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Committee on the Rights of the Child considers the report of Brunei Darussalam

GENEVE (21 January 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded today its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of Brunei Darussalam on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 
 
Presenting the report, Datin Paduka Hajah Norlida DP HJ Abdul Jalil, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, said that children’s issues continued to be given priority in Brunei Darussalam.  The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports coordinated the implementation of the Convention and the implementation of action plans and mechanisms.  Brunei Darussalam had endeavoured to further lower barriers to education by providing free universal primary education and free secondary education for citizens and permanent residents.  The youth literacy rate stood at close to 100 per cent. Being a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brunei Darussalam was committed to ASEAN initiatives on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  One key challenge arose from the fact that the country had limited technical expertise in the development and implementation of child protection strategies.
 
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Committee Experts focused on questions on the minimum age of marriage, the age of criminal responsibility, the prevalence of corporal punishment and the relation between civil and Sharia laws.  They expressed hope that the age of marriage for all children would be unified at 18, and that corporal punishment and whipping would be outlawed in all contexts.  Experts raised issues concerning female genital mutilation, negative gender stereotypes, child labour, religious and public education, and the juvenile justice system.  High levels of literacy and education in the State party were praised.  Experts wanted to hear more about alternative care and foster systems, adoption procedures, prevalence of obesity and steps taken to address the problem, as well as the conditions under which abortions could be performed.
 
Wanderlino Nogueira Neto, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Brunei Darussalam, concluded by thanking the delegation for the replies provided, but noted that some questions remained without response.  The Committee would thus wait for additional information and statistics to be provided.  Brunei Darussalam needed some changes to its legislation in order to come into line with the universal norms of human rights.
 
Ms. Abdul Jalil, in her closing remarks, said that the interactive dialogue had been a very useful opportunity and the delegation took note of the Committee’s observations and comments.  Remaining data would be furnished as discussed.  Brunei Darussalam would continue to provide for and protect the rights of its children in line with its Constitution and Sharia principles.
 
The delegation of Brunei Darussalam included representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
 
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 22 January at 10 a.m., when it will consider the combined second to fourth periodic report of Zambia (CRC/C/ZMB/2-4).

Report
 
The combined second and third periodic report of Brunei Darussalam can be read here: CRC/C/BRN/2-3.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
DATIN PADUKA HAJAH NORLIDA DP HJ ABDUL JALIL, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, said that, since its first review in 2003, Brunei Darussalam had undertaken various initiatives that had led to an increased level of fulfilment of its obligations under the Convention.  Several of the Committee’s recommendations had been accepted and progress had been made on a number of others.  As of August 2015, Brunei Darussalam had withdrawn its reservations on sub-paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 20 and sub-paragraph (a) of Article 21.  Reservations still remained in place on Article 14, Article 20 (3) and Article 21 (b-e), as well as to any provisions of the Convention which might be contrary to the beliefs and principles of Islam, the official religion of Brunei Darussalam.
 
Children’s issues continued to be given priority in Brunei Darussalam.  The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports coordinated the implementation of the Convention and the implementation of action plans and mechanisms, including the National Council of Social Issues, the Action Team on Child Protection and the Child Online Protection Committee.  The National Council on Social Issues served as the main coordinating mechanism for social issues of national concern.  As children’s issues cut across multiple sectors, programmes and interventions on such issues had been initially incorporated into the action plans of specialized committees, but as of December 2015, it had been agreed that children’s issues would be addressed separately.  The development of the National Child Online Protection Framework had individual action plans in five pillars – organizational structure, capacity building, legal measures, implementation and international cooperation, and technical and procedural measures. 
 
The Government and non-governmental actors were currently reviewing and streamlining the terms of reference and areas of responsibility of several action teams on children that were in operation.  The aim was to improve the effectiveness of each action team and prevent duplication of resources.  Brunei Darussalam had endeavoured to further lower barriers to education by providing free universal primary education, and free secondary education for citizens and permanent residents.  The youth literacy rate stood at close to 100 per cent.  Nine model inclusive schools had been established since 2008, which were equipped with specialized learning equipment and necessary resources.  In the field of health, the Ministry of Health had set a target for Brunei Darussalam to achieve a 50 per cent exclusive breastfeeding rate by 2020.  A national strategy of maternal, infant and young children nutrition was also in place.  The authorities provided funding to selected non-governmental organizations working with socially vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. 
 
