GENEVA (25 October 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of the Bahamas on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Frankie Campbell, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas, introducing the report, underlined the challenge of promoting and protecting human rights, with equity and equality, in this vast archipelagic paradise of 700 islands and cays, a challenge compounded by economic and financial crises, increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes resulting from climate change, and the cost of accessing the remote islands. The Bahamians, he continued, had overwhelmingly voted against amending fundamental rights and provisions for women in two constitutional referenda, in 2002 and 2016; in the absence of a constitutional right and with the goal of promoting gender equality, the authorities were drafting an amendment to the Nationality Act, while the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act and the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act had been enacted in 2014. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs was implementing the strategic plan to improve gender equality as well as the initiatives from the National Strategic Plan for Ending Gender-Based Violence. The updated National Gender Equality Policy would soon be submitted to the Cabinet. To eliminate cultural and traditional practices that perpetuated discrimination against women, measures were being taken to remove gender stereotypes from school curricula and to reduce the stereotypes on the roles of husbands and wives through public education and the media. In the judiciary, women held 68 per cent of the positions of justices, registrars, and magistrates; in politics, five per cent of Cabinet Ministers, 12 per cent of parliamentarians, and 43 per cent of Senators were women; and in the public service, women held 78 per cent of the Director posts and also held 57 per cent representation in local governments.
Committee Experts recognized the Bahamas’ political will to bring about change and the progress in advancing the status of women in education, employment, health, and public life, including the most disadvantaged ones. The lack of an explicit prohibition of gender-based discrimination in the national laws was a concern, they said, noting that the failure of the constitutional reform had not happened in a vacuum but in a context of prevailing negative stereotypes against women, including in the judiciary. The prevailing voice of men in the patriarchal society of the Bahamas was conducive to violence against women and was a formidable barrier to achieving substantive gender equality, they said, and noted with concern that marital rape was not criminalized. They urged the country to ensure that the 2016 draft bill on gender-based violence, including domestic violence, currently before Parliament, contained the wording of the General Recommendation number 35 on protection orders and right formats of assistance to victims of gender-based violence. The Committee was concerned about discrimination against women in matters of citizenship and nationality in the Constitution, as they could not transmit their nationality to their children on an equal footing with men. Also of concern was the high risk of statelessness for children born in the Bahamas to stateless parents, unknown parents, or to foreigners unable to transmit their own nationality. Recognizing that the Bahamas was considered an international tax haven, Experts recalled its extraterritorial obligations under the Convention, and asked how it ensured that its tax laws did not impede the ability of other countries to mobilise tax revenues for their own programmes geared towards the development of women.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Campbell recalled that the achievement of gender equality and the elimination of forms of discrimination against women was a journey and not a destination; the Bahamas was fully committed to walking this path with courage and stamina.
Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, encouraged the Bahamas to address various recommendations, which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.
The delegation of the Bahamas was composed of representatives of the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development, Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of the Bahamas 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. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 October, to consider the sixth periodic report of Samoa (CEDAW/C/WSM/6).
The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of the Bahamas (CEDAW/C/BHS/6).
Presentation of the Report
FRANKIE CAMPBELL, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas, introducing the report, underlined the enormous task of governing the Bahamas’ vast archipelagic paradise of 700 islands and cays, 100,000 square miles of sea, 5,300 square miles of land, and 380,000 people. The challenge of promoting and protecting all human rights, with equity and equality, was compounded and exacerbated by the economic and financial crises, unemployment, crime, the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, namely hurricanes resulting from climate change, and the cost of accessing the remote islands known in the Bahamas as the Family Islands. Nevertheless, the Minister said, the desire to overcome those challenges and achieve the sustainable development of the people was the main impetus that drove the unwavering and steadfast collective efforts.
The Bahamas had held two constitutional referenda, in 2002 and in 2016, to amend fundamental rights and provisions for women. Despite an aggressive, multi-stakeholder public awareness campaign, and the fact that 53 per cent of the voters were women, the Bahamians had overwhelmingly voted no. In the absence of a constitutional right, and with the goal of promoting gender equality, an amendment to the Bahamas Nationality Act was being drafted, to provide a mechanism for all minor children of Bahamians born anywhere in the world and regardless of their marital status, to be granted nationality upon application. The Bahamas, the Minister said, had enacted additional legislation to protect women, including the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2014 and the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act 2014, and had ratified a number of international agreements, including the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and on children in armed conflict, and the Convention against Torture.
