GENEVA (25 September 2018) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded today its consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Niger on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its initial report on the implementation of the obligations under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Introducing the report, El Back Zeinabou Tari Bako, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, highlighted the significant progress the country had made on numerous fronts, including in the field of education, where laws and policy had been adopted to protect and support the schooling of girls, education until the age of 16 had been made compulsory and free, and 15,000 classrooms had been built between 2011 and 2017. Health care for children up to the age of five was free-of-charge, the Minister said, as were Caesarean section services and treatments for obstetric fistula. The National Strategic Plan to End Child Marriages by 2018 was in place, while the Spotlight Initiative addressed violence against women, including child marriages. In 2016, Niger had created a juvenile jurisdiction for children allegedly associated with armed and terrorist groups, and had adopted in 2017 a law on community service and other alternative measures of detention. Due to the targeted measures taken, birth registration rates had increased from 65.2 in 2014 to 68.2 percent in 2015. Many challenges remained, the Minister said, citing in particular the phenomenon of risky migration; the protection of children in emergencies, including in armed conflicts; and the insecurity created by the activities of Boko Haram in Libya, Mali, and the Lake Chad Basin.
In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts acknowledged the many challenges in the field of children’s rights that Niger could not tackle alone, such as climate change or terrorism, and noted those that the country could address on its own: violence, poverty and inequality, and malnutrition. Niger could also do more to protect the children from negative impact of mining and extractive industries, and ensure that the revenues so generated were invested in policy and action for children, including by curtailing corruption and keeping a check on security-related expenditures. Furthermore, Niger needed to adopt a definition of the child as per the Convention, prohibit child marriage – including customary marriage, raise the age for marriage for girls to 18, and lift its reservations to the Convention, including on polygamy. The Committee was very concerned about the continued practice of child slavery and exploitation through the practice of “wahaya”, or the fifth wife, under which women and girls were held in domestic and sexual servitude; as well as about extremely high rates of infant, child and maternal mortality, in rural and remote areas in particular.
In the dialogue on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Experts remarked that Niger’s reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women created situations of serious vulnerability, particularly in relation to prostitution. There was an important legal gap, a legal vacuum even, concerning crimes under the Optional Protocol, with definitions of crimes and punishable offences, for example trafficking in persons or the sale of children, falling short from those in the Optional Protocol. The 2013 ordnance on the responsibility of legal persons did not cover crimes under the Optional Protocol at all.
In concluding remarks, Abdoulkarim Hachimou, Secretary General of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, said that Niger took good note of the Experts’ recommendations, which it would implement in order to improve the rights of the child in the country.
Suzanne Aho Assouma, Committee Expert and member of the Task Force on the report of Niger, concluded by urging Niger to address the remaining challenges, including child marriage and birth registration, and to ensure that more resources were allocated to health and education sectors.
The delegation of Niger included representatives of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, Inter-Ministerial Committee in charge of drafting reports to treaty bodies and Universal Periodic Review, Directorate for the Juvenile Judiciary Protection and Social Action, National Assembly, and the Permanent Mission of Niger to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage, and the webcast of the Committee’s public meetings are available here.
The Committee will next meet in public at on Wednesday, 26 September at 10 a.m. to review the initial report of Benin under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/BEN/1) and its initial report under the Optional on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/BEN/1).
The Committee has before it the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Niger under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/NER/3-5) and its initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/NER/1).