Being a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Brunei Darussalam was committed to ASEAN initiatives on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  One of the recent examples of progress was the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Children, adopted in 2013; a subsequent action plan had been adopted in 2015.  The Regional Plan of Action outlined a number of priority areas, which included prevention and protection, responses and support services, legal framework, prosecution and justice system.  That crucial document guided the work of Brunei’s Government towards ensuring the protection and welfare of its children, either as an individual country or as an ASEAN Member State or collectively as a regional grouping.  In 2014, Brunei Darussalam had organized a training workshop through a multi-level training strategy as a response to the needs of countries in the ASEAN region to continue capacity-building in the area of child protection service response.
 
One key challenge arose from the fact that the country had limited technical expertise on the development and implementation of national child protection strategies, and help from United Nations bodies with training of the country’s human resources would be appreciated.
 
Questions by the Committee Experts
 
YASMEEN MUHAMAD SHARIFF, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Brunei Darussalam, praised the State party for withdrawing certain reservations and encouraged it to withdraw the remaining ones. 
 
A question was asked on the resources dedicated to implementing the Convention.  The provisions of the Convention were not sufficiently disseminated.  How often were steps taken to increase the awareness of the general public in that regard?  How could the State party increase the understanding of the Convention among the relevant stakeholders?
 
There seemed to be a lack of disaggregated and consolidated data, which was admitted as a challenge by the State party itself.
 
The delegation was asked to provide information on the absence of an independent monitoring mechanism to which individual complaints could be submitted.
 
There were different minimum ages of marriage in the country, said the Expert and asked how the existing contradictions were being reconciled. 
 
How was it ensured that the best interests of the child were taken into consideration?  At what age could children take part in decision-making on custody matters?
 
The Expert inquired about the fact that Brunei mothers did not have the equal right to confer their nationality to their children as Brunei fathers, which was discriminatory.
 
Regarding violence, the Expert asked what steps had been taken to protect children from all kinds of abuse and violence.
 
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Brunei Darussalam, asked the delegation to explain the general order of the Islamic Law and how it affected the children of Brunei Darussalam. 
 
Regarding comprehensive policies and strategies, would it be possible for the State party to prepare a single comprehensive policy in line with the Convention and develop a strategy for its implementation, supplied with sufficient human and financial resources?
 
Did Brunei Darussalam guarantee that the coordinating body on child-related matters was provided with sufficient resources for its operations?
 
The delegation was asked to provide more details on the involvement of non-government organizations in the planning and implementation of policies relating to the rights of the child. 
 
How did the State party ensure that all groups, including marginalized and disadvantaged children, were protected, asked the Rapporteur?
 
Clarification was asked on how freedom of thought, belief and religion was guaranteed to all children in Brunei Darussalam.  Religious teaching ought to stimulate tolerance and understanding among children from all backgrounds.
 
Turning to the issue of violence against the children, the Expert inquired whether the State party was looking into prohibiting corporal punishment in all areas.  Awareness-raising programmes in that regard were necessary – how could the participation of the whole society contribute to the decrease of the prevalence of corporal punishment?
 
Another Expert wondered about the number of cases of sexual abuse and physical violence against children that had been reported to the helpline.  Could there be a high number of unreported cases?
 
The Committee was really concerned about the prevalent harmful practice of female genital mutilation.  Were any practical steps being taken to prohibit and criminalize that practice?
 
An Expert wondered whether steps were being taken to have only one age of marriage, at 18, for both boys and girls.
 
The issue of the freedom of religion was brought up by another Expert, who said that such freedom seemed to be infringed upon.  What was envisioned in that regard?
 