Major strides to strengthen the national machinery for the advancement of women had also been made, stressed Mr. Cambell, including expanding the Bureau of Women’s Affairs into the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and increasing the budget allocation by 250 per cent. The Department was, inter alia, implementing the strategic plan to improve gender equality and the initiatives from the National Strategic Plan for Ending Gender-Based Violence, and updating the National Gender Equality Policy, soon to be submitted to the Cabinet. The Department was also conducting school and community awareness raising seminars about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women throughout the islands of the Bahamas, and had undertaken the Family Islands Women Survey to assess the needs and challenges of women and girls.
The Bahamas, continued the Minister, strove to eliminate cultural and traditional practices that perpetuated discrimination and gender stereotyping of women, including by educating students on those issues through school curricula, reducing the stereotypes of the roles of husbands and wives through public education and the media, and by utilizing the Domestic Violence and Counselling Unit of the Ministry of Social Services to help victims of violence and their children through direct intervention and services. Cooperation with the police force to train police officers on helping victims of gender-based violence continued, and more than 80 police officers had been training in educating men and women to stop domestic violence.
On women’s political and public leadership, Mr. Campbell then said that in the judiciary, women held 68 per cent of the positions of justices, registrars, and magistrates; in politics, five per cent of Cabinet Ministers, 12 per cent of parliamentarians, and 43 per cent of Senators were women; and in the public services, 78 per cent of the Directors were women, who also held 57 per cent representation in local governments, 31 per cent of the local Family Islands Administrators posts, and nine per cent of Chief Councillor positions. Moreover, 65 per cent of the Permanent Secretaries were women, and the Secretary of the Cabinet was a woman.
Questions from the Experts
Opening the dialogue with the delegation of the Bahamas, a Committee Expert commended the country’s impressive achievements in improving the status of women. Turning to the constitutional and legal framework on gender equality, the Expert remarked that an express prohibition of gender-based discrimination was lacking, which was extremely distressing, and asked about the plans and timeline to achieve the necessary constitutional reform, in cooperation with all political parties and all stakeholders, including civil society.
Recognizing that constitutional changes were long-term processes, the Expert stressed the importance of legislating for gender equality and non-discrimination, and asked when the Bahamas would embark on mapping deficiencies in the existing legislation, enact a prohibition of discrimination in employment on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity, and adopt a mechanism for women to pursue redress for discrimination, including intersecting and multiple forms of discrimination experienced in particular by women with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning women.
The constitutional reform failure had not happened in a vacuum, but in a context of prevailing negative stereotypes against women, including in the judiciary, which pointed to the need to raise awareness and increase the capacity of the judges to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. What were the prospects of establishing a national human rights institution in the Bahamas?
Another Expert commented on community-based discrimination complaint mechanisms, asking what measures were in place to avoid a stigma against women submitting a complaint against someone from their own community.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to questions raised on the constitutional reform, the delegation said that the Bahamas was a democratic nation, and as much as individuals would want to change constitutional provisions which were indeed discriminatory, there was a democratic process which must be followed. The Bahamas was intent on continuing to pursue equality, however, since it was not possible at the moment to provide a constitutional right to non-discrimination, the Government was attempting to achieve the objective through its legislative activities, over which it had more control.
With regard to reviewing the legislation to identify discrimination clauses, the delegation explained that this was an ongoing process, and stressed that several pieces of legislation contained non-discrimination clauses, including the Employment Act and the Bahamas Bar Association Act. At the same time, the non-discrimination clause was not present in the Education Act, which was currently being reviewed.
Responding to the question concerning the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the delegation said that from a cultural perspective, there had been several developments that were new to the Bahamians as people; there would be growing pains, but there was a commitment to talk and debate and identify what needed to be done to ensure that everyone lived in harmony.
As for the complaint mechanism for discrimination against women, the delegation said that women could address the court and that legal aid was available for that purpose. It was true indeed that the possibility of stigmatization was higher in smaller communities, not only for women using the community-based complaint mechanisms, but historically also for people living with HIV/AIDS. In this sense, the delegate stressed the critical importance of public awareness and education, as well as economic and financial empowerment of women and girls. Most of the populated Family Islands had a sitting magistrate, while others were served by mobile magistrates, and hearings were also held via video-link.
There were monthly meetings with non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations, and it was clear that the Government could not achieve the objectives alone. The Bahamas would continue to consider the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. The bill on the Office of the Ombudsman was currently before Parliament, but there was a need to ensure that the protection of the human rights of women and girls was specifically included in the mandate.
As for the judicial training on human rights conventions, the delegation explained that it was still not being done systematically, but there were ad hoc training activities for the judicial and legal staff on the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Questions from the Experts
In the next round of questions, Committee Experts congratulated the Bahamas on a range of measures undertaken to implement the provisions of the Convention, and particularly to advance the situation of women - including most disadvantaged ones - in education, employment and public life. Had those achievements resulted in putting in place a mechanism to sustain the progress towards substantive gender equality?