Presentation of the Report
EL BACK ZEINABOU TARI BAKO, Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, in the introduction of the report, underscored that the country’s regulatory framework included international and national texts aimed to protect children, which was an evidence of the Government’s desire to guarantee the rights of all children in Niger. Despite the delay in the submission of the report, the Minister continued, Niger had made significant progress on numerous fronts. In the field of education, it included the adoption of the Sectoral Programme of Education 2014-2024 and the Decree No. 2017-935 to protect and support schooling of girls, and the construction of 15,000 classrooms between 2011 and 2017 period. The education until the age of 16 had been made compulsory and free, while during the 2013-2017, the school enrolment rates had increased from 64.7 to 72.1 percent and school completion rates from 44.3 to 72.9 percent. In the health sector, the Minister emphasized the adoption of the law No. 2015-30 on prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and the establishment of the National Centre for Treatment of Cancer which offered free-of-charge services to women and children up to the age of five. Health care for children up to the age of five was free-of-charge, as were Caesarean section services and treatments for obstetric fistula.
Niger had furthermore adopted the National Strategic Plan to End Child Marriages by 2018, while the Spotlight Initiative in 2018 addressed violence against women, including in child marriages. Also in 2018, it had adopted the law authorising the ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. In the field of justice, the Minister highlighted the adoption of law No. 2014-72 on the authority, attribution and operations of the juvenile court in Niger, the creation of juvenile jurisdiction in 2016 for children allegedly associated with armed and terrorist groups, and the adoption of law 2017-005 on community service and other alternative measures of detention. The Strategic Plan on the Civil Status system 2017-2021 was in place, while due the targeted measures taken, birth registration rates had increased from 65.2 in 2014 to 68.2 percent in 2015. There were also public awareness raising and education programmes on different topics related to child protection and risks that children faced, which were implemented by State services and non-governmental organizations.
Despite the progress, many challenges remained, Ms. Tari Bako said, citing in particular the phenomenon of risky migration; the protection of children in emergencies, including in armed conflicts; and the insecurity created by the activities of Boko Haram in Libya, Mali, and the Lake Chad Basin. Niger, concluded the Minister, remained resolutely committed to promoting the rights of children as stated in the Convention and its delegation was willing to participate in the interactive dialogue with the Committee without any taboos, and respond to all legitimate questions related to the rights of children.
Questions by the Committee Experts
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on Niger, acknowledged the many challenges in the field of children’s rights in Niger, including those that could not be tackled by Niger alone, such as climate change or terrorism. But Niger had the capacity to address – on its own - other challenges, he said, stressing in particular violence, poverty and inequality.
The Children’s Code had been under preparation since 2005, the Rapporteur remarked and asked how many more decades were needed for its adoption. What were the intentions concerning the ratification of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure?
The Rapporteur noted that four Ministries shared the same competences in the field of education - what was being done to remedy such a complex system, he asked. What was the status of the national child protection plan and what provisions in the National Health Plan and the Social Development Plan directly addressed the rights of the child?
Mr. Gastaud pointed out that the budgets allocated to policies for children were very low, notwithstanding the resources of the country garnered by the mining sector, mainly because of corruption and security-related expenses. What was being done to establish a centralized system for data collection and so provide a reliable tool that would cover all sectors tied to the rights of the child?
Niger had not yet set up a specialized unit in the judicial system dedicated to children, the Rapporteur remarked, asking about steps taken to diversify the trainings of the police and the judiciary, including by disseminating the provisions of the Convention.
Civil society organizations were the Government’s key partner in the protection and promotion of children’s rights, and yet, their registration often took extremely long time. It was also regrettable that there was no monitoring of the compliance of the mining companies with environmental standards.
The children’s right to life was regularly violated due to violence, malnutrition, and the activities of mining companies, lamented the Rapporteur.
Discrimination was another burning topic and was usually based on social status and locations, the Rapporteur noted, and asked about steps take to improve the status of ethnic communities and to effectively implement anti-discrimination legislation. Child slavery was prohibited, however, it was still practiced, particularly through “wahaya”. How many children were in this situation, what was being done to rehabilitate the victims and punish the perpetrators?
How were the opinions of the National Youth Council taken into account by the authorities?
