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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers reports of Cuba on the sale of children and children in armed conflict

29 September 2015

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial reports of Cuba on how the country is implementing the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict.

Introducing the reports, Maria Esther Reus Gonzalez, Minister of Justice, stated that the reports represented an outcome of an intense consultation process with the involvement of the Government institutions, civil society organizations, and individuals. During their preparation, Cuba had managed to identify challenges to achieving a more effective legal framework and to protecting children’s rights. Among positive developments, Ms. Gonzalez noted that Cuba had the best education system in the world, according to the World Bank. It was also noteworthy that Cuba had become the first country to receive the validation of the World Health Organisation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis. Unlike many other countries, no armed conflict existed in Cuba, thanks to the national stability and security. In addition, the Government attached great importance to the security of the children of Cuba, and set the minimum age as 18 to join the Armed Forces and to use firearms.

Under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Committee Experts noted that the report was not clear in answering questions about existing mechanisms to punish pornography and prostitution. Accordingly, Experts inquired about measures to protect children and adolescents from sex tourism, pornography, prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. Reporting mechanisms for sexual violation, complaints mechanisms and help lines, recovery and social reintegration services for child victims, and the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children were also raised. On the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Experts asked about children in the Armed Forces, presence of military schools, minimum age for military service and voluntary recruitments, awareness-raising programmes about the Optional Protocol, and the possible ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Peter Guran, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, drew attention to the possibility of upcoming challenges for the State party and its children due to the current changes. He hoped that the Committee’s concluding recommendations would assist the State party in addressing challenges and the legislative reform.

Ms. Gonzalez, in concluding remarks, stressed that the Government was fully committed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Nothing would prevent Cuba from perfecting its socialist system and increasing institutional cooperation.

The delegation of Cuba included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, the General Prosecutor's Office and the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva,.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 October, when it will adopts its concluding observations and recommendations for the reports reviewed during the session, and close the seventieth session.

Reports

The initial report of Cuba under the Optional Protocol on the sale on children, child prostitution and child pornography can be read here: (CRC/C/OPSC/CUB/1), while the initial report of Cuba under the Optional Protocol on involvement of children in armed conflict is available here: (CRC/C/OPAC/CUB/1).

Presentation of the Reports

MARIA ESTHER REUS GONZALEZ, Minister of Justice, said that the reports were the result of an intense consultation process, involving various Government institutions, civil society organisations and other partners. The process, in that regard, had allowed the State party to identify current challenges concerning the promotion and protection of children and adolescents. Cuba was among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2011, the Government had undertaken social, economic and legal reforms leading to a legislative, social and institutional revolution in the country. In just three years, 279 legal standards had been published, 675 repealed and 51 amended.

The Government had been working tirelessly to protect children and adolescents in the country. In that regard, it had initiated and implemented policies and strategies, which were instrumental in ensuring the protection of children’s rights. Despite the progress made over the years, the Government was fully aware that it needed to do much more. Therefore, Cuba was willing to take all the necessary steps to overcome the challenges it faced and to consolidate the internal consensus in order to achieve a more effective legal framework and a greater harmonisation.

Ms. Gonzalez said that the National Plan of Action for Children, Adolescents and their Families for the period 2015-2020 had been developed with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund office in Havana. Further, cooperation with United Nations agencies and other international organisations had motivated the State party to develop programmes and measures to further promote and protect children’s rights. Cuba had ratified the International Labour Organisations Convention 182 on the prohibition of the worst forms of child labour.

Due to the stability and security in the society, there was no armed conflict or non-state armed groups in Cuba. However, the State party still attached great importance to the issue. Accordingly, the Government had ratified the related Optional Protocol in 2007. Furthermore, no one under the age of 18 was compelled to join the Army and was expected to use firearms as the security of the Cuban people, particularly the children, was a high priority.

According to the World Bank, Cuba had the best education system in the world, and it had spent 13 per cent of its gross domestic product on education. Cuba had become the first country to receive the validation of the World Health Organisation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis. Further, in Cuba no child was forced to work to support its family, and, thus, child labour did not exist.

The Government promoted tourism of “peace, health, family, culture, and relaxation”, and not tourism of “casinos, drugs, and crime”. To that end, Cuba had undertaken measures, regulating contracts with tour operators and travel agencies and alerting visitors about the severity of the legislation. Additionally, the Government had taken steps to restrict access to Internet websites which contained pornographic behaviours and acts involving children. Noting that the “zero tolerance policy” was applied to all acts that threatened the normal development of children, Ms. Gonzalez stated that the Government would take all necessary measures to severely punish the perpetrators.

Questions by Experts

PETER GURAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, thanked the delegation for the report as well as its replies to the list of issues. He drew attention to tourism, which had been converted into the most dynamic sector of the Cuban economy, and its potential impacts on children.