There were some disparities in birth registration between urban and rural areas, said an Expert.  She also expressed concern over the issue of abandoned children.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
With regard to the allocation of resources, the delegation explained that it was one of the current challenges.  Resources dedicated to the implementation of the Convention came from different departments, and there was a move towards performance-based budgeting.   Data collection was also a challenge. 
 
Regular and systematic awareness programmes were undertaken by the Department of Community Development with the view of increasing knowledge of the Convention.  The Convention had been widely distributed to both Government and non-governmental organizations in Brunei Darussalam, and the Universal Children’s Day was celebrated. 
 
Training for teachers was in place, and both human and child rights education programmes were an integral part of the school curricula.
 
Some juvenile court magistrates had not observed formal training, but had attended sessions of youth justice organs in New Zealand and Singapore, which had proved to be useful.   
 
Human rights in the country were promoted and protected through an inter-agency mechanism.  A monitoring mechanism was in place through ASEAN structures.  At the moment, there was no independent monitoring mechanism in line with the Paris Principles.  Children could submit complaints through the existing help line.
 
Regarding the minimum age of marriage, it was explained that the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of people living in Brunei Darussalam were taken into consideration.  Sharia principles also had to be considered, as Islam was the official religion.  Consent of parents was necessary for minors to enter a marriage; consent of both parties to the marriage also had to be obtained.  Both parties also had to submit an application for a permit to marry.  If the girl was pregnant, that aspect was also taken into consideration by the judge.  Different conditions were imposed on Muslim and non-Muslim marriages.
 
An Expert’s recommendation to raise the age of marriage for all to 18 would be taken back to Brunei Darussalam. The delegation believed that child marriage did not hinder the continuation of education.
 
The best interests of the child ought to be taken into regard in judicial processes, including custody and adoption cases.  It was always adequately ensured that children understood what they were being asked. 
 
The delegation clarified that the help line 141 was available in addition to, but also as an alternative to, going to the police.  The line was manned by social workers.  Children could also voice their concerns through a Facebook page administered by social workers. 
 
The delegation emphasized that there were also no hindrances for pregnant girls to go to school.  It was important for them to resume schooling as soon as possible.  If they wished to return to school, they would be wholeheartedly welcomed.  Married children over 15 could make a free choice on whether or not to continue education.
 
The Ministry of Education welcomed the views of children to be expressed with regard to their education.  There was no centralized platform to collect all issues raised by children.  Children could express their opinions in schools.
 
Brunei Darussalam had the policy of a single nationality and did not recognize dual nationality.  Thus, children could have only one nationality; children of female Brunei nationals could receive Brunei nationality upon application.  That policy was also applicable to children born out of wedlock. 
 
There was a national protection framework for children online, a delegate reiterated, and its application was monitored by a dedicated committee.  The Committee conducted regular awareness programmes on how to remain safe from cybercrime and cyber bullying.
 
The delegation said that there were Penal Code provisions for corporal punishment; such punishment could not exceed 18 strokes for young offenders.  Perpetrators of corporal punishment in the home environment could be held responsible in the courts.  At the moment, there were no considerations to abolish corporal punishment; such debates had not taken place in the past either.  The delegation promised that it would bring back the Committee’s concerns to the Brunei authorities.  In schools, on the other hand, corporal punishment had been prohibited since 1984. 
 
Regarding the issue of Sharia penal code, it was explained that it had been implemented in 2014.  The only offences enforced right now were those punishable by fines and imprisonment, including offences of rape, robbery, theft, murder and others.  The age at which the child was thought of being able to differentiate matters stood at 15; above that age they were eligible for the listed punishments.  Under Sharia, the guilt had to be established beyond all doubts.  The punishment of cutting hands off had not yet been applied, as the implementation of Sharia was only in its initial stages.  Such a punishment would not be applied to children under 15. 
 
On cooperation with civil society, a delegate stated that regular collaboration was underway between the Government and the civil sector.  Non-governmental organizations were regularly consulted when it came to children’s issues and were involved in inter-sectoral working groups.  The Government provided support to non-governmental organizations when possible; an annual budget allocation was in place for that purpose. 
 