Another Expert regretted that there was no precise definition of the child in the legislation, which was based on a duality between customary norms and modern law. Asking whether the law had resolved the issue of "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children in inheritance matters, the Expert raised concern about Niger’s reservation to the Convention with regard to reproductive health, in light of the country's very high fertility rate. As for the fight against statelessness, the Expert asked about measures taken to educate the population on the importance of civil status and the civil status of children born in refugee camps.
On violence against children, the Expert noted that the Government had prohibited corporal punishment in schools, but not in homes, closed institutions, and Koranic schools. Could the delegation inform on the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence against children, measures to end child marriage, support and care for children victims of violence, and whether hotlines for victims of violence worked 24/7? What was being done to eradicate harmful traditional practices, female genital mutilation in particular?
On the right to freedom of expression, the delegation was asked about platforms for children to express their opinion in the media and the institutions, and whether there was a Child Parliament. What was being done to guarantee the safety of children who participated in associations, and to guarantee their rights to freedom of association and assembly, which were the constituent parts of the Convention and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to comments and questions by the Committee Experts, the delegation reminded of the progress made in improving the rights of the child, in a context marked by disruptors such as climate change and the overarching insecurity in the region. The Forum on the protection on children, held on 14 July 2018, had addressed the question of the Children’s Code and had made recommendations to that end, which the Government was now addressing. The Forum had also recommended the creation of a multi-sectoral committee on child protection, and the Government was in the process of studying a draft bill on the matter.
Niger had a dual legal system composed of a customary law and modern, written law, said the delegation, explaining that the matters of a daily life were almost always regulated by customary law. The written law covered all matters governed by customary law: marriage, divorce, repudiation, or inheritance, and any individual was free to choose the legal regime – civil or customary – that regulated his or her life.
A person who married, for example, could choose between the provisions of the civil code or customary rules. There was no age limit for marriage in customary law, while marriage was prohibited for minors in the civil code. Niger had made a commitment to the African Union to implement a plan of action to end child marriage. The National Strategic Plan to End Child Marriage had been signed in August 2018.
The plurality of ministries was an advantage in tackling the challenges in education, the delegate said, especially as it allowed for the mobilization of more resources for different levels of education.
Policies for the protection of children were incorporated in the Plan of Action elaborated in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund. It would expire in 2019, and would be followed by a new framework. The delegation stressed that the cooperation with the civil society was very fruitful and that non-governmental organizations were always invited to participate in all activities related to the promotion and protection of the right of the child.
The National Gender Policy, in place since 2009, had been re-evaluated in 2017 in the light of new issues that had arisen, such as the climate change or migration. Each ministry had a “gender cell” that ensured that issues of gender were integrated and mainstreamed in all the policies. Also, authorities at all levels, from local to national, had received training in integrating gender in their policies.
The delegation acknowledged that, due to the very significant budgetary restrictions, the last recruitment of social workers had taken place in 2015 and said that a plan had been put in place for the redeployment of psychologists and social workers from other ministries to the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection.
On the allocation of the revenues generated by the mining and extractive industries, the delegation explained that according to the mining regulations, 15 per cent of all the revenues had to be directed into the communities where the natural resources had been found. The Environmental Impact Assessment Board was in place and it ensured that impact assessment studies were conducted prior to the sign-off on any extractive project.
It was likely that Niger would ratify the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, given that it had already ratified such an instrument for other Conventions it was a party to.
The delegation explained that it was not just children from wealthy families who participated in the Youth Parliament. There was a test that was open to all children; those with best results won seats and worked as true parliamentarians, with their proposals taken into account by the authorities.
On child protection, the delegation noted that in certain regions, community-based child protection programme had been initiated on a pilot basis, while the United Nations Children’s Fund was involved in country-wide child protection assessments. There were also information and awareness raising sessions on detecting and reporting domestic and school violence.
An inter-ministerial committee had been established to protect children allegedly associated with armed groups, said the delegation, explaining that such children were transferred from detention into rehabilitation and reintegration centres, where they received psychosocial care and support and were prepared for a re-entry into their families and communities. In addition, a post of juvenile judge for this group of children had been created. Child victims of sexual abuse were cared for in social centres that developed an integrated approach to caring for these children.