As for the national gender machinery, the Expert commended the upgrading of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs into the Department of Gender and Family Affairs, and asked whether it had an exclusive responsibility for the implementation of the Convention.
Temporary special measures had only been deployed to promote the participation of women in politics, but they must be used systematically to dismantle barriers to women’s substantive equality in all areas of life. How successful had the temporary special measures been in transforming the patriarchal political system?
Responses by the Delegation
The Department of Gender and Family Affairs had been set up only two years ago, in 2016, explained the delegate, who also noted that the budget had been increased, in a very short period of time, to $2 million. There was still a challenge of how to turn into practice its strategic objectives and intentions, including the National Gender Policy and the task force on gender-based violence. The Department only had five persons, and had been strengthened with secondment of additional personnel, including from the Ministry’s Urban Renewal Staff, which was present throughout the country. The delegate stressed the critical importance of the work conducted by non-governmental organizations, and underlined the need to ensure they were sufficiently funded.
The Department, the delegate continued, was focused on developing critical systematic and structural partnerships and collaboration, with the experts from United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, with the academia, including the University of the Bahamas and the University of the West Indies, and – perhaps most importantly – the Cabinet.
The National Gender Policy had actually expired and was currently being updated with expert support from the University of the Bahamas, and would soon be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
The value of temporary special measures was obvious and evident, a delegation said, noting the need to develop an information guide for political parties and adopt quotas for the political participation of women. The Department was working on organizing, in November 2018 in the context of Women’s Week, a conclave of 300 women interested in running for office and women – if possible parliamentarians - interested in sponsoring and mentoring women interested in running.
Questions from the Experts
The prevailing voice of men in the patriarchal society of the Bahamas was conducive to violence against women and was a formidable barrier to substantive gender equality, an Expert said, noting with concern that it was not only men who believed that domestic violence was acceptable, but women too. Such prejudices limited the progress, she said, raising concern that, worryingly, such prejudices were held and perpetuated by civil servants. Other concerns included the rise of organized crime and the availability of firearms, with great grave consequences for the safety and security of women, and the extensive presence of child abuse, at home and in school.
The Expert urged the Bahamas to include in the wording of the 2016 draft bill on gender-based violence including domestic violence, currently before Parliament, the provisions of the General Recommendation n° 35 on protection orders and right formats of assistance to victims of gender-based violence, and remarked that marital rape was not criminalized under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2014.
The Bahamas’ efforts to curb trafficking in persons were positively noted, including the increase in staffing and financial resources for the implementation of the national action plan 2014-2018 for the fight against human trafficking, primarily women and girls, and the creation of a specialized task force in 2011. The delegation asked about measures taken to address trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation of migrants, including to provide them with necessary documentation and stay permits, and make available the support services and shelters.
Prostitution was a crime punishable by a five-year prison sentence, remarked the Expert, asking whether those engaged in prostitution were criminalized and what programmes were available to assist those wishing to leave prostitution. The Committee raised concern about sexual tourism involving children, reportedly rather common, and inquired about measures in place to protect the children and prosecute the perpetrators.
Commending the Bahamas’ political will to bring about change and overcome problems, an Expert asked about the measures in place to ensure that women human rights defenders engaged on issues of gender-based violence could exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of repression.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation concurred on the critical role of crosscutting education on the role of women and men in the society, gender equality and non-discrimination, and in this vein stressed the importance of the National Gender Equality Policy, prepared with the support of various United Nations agencies, and hailed as a model in the Caribbean. The policy was very well laid out and would systematically introduce projects, initiatives and alliances to educate citizens about gender-based violence and stereotypes. Seven of the 10 priority initiatives had already been initiated, including the Reclaiming Our Boys, an initiative of the National Gender Task Force to identify and break stereotypes and guide the boys towards the desired behaviours, and the Seven Effective Habits of Families project, with a similar objective.
Because of the country’s history and culture, there were many stereotypes which continued to linger, and one of the starting points in educating the people was through a gender-neutral and stereotype-free curriculum as well as through after-school programmes in urban schools. In cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church, there were initiatives to work with perpetrators of gender-based and domestic violence.
The conversation on sexual orientation and gender identity was very new in the country, and it had not been addressed collectively and systematically so far.
A bill to amend the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2014 and criminalize marital rape had been tabled in 2015, but due to the opposition, had been removed. The discussions on the issue continued throughout the country, and some initiatives had been tabled, and it was important to stress that what happened this year was a recognition that rape indeed did happen in a marriage, and that it was something to be addressed through a law.