Turning to the issue of marginalized children, the delegation emphasized that there was no discrimination as far as the law was concerned. 
 
Not so many cases of sexual violence and abuse were reported through the helpline, partly because of the mentality of children in Brunei Darussalam; they preferred texting and social media.  Children were becoming more comfortable reporting abuse, including by close family members.  Social investigations would be conducted, together with the police, which would be in charge of collecting evidence.
 
Brunei Darussalam supported calls to end female genital mutilation.  The practice of female circumcision carried out in Brunei was not considered as female genital mutilation, as confirmed by the World Health Assembly in 2008. 
 
Under the Constitution, non-Muslims were under no restrictions to practice their religion. Christmas Day was a public holiday, as was the Chinese New Year.  Muslims opened their houses to their Christian and Chinese friends on their religious holidays, and vice versa.  Some premises publicly displaying Christian visuals had been asked to bring them down, but churches were free to operate as they would.  There were no complaints by Brunei’s religious communities. 
 
On birth registration, a delegate said that every child born in the country had to be registered, including in rural areas.  From time to time, information briefings were carried out to increase awareness.  Rural areas were quite accessible so situations of failure to register rarely occurred.
 
Abandoned babies, once discovered, were brought to the hospital and, when fit for release, would be sent to community centres.  Children were registered between the time of discovery and the time they were adopted by foster parents.  During that time, the baby would be given a temporary name. 
 
Questions by Experts
 
What was being done to change gender stereotypes?  The practice of the death penalty by stoning was a matter of concern; the effects of such situations on children were worrisome.  How could the roles of mothers and fathers be made more equal? 
 
What was the Government doing to support families, so that they could take care of their children in a proper family environment?
 
Adopted and foster children could sometimes be exploited, said an Expert.
 
Why was the State party not ready to ratify the Hague Convention on Intra-Country Adoption?
 
Was there any data on children with disabilities, asked another Expert.  What was being done about their rehabilitation? 
 
Information was requested about the promotion of breast-feeding and maternity leave, as well as on sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.  Was abortion allowed in cases of incest and rape?  The Expert also raised a number of questions on mental health.
 
The age of criminal responsibility stood at seven, one of the lowest in the world.  Did the State party intend to increase that age to internationally acceptable levels?
 
The Expert inquired about the definition of the worst forms of child labour.  The use of children in prostitution was not criminalized, which was disquieting.
 
Discipline in classes was reported to be very harsh, and very little time was allowed for leisure activities, said an Expert.  The teaching of Islam was mandatory in school establishments – could non-Muslim children be exempt from such classes?
 
The report included no statistics on health, said an Expert.  What were the rates of maternal and infant death, and death of children under the age of five?
 
An Expert asked what was being done to raise awareness about the importance of good nutrition.
 
Concerning violence against children and sexual abuse, an Expert asked if there was there a witness protection programme in the justice system.  If children were victims of violence or sexual abuse, or just witnesses, could they give their testimony by video? Were social workers available to help children in such circumstances?
 
Concerning Islamic Sharia, an Expert said he understood from the delegation that in cases of theft, a child between the ages of 15 and 18 years could be sentenced to have a hand cut off, although there had not been any such cases so far.  This was a very harsh and severe punishment for a child of between 15 and 18 years.  Also, when the second stage of the application of Islamic law started, did the State party envisage that capital punishment could be applied to a child of 15 to 18 years of age? 
 
An Expert noted that the delegation had been talking about a system of adoption, and this term entailed certain rights and obligations.  The delegation was asked to explain the system of adoption in Brunei Darussalam. 
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The delegation said that the duty to register a new-born child lay with the parents, but also with police officers who were aware of a birth in their area.  Public awareness campaigns were conducted to ensure that birth registrations were carried out throughout the country. 
 
On stateless children, it was explained that there were criteria for them to apply for the nationality of Brunei Darussalam.  Those criteria had been communicated to the public.  In 2014, some 180 children had been registered as nationals, while their number in 2015 had been over 200.
 