Efforts were being deployed to uphold the principle of the best interest of the child in all walks of life, which was implemented in all the policies that concerned children, and in judicial decisions concerning child’s placement in care. Niger was taking steps to set up a centralized data collection system that would gather data from all relevant ministries in order to provide a more complete picture on matters related to the rights of children.
Turning to the definition of the child, the delegation said that only the definition contained in the latest Children's Act of 2014 was valid; it repealed all other definitions found in the law and provided that a child was a human being under the age of 18. Inheritance, the delegation continued, was addressed primarily by customary law, which defined that “illegitimate” children could only inherit their mother’s property, all in order to stop men from having illegitimate children. In the civil law, there was no difference between a “legitimate” and “illegitimate” child. The delegation said that the removal of the reservations to the Convention would engender changes in a number of laws, particularly in the area of marriage; a committee set up to study the issue had been working for a number of years already.
In cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency, a birth registration system for all children – Nigeriens and refugees – had been set up, said the delegation, explaining that in 2015, Niger had signed the Abidjan Declaration on the Eradication of Statelessness, thus committing to have no stateless children in the country.
Corporal punishment was prohibited in public and Koranic schools alike, the delegation stressed, explaining that State officials were now visiting the Koranic schools to raise awareness on the issue.
“Wahaya”, a practice of the so-called fifth wife, was a form of slavery, the delegate continued, explaining that according to customary law, a man could have four wives, but some would take the fifth one without getting married and still retaining all the rights over her. Slavery was criminalized and the law provided for the protection of victims. Courts had pronounced convictions for such cases.
On ethnicity-based discrimination, the delegation said that under the Constitution, all people in Niger were equal and there were no indigenous peoples as defined by the United Nations. The National Human Rights Commission had registered 63 complaints involving children, mostly in relation to child support, custody, or abandonment. In most cases, it was the parents or associations who lodged the complaints, rather than the children themselves. The Commission did not have the power to deal with such complaints and in most cases, it referred them to the court.
The fertility rate was indeed very high, 7.6 children per women, and various initiatives were being taken to master the population growth in order to ensure sustainable development for all. As for harmful traditional practices, the delegation said that since 1998, the rate of female genital mutilation was very low at only two per cent, and added that, compared to other countries in the region, Niger had done a lot in this area and would apply zero tolerance to female genital mutilation by 2020. There was a bill of law that recommended raising the age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18.
The delegation explained that Niger, unlike other countries in the region, had achieved stability because the authorities had not abandoned religious customs. Religious leaders were often respected village leaders, and the authorities maintained good contacts with them. It was, in fact, thanks to them that the extremist groups had not managed to destabilize the country.
Questions by the Committee Experts
The Experts continued the interactive dialogue by raising the question of children in care, asking whether they were placed in institutions for life, and also inquiring after the foster families and the status and the process of adoption.
Many women had problems with inheritance in case of divorces. Were they helped if children continued to live with their mothers after divorces? Who made divorce decisions and based on which criteria? The Experts asked when Niger would raise the age of marriage for both girls and boys to 18, and whether it was possible under customary law for a man to marry an eight-year old girl. How come polygamy was still in place if the international conventions prevailed over customary law?
Experts were concerned that the public spending for health barely exceeded three per cent of the national budget, and asked about measures to take care of children's mental health, and whether there were baby-friendly hospitals. The Committee was gravely concerned about extremely high maternal and infant mortality, particularly in remote and rural areas, and asked about measures to increase vaccination coverage, improve access to bed nets, and increase availability of family planning services. Could the delegation explain why Niger had not adopted a food and nutrition security policy and inform on the budget allocated to the sector? Tuberculosis was another burning topic, what were the strategies used to strengthen the resilience, particularly in the face of climate change?
