sexual consent from 13 to 15 years when there was a five-year or more difference between the parties.  In addition, the law prohibited the registration of marriages of minors.  In May 2019, the Law on the Right to Time was adopted, which extended the period of limitation for criminal action from 10 to 25 years, for cases of sexual crimes against minors or persons without volitional or cognitive capacity. 

Furthermore, Costa Rica had issued a series of protocols that, together with current regulations and legal reforms, strengthened the justice system and protection mechanisms for minors, such as the Institutional Protocol for the Attention of Minor Victims and Survivors of the Crime of Trafficking in Persons, which established a procedure for assisting minors in this situation, as well as strategic actions for the prevention and treatment of crime.

To guarantee the freedom of expression and opinion of children, the National Child Welfare Agency had created a series of projects that focused on indigenous and Afro-descendant populations.  In 2015 the Government had launched a programme called "Educate for a New Citizenship", which had as a priority the training of critical and creative people who recognized and respected various cultures, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and religions.

Regarding the protection of minors in situations of violence, forced labour or sexual exploitation, the Government continued implementing its "Roadmap to Make Costa Rica a Country Free of Child Labour and its Worst Forms," which would conclude in 2020.  With regard to the right to health and in particular with regard to teenage pregnancy, the fertility rate in adolescents showed a sustained decrease in the past 10 years.  In the last five years, it had decreased by more than eight percentage points, from 29.81 per cent in 2013 to 21.55 per cent in 2018.

Costa Rica acknowledged its obligation to make progress in guaranteeing the full enjoyment of human rights.  It must also properly and effectively operationalize the national regulatory framework, which aimed to protect all underage persons.  The National Children's Board, as the governing body responsible for matters pertaining to the situation of children and adolescents, in coordination with relevant Costa Rican institutions, strengthened strategic plans for the implementation, development and monitoring of national and international commitments, which favoured the exercise and defence of the rights of minors.

Questions by the Committee Experts

HYND AYOUB IDRISSI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, thanked Costa Rica.  She pointed out that there was still a lot of violence, notably against female adolescents, 15 per cent of whom were victims of feminicides.  She asked what the State party would to do remedy the situation.  Why was there a reluctance to society taking ownership of the rights of the child, as prescribed by the Convention? 

Costa Rica had run into fiscal difficulties, due notably to tax reform.  There was a shortfall in inter-agency coordination in the Government.  This had made the situation particularly difficult and led to overlapping and loss of opportunities.  What measures were being taken to strengthen coordination and implement results-based management?  How was the State party ensuring that its budget was focused on the rights of children?

She requested information on efforts made by the State to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure adequate preparedness for emergency situations, in the wake of hurricane Otto.

There had been 603 victims of violence, homicide, drug trafficking and gang-related phenomena.  Had Costa Rica identified the causes of the increase in violence? 

What had been done or pledged to ensure the full participation of migrant children, children living in rural areas and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex children?

Violence at school, notably bullying, was a source of concern.  The Co-Rapporteur requested information on measures taken to stamp out violence against children, including sexual violence, as well as domestic violence.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, said significant progress had been made when it came to birth registries.  Had the Government assessed the causes of the 6 per cent lack of registration?

Turning to children's access to digital technologies, he asked what measures had been taken to ensure that children could have access to a safe digital environment and educational digital tools, including in rural areas.

On freedom of assembly, he noted that the State allowed for the participation of children, but, in communications with the Committee, Costa Rica had expressed pessimism with regard to such participation.  What funds were allocated to ensure that children's councils could properly operate?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions about inter-institutional coordination, delegates said the National Child Welfare Agency and other bodies indeed faced financial constraints.  A budgetary consolidation exercise had led to a 20 per cent budget cut this year compared to the previous one.  The National Child Welfare Agency wanted to expand its programmes through mobile units and reach notably difficult neighbourhoods with high crime rates.  These units provided educational, psychological and social support.

The Minister for Children chaired the National Child Welfare Agency, whose Council included representatives of non-governmental organizations and monitored the implementation of Costa Rica's international obligations.  In the past years, there had been a significant increase in the rollout of preventive and education programmes, in partnership with various partners.

Between 2016 and 2019, the National Child Welfare Agency had rolled out 52 preventive and promotional education campaigns concerning all the rights set out in the Convention and the Code for Children and Adolescents.  The Government was investing $ 5 million in these areas, so people were aware of the rights of children and adolescents.  Greater involvement from State institutions, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was needed in that regard.

Although a law had been adopted in 2018 against corporal punishment, according to a study, 45 per cent of people admitted to using physical punishment on a daily basis or considered it acceptable.  Surveys had also shown that some 39 per cent of children and adolescents claimed to be victims of corporal punishment. 