The shortage of qualified medical personnel was a well-known global problem, and the Ministry of Health had started numerous initiatives in that regard, including increasing remuneration packages.  Brunei Darussalam had to compete with developed, rich countries for the same health professionals.
 
Breast feeding was one of the areas of primary concern, said the delegation.  Exclusive breast feeding rates should go up to 50 per cent in 2020.  Maternity leave was 105 days long, and the Government was now undertaking a survey to see if its extension had improved breastfeeding rates.  There were no advertisements on breast milk substitutes.
 
Free and comprehensive health care services were provided to all citizens and permanent residents.  An action plan was in place for adolescent sexual and reproductive health.  There was no sexual and reproductive health education in schools.  Awareness was being raised on HIV/AIDS.
 
Abortions were illegal, unless they were carried out in good faith to save the life of the pregnant woman.  Support, including ante-natal services and post-natal care, was provided to girl children who had been raped and had to carry out their pregnancies.  While pregnant, the girl would continue to attend school at a welfare centre.  Financial assistance was also provided following the birth.
 
Some 800 children had received mental health services over the previous four years.  Mental health clinics had been established in hospitals; one of the goals was to reduce the stigma attached to mental illnesses.  In the meantime, skills of general practitioners were being improved so that they could help detect mental illnesses early.
 
With regard to drugs and substance abuse, the delegation said that the lead agency was the Narcotics Control Bureau, which was focused on both a supply and demand reduction approach.  Anti-drug messages were disseminated to students in schools; regular shows and exhibitions were also organized, including in rural areas.  There were no children living with HIV/AIDS, informed a delegate. 
 
Any family living in poverty, no matter where they lived, received subsistence benefits.  
 
The minimum age of criminal responsibility was seven.  Anything done by a child between the age of seven and 12, if the child was deemed incapable of understanding the essence of the offence committed, was not considered as an offence.  The Government had not considered raising that age.  Juvenile courts had jurisdiction to try juveniles and children and they could impose alternative sentences. 
 
Convicted child offenders were kept in separate facilities from adult inmates, where education services were provided.  Anybody under 18 who was arrested was kept at welfare homes.  Sentencing normally fell under two types: probation (for a minimum of six months) and community service.  Every case that went through the juvenile court was assigned its own social worker.  Currently there were no plans to amend laws that provided for whipping of offenders, including juvenile offenders.
 
A delegate explained that Sharia and civil court systems ran in parallel, and in certain cases a committee would meet to decide under which jurisdiction the case would fall under. 
 
There was an amendment to the Penal Code providing for an offence of pornography involving children.  A case using that provision had been processed, said a delegate.  Using  minors under the age of 18 for sexual purposes and selling minors for purposes of prostitution were addressed in national legislation.
 
The maternal mortality rate stood at 1.5/100,000 and the latest infant mortality rate was 7.3/1,000.
 
Any child who was suspected of having been sexually abused was referred to a community paediatrician, who was trained in that area.  Such children would be looked after by a dedicated team and would not mix with other patients, so that their identity could be protected. 
 
Access to antiretroviral drugs was 100 per cent.  Since 1995, only one case of mother-to-child HIV transmission had been recorded.  There were no HIV orphans at the moment.  There had been no known cases of refugee women delivering babies on Brunei territory. 
 
Obesity was indeed a prevalent problem, and obesity prevention programmes targeted children in particular.  The Health Promotion Centre of the Ministry of Health worked with children and adolescents on reducing obesity.  Many schools had health clubs.
 
Challenges coming with larger classes were recognized, but the quality of teaching went beyond that aspect.  Teaching standards across the country were in place.  School infrastructure development was always on the agenda of the Ministry of Education.
 
Children attended classes either during mornings or afternoons, and once a week could they attend additional classes and extra-curricular activities.  Thus, children had quite a lot of time for leisure activities. 
 
Not all minority languages were offered in schools.  English and Malay were taught in all schools.  Arabic schools, naturally, offered Arabic lessons; there were also Chinese and international schools in place.  There was a distinction between religious and government schools, which were run by two different Ministries.  In State schools Islamic religious knowledge was taught as a core  for all students and was not optional.
 