According to official data, there were 12,000 children with disabilities, Experts noted, and asked about care and access to health services they were provided with, and the status of inclusive education. Could the delegation inform on the social protection system?
The Experts then raised the issue of access to education, in particular for girls and children from poor families; low school completion rates and high dropout figures. In addition, there was poor teacher training, schools were dilapidated, and pre-primary schooling only covered a small percentage of children in rural areas.
On refugee and migrant children, the delegation was asked about their situation and access to identity documents, and also about the support the Government provided to non-governmental organizations delivering health care and services to this group of children. What was being done to find 35 children abducted in 2017?
According to a 2017 estimate, many children under the age of 14 were working, and domestic work was seen as “light work”. Were there enough labour inspectors and were they doing unannounced visits and imposing fines? Juvenile judges did not appear to have enough training and they failed to follow up on cases since they were often moved around.
The delegation was also asked to explain the efforts to prevent environmental degradation, in particular by addressing desertification and promoting land recovery and reforestation, and to develop sources of renewable energy, such as solar.
Responses by the Delegation
Continuing their responses to Experts’ questions, the delegation said that the training of civil servants on birth registration was in progress in all regions and departments, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund. The authorities were aware of children in institutions who were without birth certificates, the delegate affirmed, and said that they first had to be declared the wards of the State in order to receive birth certificates.
As for the situation of children in care, the delegate said there were joint missions to ensure that children in institutions enjoyed good living conditions and were adequately cared for, while the placement of children in health care institutions was being closely monitored by the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection. Niger had ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption in 2018, the delegate continued, assuring that the best interest of the child was the guiding principle in all decisions on adoption. There were foster families in all areas of the country in order to ensure that the children were placed in a family environment instead in institutions.
On child labour, the delegation said that farm work and domestic work were considered light work; they helped children socialize, and did not undermine the learning and education of the children.
The death penalty was on the books, however, it had not been applied since the 1970s. A child could not receive a capital punishment, regardless of the offense committed.
The 2014 Juvenile Justice Act provided that juveniles could not be tried by a criminal court, and that the detention of juveniles was an exception, after all other alternative sentences had been considered. Juvenile judges received regular training in the implementation of the ratified international treaties in their rulings, and each region had a juvenile judge.
With regard to the duality of the law, the delegation pointed out that customs were not privileged in relation to the written norm. When a custom was contrary to a provision of an international convention ratified by the country, the courts were required to set it aside to enforce the written law. The majority of people preferred customary law to civil law in matters of marriage, the delegate said, explaining that a man could not marry an eight-year-old girl as it threatened public order, because “she is prepubescent”.
The Government was committed to taking action to raise the age of marriage, and had issued a decree setting the minimum age for marriage for girls at 16. This decree was currently being disseminated among the religious leaders, who supported the Government’s efforts to end child marriage, and some of them had already cancelled child marriages. A strategy on the issue was being currently drafted.
Nigeria’s reservations to the Convention, the delegate continued, included polygamy, thus the country was not bound by this provision. Once the reservations were lifted, customary rules would be amended to harmonize them with the Convention.
Those married under the civil law could only ask for a divorce before a judge, while a customary marriage could be dissolved by divorce, repudiation, or death of one of the spouses. Repudiation was a unilateral power given by custom to the husband who could repudiate his wife without any reason invoked. Alimony was mandatorily given to mothers with children, even if they did not ask for it, while custody decisions were made with the best interest of the child in mind. In repudiation cases, a women had to address the court to decide on the alimony, and the court would also decide on the custody of the children if the parties were unable to reach an agreement.
The Criminal Code contained specific articles to deal with child abuse, including sexual abuse and pedophilia, and it criminalized corporal punishment of a child by a parent or a teacher. A slap was not deemed harmful to child’s physical safety.
Abortion was prohibited and sanctioned under the Criminal Code, however, the Reproductive Health Act allowed abortion when the health of the mother was in danger.