In 2016, the Government had established early interventions centres and mobile units which strove to prevent violence and strengthen life skills for children and adolescents, so that they could live in peace and harmony with their peers and solve conflicts in a non-violent manner.

The Government had not yet been able to assess the impact of these community-based programmes, but the children and adolescent beneficiaries were very open to them and appreciated them.  They no longer saw the National Child Welfare Agency as a repressive institution but rather as an institution that bolstered their rights and skills.

The National Child Welfare Agency also had parenting academies, which sought to foster parenting skills allowing children to be brought up without facing humiliation or corporal punishment.  Despite efforts to create a culture of peace that respected the rights of all people, there had not been a decrease in violence against this segment of the population, delegates said.

The Government would not give up; it would strengthen its efforts.  Much could be done to improve inter-agency cooperation in this area.  The Government had to raise awareness of the positive discipline. 

On feminicides, the Government had put in place a programme to eradicate violence, which had emerged from a project to prevent suicide.  It was notably used in the coastal region of Limon, which had a significant indigenous and Afro-descendant population.  In that context, four outreach centres had been opened there for children and adolescents, where psychological treatment, education support and artistic activities were offered.  The centres also offered workshops on roots that addressed the cultural traditions of various ethnic groups to which the children belonged.  They were offered in indigenous languages.

Delegates went on to explain that the Government sought to implement the best interest of the child principle in enforcing the law.  Efforts were being made to avoid and overturn the "adult-centric" approach; the Government was strengthening its courts in that spirit.  There was no specific sentencing enforcement act for adults, but there was one for adolescents.  This entailed that there was a special system for juveniles, comprised of specialized judges and prosecutors.  In that regard, it was important for journalists to be trained so that the principle of privacy could be effectively applied when they covered judicial proceedings. 

On child mortality, about 98 per cent of childbirths took place in hospitals.  The Government had devised a strategy, which had been deployed nationwide, to pinpoint risks.  Aspects of this strategy included the provision of neonatal tests to detect metabolic problems, as well as prenatal care and the certification of a number of hospitals that promoted breastfeeding as baby-friendly institutions.  In 2017, a centralized post-partum strategy with a cultural, humanized focus had been developed to notably address child mortality amongst the indigenous and Afro-descendant segments of the population.

On institutionalization, delegates said that when children came to the Government without any prospect of going back to their own home, the adoption process must be expeditious. 

The birth registration rate stood at 94 per cent, which was high.  To address the remaining 6 per cent, a programme called "Chiquititos" targeted segments of the population that lived across the border in the south, whereby rapid registrations were carried out in situ.  It had been quite successful and a similar programme would be implemented in the north of the country.

On children's councils, delegates noted that child participants had been very active in developing a project called "This is my voice" that sought to identify the skills of participants so that they played a leading and impactful role.  Training to foster active citizenship was provided in that context.

Questions by Committee Experts

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, said that the Government seemed to have a very large number of projects, but it would not be able to implement them if they were not properly funded.  What was the cause of the current budgetary situation and how did the Government intend to address it?

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, said Costa Rica was a model in South America when it came to investment.  Yet, poverty and multi-dimensional poverty levels were now of concern.  Considering that corruption had a huge impact on the budgetary situation of countries, what was the Government doing to address that issue?

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, requested more information on birth registration.  What were the strategies in place to register all children?

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, inquired about the budget of the National Child Welfare Agency.  He noted that this agency was entitled to 7 per cent of the budget as provided by the Constitution and recently confirmed by a Constitutional Court ruling. 

Expressing concerns about bullying, he asked the delegation how it tackled that issue, notably its impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex children.

HYND AYOUB IDRISSI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, said important efforts had been made to ensure universal access to education.  Yet the dropout rate remained high.  She raised concerns about migrant children and children with disabilities in particular.  What was the State doing, concretely, to address this situation?

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, inquired about disability policies.  Services were centralized and far removed from the concerned population.  In that regard, waiting lists impeded access to services, which had been deemed a violation of rights by the Constitutional Court.  What measures had been adopted following that ruling? 

Turning to basic healthcare and wellbeing, he inquired about steps taken by the State party to provide adequate training to healthcare workers and sought clarification regarding the technical standards put in place regarding access to abortion for adolescents. 

Suicides were a major problem in the country, which the National Mental Plan addressed.  How was the child perspective included in that plan? 

On special protection measures, significant headway had been made.  Challenges remained on the coordination front as Costa Rica needed to react to stigmatization and rejection of migrant children. 

Could the delegation provide information on the status of implementation of the national plan on sexual exploitation of girls?

The Committee had noted an excessive use of pre-trial detention in cases related to drug use.  What complaint mechanisms existed for detained adolescents?