The Expert wanted to know about the steps taken by the State party with regard to the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children.

There was a lack of clear definition of sale of children, prostitution, child pornography in the legislation. Did the Government intend to extend the scope of the definition?

Mr. Guran noted that pornography and prostitution were very worrying. What kind of programmes and policies were undertaken by the Government to eliminate the possibility of such acts?

WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA FIERRO, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, said that some of the answers to the list of issues were not clear. What kind of measures undertaken by the Government to ensure that the dissemination and promotion of the rights of the child, as well as its awareness raising efforts among the public?

What kind of measures did the Government take to support the victims of sexual violation? Was there a help line mechanism, and if so, was it easily available to all children?

One Expert inquired about measures taken planned to be taken by the State party to eliminate paedophilia, pornography and child prostitution.

With regard to the complaint mechanisms, what kind of measures were undertaken by the Government to ensure confidentiality?

Question was asked about recovery and social reintegration services provided to boys, girls and adolescents who had been the victims of the crimes described in the Optional Protocol.

Did the State party explicitly prohibit sex tourism in the national legislation? What were the measures taken by the Government to eliminate such act?

One Expert inquired about the criminalisation procedure of sexual offences.

Did the State party have a law addressing the possession of child pornography and the committing of sex crimes via the Internet, another Expert asked.

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to sex tourism, the delegation said that the Ministry of Tourism had undertaken administrative measures for the prevention of such tourism in any of its manifestations. Stricter regulations were in place when such acts involved minors. There were systems in place for detection and confrontation, directly associated with the police and specialized authorities. Chapter 4 of the National Plan focused on the healthier and safe tourism for all children.

Centres for prostitution or other demeaning acts for human beings related to the sex trade, as well as places for the sale of pornographic or advertising materials that promoted such activities, were prohibited.
Efforts had been made to forbid manipulating the tourist image of Cuba as a sexual paradise. Family-based tourism was promoted, providing free accommodation for children under 12 and discounts for large families. In addition, children unaccompanied by adults were not allowed to buy or consume alcoholic beverages, cigars and cigarettes.

On the dissemination of information regarding the Convention and the Optional Protocols, a delegate noted that Cuba had implemented strategies dealing with making adolescents and youths aware of their rights. Youth centres played an important role in disseminating information about the children’s rights and the Convention.

In Cuba, no court cases had been recorded for the crime of trafficking in persons for the purpose of human organ transfers, illegal adoption or forced labour. Adoption was regulated under the Family Code. According to the Department for the Protection of Citizen Rights’ methodological indications, prior to issuing the ruling for adoption, the Department had to validate the legitimacy of documents presented by the applicants. The adoption needed to have no hidden purposes and needed to comply with the principles inspiring adoption in the Family Code that might adversely affect interests of the minors. Cuba favoured the adoption of minors by national substitute parents.

Cuba had appropriate legal instruments to face the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation stated. The penalty was seven to 15 years’ of imprisonment if the intention was to use the minor in any form of international trafficking involving acts of corruption, pornography, prostitution, organ trading, forced labour, drug trafficking or illegal consumption of drugs.

Statistics regarding offences covered by the Protocol showed that the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography did not constitute a widespread social phenomenon in the country.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert asked whether the State party intended to penalise child prostitution under the age of 18.

If a Cuban child outside of the country was subjected to sexual violation, what would the Government do to tackle with the issue?

Was there a law prohibiting foreigners with criminal records in child related offences from entering Cuba?

One Expert was interested in learning more about the reintegration of children into families and the community after they had experienced sexual violence.

Considering the scope of the current Penal Code, did the State party was planning to make changes on it, an Expert asked.

Another Expert wanted clarity on whether prostitution was a crime or not. At what age was a girl allowed to prostitute? Did the Government prohibit such acts?

Replies by the Delegation

Corruption of minors was considered as an offence under Article 310.1 of the Criminal Code. It consisted of involving a person under the age of 16 in prostitution, debauchery, heterosexual or homosexual pornography or other indecent activities, and incurred imprisonment for a period of seven to 15 years.

Punishment for corruption of minors also included the imprisonment for a period of two to five years imposed on a person who had parental authority over a minor found to use drugs or engaged in prostitution, and who consented to such acts or failed to prevent them to report.

According to the surveys, the rate of victims was relatively stable, the rate of complaints was increasing, and therefore the rate of unreported offence was decreasing. The rate of resolved cases was rising, while rate of persons fearing victimization was declining.

The public was aware of the existence of the Office of the Public Prosecutor and its role. The Cuban people used the mechanism to file complaints and report various problems, including issues related to the Protocol. Accordingly, in the period 2010-2013, the branch offices of the Attorney General's Office had dealt with 358,019 persons and processed 54,881 written claims, complaints and allegations of various kinds, of which 22.3 per cent had been found to have merit.