The budgetary allocations to the health sector had decreased because of the cost of insecurity in the country, which had affected allocations to a number of other sectors as well. The Government was committed to eventually allocating 10 per cent of its overall budget to health, a delegate said, noting that the foreign funding to this sector was on the increase.
Niger had made a significant progress in the area of child mortality, cutting the number of deaths from 318 per 1,000 in 1992 to 126 per 1,000 in 2015. Vaccinations were free and insecticide-treated bed nets were being distributed free of charge throughout the country. There was a national programme to combat malaria. Niger was one of the biggest countries in West Africa, which was a challenge in providing health care to the population. There were vast disparities between the regions, and in nomadic regions, health care was being provided by travelling hospitals. There were health promoters in each village who went door-to-door to inform the people on health care activities and free of charge services.
The delegation acknowledged the disparities in school enrolment of boys and girls and said that much efforts were being made to address the gap, including by improving facilities. From 2011 to 2017, the Government had built 15,000 classrooms, established rural colleges to promote and facilitate the enrolment of girls, and there was a university in each region. As for inclusive education, the delegation said that there were 15 integrated inclusive classes that bore in mind the needs of children with disabilities.
In terms of the children’s right to freedom of expression and of association, the delegate reiterated that those rights were enshrined in the Constitution and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had been domesticated. Different platforms had been created for children to express their opinion, such as school governments and student committees, while youth radios addressed a range of issues of interest to the youth. There were also sessions within the National Parliament where children’s representatives could express their vision on various laws, as well as the space in the media, both print and television, where children could address the issues of concern to them.
There was no discrimination against children with disabilities in access to health services, the delegate stressed, adding that national and regional hospitals, staffed with professionals trained at the Medical Faculty, provided mental health services to children with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities.
Experts’ Questions under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Rapporteur for Niger under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, took note of the lack of data in the report and asked what was being done to put in place an adequate data collection system. Had the Optional Protocol been invoked by the courts, and how were the children and the national human rights institution being involved in its implementation?
The Rapporteur remarked that Niger’s reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women created situations of serious vulnerability and impacted negatively on the application of the Optional Protocol, particularly in relation to prostitution.
Had a specific national action plan for the implementation of the Optional Protocol been adopted, and how various stakeholders were coordinated? What was the mandate and the role of the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons?
The Rapporteur inquired about raising children's awareness, insisting that in this area, self-protection was fundamental. Was Niger planning to make a comprehensive and precise study on the exploitation of children in the country, including sexual exploitation, in order to inform prevention?
Ms. Ayoubi Idrissi asked about resources allocated to the implementation of the Optional Protocol and measures taken to ensure child-sensitive programming in those areas. Had the Committee’s General Comment 19 on public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights been widely disseminated to different partners working on the issue? What was the impact of combating corruption and impunity?
Another Expert addressed the gaps in the legal system concerning crimes under the Optional Protocol and, taking note of the 2010 ordnance on trafficking in persons, said that the punishments therein described were not applicable to the crimes under the Optional Protocol. Although the Criminal Code punished the sale of children, the definition of the crime and the acts that constituted the crime, were far removed from the definition under the Optional Protocol, with some substantial differences. The similar situation was found in relation to child prostitution and child pornography, which in some laws had been described as “indecent acts”. Furthermore, the 2013 ordnance on the responsibility of legal persons did not cover crimes under the Optional Protocol either. “There was a real legal vacuum here”, the Expert remarked.
On the rights of victims, the Expert welcomed the adoption of the national guidelines for care and support of child victims, and asked the delegation to provide additional information on measures therein. The gaps in the 2011 law on legal assistance made it very difficult for victims to access free legal assistance, and there were very few services provided to victims. Was extradition a subject to double jeopardy and was the Optional Protocol considered a sufficient legal basis for extraditions?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to questions raised on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the delegation explained that children victims of sexual violence were dealt with by specialized social workers.