Hailing the legislation on the right to consultation and prior consent, the Chairperson inquired about the State party's efforts to consult with indigenous children about issues affecting them in their territories.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to the Committee's questions, the delegates said the National Child Welfare Agency was in the frontlines to ensure that any budgetary cuts were time bound.  The Agency was lobbying for the removal of the forecast of a 20 per cent cuts of its budget; it was working hard to avoid the rollback of any of its programmes and to extend the current ones.  Among others, it had requested the authorization to use the last year's unspent funds in the current year.

On violence against children, the delegation remarked that the law did not specifically define what "psychological violence" was.  From a technical point of view, if there was an injury or harm to health, be it physical or psychological, it was up to the prosecutor to prove their case for the prosecution of the perpetrator.

To address feminicides and the persistent violence against women, the Government had drawn up a plan to 2032, which paid particular attention to the situation of girls and adolescents.  It sought to eradicate the chauvinist culture and the passing on of habits that encouraged violence against women.  It also sought to foster non-violent masculinity and do away with the tolerance of violence against women by supporting "protective communities", amongst other aims. 

The National Child Welfare Agency had free hotlines for young persons.  Line 1147, for instance, could be used by children seeking answers to any questions.  Another line was devoted to answering questions from teenage mothers.  It put them in contact with legal counsels, social workers and psychologists who responded to their inquiries.

To address bullying, the Government provided training and workshops in schools.  The Parenting Academies also carried out activities in this area, seeking to foster positive parenting, while the 1147 line also contributed the efforts.  The Ministry of Public Security trained police officers to better equip them to work with children and adolescents, in collaboration with other state agents.  Non-governmental organizations were the Government's strategic allies in the fight against bullying and had rolled out various projects in that area.

On children's rights and the media, the Government had a partnership with the College of Journalism of Costa Rica to carry out training and campaigns on children's rights.  This collaboration sought to ensure journalists were equipped to report on stories in a manner that was respectful of children's rights and their privacy and dignity.  Also, the Advertising Control Agency limited any violent or inappropriate advertising.

In July 2019, a shelters unit had been created to promote the dialogue with young people in the context of the Government's efforts to facilitate deinstutionalization and a $20 million fund to support alternatives had been established.  Regulations would be put in place to address deep-seated procedural problems, the delegation added.  Costa Rica had already drafted a bill that defined foster families as a support measure that sought to uphold the best interest of the child.  A pending inter-agency agreement would make administrative and legal procedures involving young persons nimbler.

Regarding Internet access, Costa Rica had developed the Connected Public Spaces Programme, an initiative to provide broadband Internet access through a network of 515 Wi-Fi access points located in more than 400 parks and public places, 28 train stations, 61 public libraries and seven Civic Centres for Peace.  Those public networks would have time and navigability restriction to mitigate the misuse of the Internet, such as access to pornographic or violent material. 

In August 2018, 260 officials from across the country had been trained as agents for the prevention of, and response to, online sexual exploitation and abuse of girls, boys and adolescents.  This was the first generation of the "E-Mentors Challenge", a programme designed for civil servants who worked with families. 

On the registration of children born out of wedlock, delegates explained that when both parents were present, they declared paternity and maternity together.  However, when the father was absent, the mother could provide his name.  A process was then triggered which spanned ten days, and whereby the interested party, the child and the mother had to undergo the DNA tests to establish paternity.  In case of no-show, the paternity declaration made by the mother was deemed true and accordingly registered in the civil registry.  This could be challenged if necessary.  This law sought to protect the child's right to his or her identity.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, sought clarification on the follow-up indicators and impact assessment procedure related to the national strategy to combat violence against women.  How did the Government measure the outcomes?

On bullying, she expressed marked concern and stressed that there was a national interest in combatting this phenomenon at school.  Had the teachers been trained accordingly?  Did the children have access to a complaint mechanism that could be used in a confidential manner and without any fear of reprisals?

The Co-Rapporteur requested additional information on the monitoring function carried out by the National Child Welfare Agency.  What was it exactly that they monitored, and how?  Was it the implementation of the Convention?

SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, sought further information about the hotlines and asked how and to whom did the hotline operators refer the children.

Responding, the delegation said that Costa Rica was not carrying out measures to guarantee abortion nor had it taken any measures for the future implementation of such a guarantee, since it was legally impossible, as per the Constitution and the country's legal framework.  The Ministry of Health was in charge of enforcing rules related to abortion.  Medical staff had a right to conscientious objection, but the exercise of this right should not impede women's access to this procedure, as set out in the relevant care protocol.  Girls under the age of 15 did have access to this procedure, as the rules did not set out any minimum age for access. 

The Ministry of Health received reports of psychological and physical violence against children and all institutions had the obligation to report the cases the Ministry.  The health authorities mandated that all health plans should cover all ages.  Children were therefore covered by the national mental health plan.