Several programmes were in place to ensure that sharing responsibilities in the family was shared by all members.  Parenting skills workshops were also regularly offered, especially for families at risk.  While there was no paternity leave as such, fathers were entitled to take annual leave when they had a new-born child; maternity leave for working mothers had been increased.  There was a very strong family support system in Brunei, which allowed women to both have families and develop careers.
 
In schools, pupils were encouraged to take any subject they wanted based on their abilities and interests.  There were more girls than boys in secondary and tertiary education and Brunei Darussalam was ranked first by the World Economic Forum when it came to tertiary enrolment.  There were also more women than men in civil service.
 
Muslims were required to undergo a pre-marriage course, said a delegate.  Failure to do so would result in withholding of a marriage certificate. 
 
Abandoned babies found alive were put up for adoption by Government bodies, explained a delegate. 
 
A child could be separated from its parents if both parents were in prison and there were no next of kin available.  It was the task of the social worker to oversee the case from the beginning to the end.  More social workers would be welcome.  Counselling was provided when necessary to parents and foster families on how best to take care of children.  Institutionalization was always the last resort.
 
Before Brunei Darussalam could ratify the Hague Convention, it would need to ensure that there were no laws inconsistent with that Convention.  Adoption of Muslim children was conducted in line with Islamic laws, taking into consideration the best interests of the child.  A non-Muslim could not adopt a Muslim child; if parents of the child were unknown, the child was automatically assumed Muslim.  For non-Muslim children, procedures were stipulated under a separate legislation. 
 
If situations were found in which children were exploited for labour or other reasons, the State would exercise its right to withdraw the children from that family.
 
There were provisions for child witnesses to partake in court processes via video links.  Their identities could not be published.
 
It was very hard to say whether capital punishment would be imposed on children between the age of 15 and 18.  The delegation acknowledged the concern of the Committee regarding the implementation of the Sharia law.  The right of the accused would have to be well protected at every stage of the trial.  Up to date, no children had been executed or had had their hands amputated.
 
Follow-up Questions
 
An Expert asked how maintenance payments could be recovered, and whether provisions for that were included in marriage preparations.
 
On foster care, another Expert inquired whether the child over 18 had the right to still remain with the foster family.  How about the proportion of children in foster care as compared to institutions?
 
Were there labour inspectors who carried out monitoring to ensure that children below the legal age were not working?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
For the moment, there were no statistics on children in foster care.  Statistics was available on those in welfare homes, said a delegate. 
 
Islamic law provided that maintenance arrears could be recovered as debt from the husband or the father.  If he did not have any property or financial means, he would be subjected to bankruptcy proceedings.  If he was dead, it could be recovered from his estate. 
 
There were labour inspectors in place, but there had been no convictions for child labour.
 
A delegate reiterated that a child could not be imprisoned for any offence, but there were alternative sentencing practices in place. 
 
Children to be released from institutions were supported by services which decided whether they were ready for reintegration into society.  Training and preparation for employment were provided so that the children could become financially self-sustainable.  They could also be provided financial assistance until they were back on their feet.
 
The delegation specified that the adopted child could be given the name of his or her adoptive family.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
WANDERLINO NOGUEIRA NETO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Brunei Darussalam, thanked the delegation for the replies provided, but noted that some questions remained without response.  The Committee would thus await for additional information and statistics to be provided.  Brunei Darussalam still needed some changes to its legislation in order to come into line with the universal norms of human rights.  It was hoped that in the future the State party would develop such legal paradigms. 
 
DATIN PADUKA HAJAH NORLIDA DP HJ ABDUL JALIL, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Brunei Darussalam, said that the delegation had had a chance to update the Committee on the developments in Brunei.  The interactive dialogue had been a very useful opportunity and the delegation took note of the Committee’s observations and comments.  Remaining data would be furnished as discussed.  Brunei Darussalam would continue to provide for and protect the rights of its children in line with its Constitution and Sharia principles.  The Committee’s recommendations would be considered in line with the country’s current capacities.
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