Niger had not drafted a specific action plan on the Optional Protocol, the delegation said, explaining that it was being implemented in the framework of the National Strategy on Child Protection, which rested on three pillars: prevention, care, and strengthening of the national child protection system. The Strategy defined the way children would be taken care of, and guided different stakeholders in this process. The primary caretaker was the community, which ensured child protection through local government offices, particularly on judicial matters. All statistics and data on child protection would soon be centralized, the delegate continued, and there was a regional network of non-governmental organizations which met regularly to examine child protection issues and prepare the next phase of action.
The Protocol could be invoked in the courts, but considering that it had only been ratified in 2003, there were no court cases, because it took time for judges to get familiar with this instrument.
In 2010, an Inter-Ministerial Committee had been established to draft Niger’s human rights treaty body reports, composed of representatives of all Ministries involved in the rights of the child. The Committee’s rank had been raised and its members were appointed by a decree. There were no non-governmental organizations’ representatives in the Committee, noted the delegation, adding that children, Parliament, non-governmental organizations, as well as the Youth Council and the School Teachers Union were invited to participate in the drafting process. The national human rights institution was involved in validating the drafts.
Lifting the reservations to the Convention, the delegate continued, was possible but difficult, and that was why it had not yet been done. Niger had adopted a plan of action for the implementation of all recommendations received from human rights treaty bodies, which clearly identified structures responsible for their implementation.
Niger was well aware that corruption hampered the realization and enjoyment of human rights, and that was why it was very advanced in the fight against corruption. The High Authority against Corruption had been set up, in which non-governmental organizations, private sector and Government institutions were represented; its powers had been strengthened to enable it to carry out investigations, make seizures and transmit files immediately to justice, in contrast to the past practice when the results of investigations had been submitted directly to the President of the Republic who then decided what kind of follow-up to be given to each case. There was also a hotline to which complaints and reports of corruption could be filed. Many corruption cases had been brought to court through those two mechanisms. Unannounced inspection visits were being conducted in any institution, office, facility or company, to determine whether accounting standards were being met.
All ethnicities and all languages, insisted the delegation, were equal and there were no marginalized populations. The Tuaregs and the Arabs were parts of the Nigerien population, represented at all levels, including in the national Government. There was a strong policy of support for nomadic populations in the north of the country, and had instituted mobile schools that followed this population as they moved. The north of the country was a peaceful area, said the delegation, the part of the country that fed the south and where safety and security of children was not at risk. Outside the areas bordering with Mali and the areas near the Lake Chad, Niger was very calm and peaceful country, the delegate said.
The delegation agreed that the social media situation in the country was very critical and said that this was why the Government had proposed a bill in May 2017 to create a new regulatory body for electronic and postal communications. The bill had already been passed by Parliament.
There were centres for prevention and protection throughout the country, staffed with social workers trained on the matters of trafficking. In 2016, there were 35 cases of trafficking in different regions, and 261 cases in 2017, which was a proof that the Government took the issue of trafficking in persons seriously.
In their follow-up, Committee Experts remarked that forced labour should be qualified as the sale of children and punished as such, and that was why Niger should adopt the laws to respond to those issues and align the Criminal Code with the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Was it true that the only school that trained social workers to support victims of trafficking was closed?
Responding, the delegation said that the Optional Protocol had been published in the Official Journal after having been adopted by Parliament in 2003. There were difficulties, the delegate continued, in implementing its provisions, such as the lack of a law that sanctioned the specific offenses under the Optional Protocol. Dissemination was an ongoing process and when it came to the judicial sphere, there were still shortcomings, but they were duly noted.
Social workers were trained in two schools and both of them were fully operational, and although there were difficulties in recruiting them in Government agencies, social workers were working with other stakeholders. There were plans to increase, with the support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, the number of social workers in Government agencies and institutions. The National Civic Services received the newly graduated social workers, to provide them with a training in the implementation of human rights.