With regard to budget allocation, due to economic problems, the Government had struggled with sustaining social programs. However, despite financial difficulties, the Government continued to spend 13 per cent of its gross domestic products on the such programmes.

On the data collection and statistics, the country sought to improve its crime and public security data base, led by the institution focusing solely on statistics. Also, the Government had cooperated with international organisations to gather data on various issues.

With regards to the question on the Penal Code, a delegate noted that the changes were already taking place. The Government had amended the law in order to improve the standards when it came to protect girls, boys and adolescents.

In the few cases of child or adolescent victims of offences, the persons concerned received individualized treatment. Services focusing on the rehabilitation and emotional stability of child or adolescent victims were offered by the National System of Education in evaluation and orientation centres.

The centres were staffed with specialists trained in child psychology and sexuality, psychologists, clinicians, teachers and jurists working together with examining judges to identify the best means of collecting evidence in a pleasant setting in which children and adolescents will feel at ease with the proceedings.

Prostitution was not an offence in Cuba. The basic principle was the prevention of children and adolescents to be involved in such act. That was why the delegation was stressing the need for preventive mechanism and/or measures.

Questions by the Experts on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict

WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, inquired whether the Government intended to amend the national legislation, and adopt measures to ensure that all children under the age of 18, regardless of their situation, was prevented from participating in hostilities.

What were the current training and awareness-raising programmes concerning the provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict?

One Expert inquired the minimum age for the registration to the military service. In addition, what was the minimum age for the voluntary and obligatory recruitment?

Another Expert asked whether students at military schools were trained to handle arms.

One Expert acknowledged the non-existence of the armed conflict in Cuba. However, the Cuban legislation lacked penalising the recruitment of children into the armed groups. What were the intentions of the State party?

Did the State party intend to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court?

Replies by the Delegation

Recruitment in the military service for men over 18 was compulsory. An exception would continue to be made for those who secured a university place - they could do their military service voluntarily and avoid any delays or interruptions in their studies. The recruitment age during states of emergency and general mobilizations was the same as for the military service.

People under the age of 18 who joined the Armed Forces voluntarily accounted for under 10 per cent of all recruits. The logic was that it could be helpful for young people to complete the military service required by law immediately after leaving upper secondary school, which should make it easier for them to move on to higher education the following year.

Cuba had always supported the international criminal jurisdiction regardless of its political loyalty, the delegation said. Unfortunately, because of the lack of representation and transparency, Cuba was not planning to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The media played a fundamental role in raising awareness on the rights of children and adolescents. It also fostered the understanding and acceptance of racial, religious and gender diversity. Radio and television programming in Cuba was fully in line with the main objectives of the Information Project on Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights.

The minimum age for entering or enrolling in a military school was 17. The Camilo Cienfuegos military schools were vocational pre-university military academies, operating under the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Their purpose was to imbue young people with high political and moral values, discipline, appropriate physical and mental skills. The Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces implemented the curricula approved by the Ministry of Education, which were fully in line with those taught in pre-university educational institutions at the national level.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

Had the State party implemented the Optional Protocol in judicial settings, an Expert asked.

Were there any non-State armed groups in the country?

Question was asked how the State party ensured the birth registration of children.

One Expert asked whether foreign students coming from Africa to Cuba had received military training.

Replies by the Delegation

There were no non-State armed groups in Cuba, and existing legislation set the recruitment age at 18 years or, in exceptional cases, 17 years.

On the birth registration of children, the delegation stated that more than 99.9 per cent of the population was registered in the system. Every child left the hospital or health centre with a birth certificate.

The judges were trained and acted according to the Convention as well as the Optional Protocols.

General mobilisation might arise from exceptional circumstances, the delegation explained. If that happened, certain rights would be restricted, yet minors could not be recruited.

A delegate noted that there were many foreign students in Cuba. None of them received military training.

Concluding Remarks

PETER GURAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, thanked the delegation for the fruitful debate. He expressed hope that the Committee’s concluding recommendations would assist the State party in addressing challenges and the legislative reform. He underlined the possibility of potential challenges that the country and its children might face in the near future as a result of current changes in the country.

WNDERLINO NOGUERIA NETO, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Cuba, echoed the previous statement about the peaceful transition of Cuba and the upcoming challenges.

MARIA ESTHER REUS GONZALEZ, Minister of Justice, hoped that the delegation’s explanations and clarifications had helped the Committee gain a better understanding and a more complete picture of children’s rights in Cuba. The Government was fully committed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Nothing would prevent Cuba from perfecting its socialist system and increasing institutional cooperation.

BENYAM DAWIT MEYMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the State party representatives for the high level discussion. He appreciated the commitment of the State party and encouraged it to ratify the Third Optional Protocol. Mr. Meymur said that he looked forward to receiving the upcoming reports, and sent his best wishes to the children of Cuba.

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For use of the information media; not an official record