Currently, the Government was assessing the situation of persons with disabilities to enable it to draw up indicators that would concern children with disabilities specifically.  Persons with disabilities in Costa Rica still faced significant challenges, said the delegate and explained that the 911 hotline had been improved to provide a more inclusive response, including for the deaf community.  The Mixed Institution of Social Support had adjusted the benefits for young people with disability in 2018.  

On disability and emergencies, delegates said that the National Emergency Commission had drawn up rules and put together a campaign to include people with disabilities in the early emergency alert procedure, and to provide them with relevant materials in that context.  This plan was called the Participation and Protection of Persons with Disabilities in Emergencies and Disasters in Central America.  It had led to the production of five new videos with testimonies of young people with disabilities that had been affected by disasters.

The Government was constantly promoting its approach to criminal justice for minors both in the judiciary and the university.  For the first time since the adoption of the new Juvenile Criminal Justice Act, one of the five criminal judges sitting on the Supreme Court was specialized in juvenile justice.  It was not the case in any other Latin American countries.  This was not a coincidence, but the result of a long process and a reflection of the Government's work in this area, the delegation stressed.  Three of the five criminal judges at the Supreme Court were new, and the Government hope to put forward a new interpretation that had greater respect for legal safeguards so that security measures would not be handed down against young people.

The Juvenile Criminal Justice Act was applicable to children aged 12 to 18 and adults prosecuted for acts committed as juveniles.  An appeals procedure was also in place to deal with faulty procedures that could lead to sentences being revoked.  The law on restorative justice had been implemented and the Ministry of Justice had taken measures to improve detention conditions in the Zurqui young offenders institution.  Spousal visits, for instance, were now allowed.

If in some exceptional circumstances there had been police abuse, a reporting system was automatically activated.  The abuse had to be reported to the judiciary.  All cases of abuse were brought before courts and perpetrators were investigated.

Turning to the protection measures for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, delegates explained that Costa Rica had become a country of asylum for a large number of refugees and asylum seekers on the continent, including people coming from Venezuela, the Northern Triangle, Colombia and Nicaragua.  In this regard, the Government made great efforts to ensure better living conditions and integration for migrants and refugees.  This was reflected in public policies and in an inter-institutional approach.

The Integral Migration Policy 2013-2023 and the legislation on the full integration of migrants into Costa Rican society were in place.  The country was also a party to the Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination, Racism and Intolerance and a signatory of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the New York Declaration and the Global Compact on Refugees.

In 2019, for the first time in Costa Rican history, about thirty public institutions and seven international organizations had worked in a coordinated way to present and actively participate in the execution of a protocol for the effective management of mixed migratory flows.  Despite having limited resources, Costa Rica implemented public policies that allowed the reception of these populations and had developed good practices in this area.  However, the increase in mixed migration flows in 2018 had seriously compromised the country's ability to successfully manage migratory flows.

The Government had a protocol for the detection, care and comprehensive protection of minors who required international protection, whether they were asylum seekers, refugees or stateless persons.  This protocol had been developed jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund to guarantee the enjoyment of fundamental rights by children and adolescents in need of international protection.

On domestic violence and violence against women, delegates said that the Government had a protocol that guided educational centres in addressing domestic violence situations and trained teaching staff in schools and colleges in prioritized areas.  The Programme for the Promotion of the Culture of Peace and Equality from Early Childhood had been rolled out in educational communities in priority areas, while the Gender-Sensitive Masculinities Programme sought to raise awareness and foster the engagement of the male population.  Both officials and students were encouraged to take part in the fight for gender equity and equality and nonviolence against women.

Youth civil society organizations and the United Nations Children's Fund had approached the Deputy Minister for Youth to request support for various events related to youth participation in climate action.  In the lead up to the twenty-fifth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, they had organized a satellite event with various young people from the Costa Rica and Latin America, and a dialogue between young people and senior United Nations officials.  This had led to the signing of a Declaration of Youth of Latin America on Climate Change.

Concluding Remarks

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, thanked the delegation for all the information it had supplied and its willingness and ability to engage in the dialogue with the Committee.  This dialogue was not an examination but rather an opportunity to take stock of the progress achieved.  Despite facing a budgetary crisis, Costa Rica had continued to work to improve the situation of the child.  However, the Government needed to grapple with the remaining challenges, including the upsurge in violence and the difficulty to combat its social and structural drivers. 

SHARA DUNCA VILLALOBOS, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, said this had been an opportunity to improve Costa Rica's policies and actions for the benefit of children.  One of the great challenges Costa Rica faced was to improve inter-institutional coordination and to increase the capacity of institutions such as the National Child Welfare Agency that had the titanic task of protecting the rights of the child.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Costa Rica, asked the State party to take ownership of the Committee's upcoming concluding recommendations and disseminate them in a manner that made them accessible to the boys, girls and adolescents of Costa Rica.

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