Asked about the protection and security priorities, the delegation replied that the security of the whole country and the entire population was a priority, which was attested by the fact that the police and the army were present throughout the country. There were more problematic areas of the country, particularly those bordering the Boko Haram territories.
In 2016, the National Assembly had adopted the law ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement and in 2017, the amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. Niger was taking many measures to combat the effects of climate change on its population, effectively and sustainably.
The delegation stressed that there was no impunity for the sale of children or child pornography, explaining the judges in such cases usually found legal provisions that sanctioned the perpetrators.
The National Agency for Legal and Judicial Assistance was located in each regional capital and people could seize it directly. It also offered free legal assistance to women and minors. The Agency was functioning, with the funding from the State and the support from international partners.
Niger intended to draft specific extradition protocols, in line with the obligations under the Optional Protocol.
Between 2012 and 2015, some 348,000 hectares of agricultural and pastoral land had been reclaimed and 197,000 hectares reforested. There was a National Centre for Solar Energy and solar energy was being harvested in all regions. Access to water was at the heart of the Government concern, the delegate said, noting that Niger had sufficient underground water resources - more than two billion cubic meters of renewable groundwater, although there were still problems in supplying villages with drinking water. In the Renaissance Program, emphasis was placed on the mobilization of water resources.
With regard to the construction of a dam at Kandadji, the delegation explained that an overall inventory had been made, as had an environmental impact study. The decisions on the relocation of the population had been done in a participatory manner. The people had not end up in camps but in villages with improved living conditions, and had also been financially compensated.
On child prostitution and child pornography, there were large campaigns throughout the country to raise awareness among parents and children on those issues, and they had, the delegate said, borne fruit. The fight against those phenomena was of particular importance to all women members of the Government who were determined to take it as far as possible, and instruction had come from the Ministries to develop a national action plan to fight child prostitution.
AIDS orphans were considered as children in vulnerable situations, and were cared for by State social services and private child protection centres.
With regard to birth registration, the delegation said that over 15,000 civil birth registration centres had been opened throughout the country, and that efforts were ongoing to modernize them and digitalize data collection. Often, parents did not come to the centre to pick up a child’s birth certificate, so Awareness raising campaigns were being organized and mobile courts were visiting the problematic areas as well. The birth certificates that had not been picked up were kept in archives.
On family planning, the delegation explained that four times a year, there were campaigns in different regions of the country on the issue of family planning, and schools for husbands and wives on reproductive health. There was also a club for future husbands to educate them on the importance of family planning and reproductive health of women.
As for the sexual exploitation of children in tourist industry, the delegation said that the issue was a part of the awareness raising campaigns in all tourist facilities and all tourist destinations. There was no official code of conduct in tourism and travel industries, the delegation said, explaining that children received information on risks of sexual exploitation through Government agencies, Youth Parliaments, and school clubs.
Niger was embarking on a reform programme of Koranic schools which aimed to include them in the national education system and to be able to control school curricula. Today, children in Koranic schools were not counted in schoolchildren.
Actions were being carried out under the National Action Plan against Child Labor, including fieldwork inspections. If children were used at work sites, they were reintegrated at the family level and employers faced fines.
The delegation acknowledged that the country did not have teachers with sufficient training to care for children with mental disabilities. Similarly, the country did not have child psychiatrists.
ABDOULKARIM HACHIMOU, Secretary General at the Ministry for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the very rich dialogue and said that Niger took good note of the Experts’ recommendations, which it would implement in order to improve the rights of the child in the country.
SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Expert and member of the Task Force on the report of Niger, concluded by commending Niger for the action taken to improve the rights of the children, and urged the country to address the remaining challenges, including the definition of the child, child marriage, and birth registration. The reduction of infant and maternal mortality was also a burning topic, as well as allocation of more resources to health services and education, particularly in the remote areas and refugee camps, as was awareness raising when it came to sex tourism.
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