The Government of the Bahamas was firm in the belief that anything that happened and resulted in violence, including domestic violence, was not a private matter, provided it was reported. It was therefore important to raise awareness on the importance of reporting all cases of violence against women. Corporal punishment in schools was a measure of last resort, which was administered by a specific person. A female school officer was always present during the administration of the sanction.
There was an international mechanism for cooperation with neighbouring countries on the issue of trafficking in persons, while negotiations were ongoing with other countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica, Venezuela, and Panama. The Bahamas applied a victim-centred approach in its anti-trafficking activities, and provided victims and their families with all necessary services, including housing, education, and legal aid.
Prostitution was still illegal and there were currently no discussions on decriminalizing it, a delegate said, noting that sanctions were very rarely applied because it was hard to prove. As soon as there were suspicions or suggestions that a person was forced into prostitution, the whole focus changed, and the person was seen as a victim.
The Constitution guaranteed the rights to freedom of expression and of association to all, the delegate said, noting that minority groups had a more difficult path in convincing the majority, and that there must be tolerance and dialogue for coexistence.
Questions from the Experts
Commending the progress that the Bahamas had made in increasing women’s political participation and representation, Committee Experts remarked that the progress was not even across the levels of government and administration, and that in general it remained well below the 40 per cent representation recommended by the Convention. What strategies were in place to create an enabling environment for women’s greater participation in public and political life, including for disadvantaged women?
The Expert stressed the key role in this regard of civil society organizations and urged the Government to safeguard their autonomy and enable them to address leadership gaps in civil society organizations, and to develop a new generation of leaders to reignite a women’s movement, carry forward the advocacy, and hold the Government accountable.
The Committee was concerned about discrimination against women in matters of citizenship and nationality in the Constitution, as they could not transmit their nationality to children on an equal footing with men. Also of concern was the high risk of statelessness for children born in the Bahamas to stateless parents, unknown parents, or to foreigners unable to transmit their own nationality.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation acknowledged the Committee’s comment concerning discrimination against women in matters of nationality and said that work was ongoing to amend the Nationality Act to ensure that no one fell through the statelessness crack.
A child born in the Bahamas to foreign parents held the parents’ nationality, and was provided with a residence permit. The child could apply for naturalization between the age of 18 and 21, with an understanding that double nationality was prohibited and the nationality at birth would have to be renounced.
The outcome of the 2002 and the 2016 referenda on lifting article 9 of the Constitution were disappointing, a delegate said, adding that in an effort to reduce statelessness, the Prime Minister had set up the Immigration Commission, composed of six notable citizens including three women, to address the backlog in naturalization applications. Since February 2018, the Commission had deliberated over 200 applications, mostly from young people, who according to the law, must apply for naturalization between the age of 18 and 21.
As for the support to civil society organizations, the delegation outlined the relationship with a committee representing non-governmental organizations active on women’s issues, and said that, in a historic first, funding had been provided to sustain their programme; efforts were ongoing to sustain that funding regardless of the political party in power. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs had registered over 200 non-governmental organizations, with whom it regularly met.
Questions from the Experts
In the next round of questions, the Expert raised the question of compulsory education and noted with concern that school attendance rates now were slightly lower than in 1995, especially for girls, and asked for the reasons that would explain the trend, as well as measures in place to provide literacy classes and access to education to adult women. What were the drivers of school dropout for school?
All children enrolling in school had to demonstrate their passport, effectively excluding from education some children, especially those whose families would risk being returned to their country of origin if they asked for a passport. What were the differences between private and public schools, and how did this affect girls, especially as more boys were enrolled in private schools than girls?
The economic opportunities for women, despite their high educational achievements, were limited, remarked another Expert, asking about the percentage of women involved in tourism and construction, the two areas of the economy that had a potential for expansion; the situation of domestic workers and the possibility of filing a complaint for any rights violations; and the proportion of women in the 10 per cent of the unemployed population. Sexual harassment existed in all countries in the world: had there been any complaints and prosecutions in the Bahamas? Were there employment quotas for women with disabilities and protection from discrimination in the workplace for non-English speakers, and sexual minorities? Had the minimum age of work been raised to 16?
Notwithstanding the advancements made in the sexual and reproductive health of women, there were still issues of access to quality services, particularly in rural and remote areas, an Expert remarked, noting that the age of sexual majority was 16 but contraceptives could only be obtained from the age of 18. Abortion, with some limited exceptions, was criminalized, which in light of the high prevalence of violence against women was an issue of concern, Experts said, urging the Bahamas to legalize abortion in case of rape or incest. The maternal mortality rates were among the highest in the region; the Bahamas had not achieved its Millennium Development Goal on halving the number of maternal deaths, and the maternal mortality rates had increased during the 1990- 2015 period.
Responses by the Delegation
Education was compulsory in the Bahamas, responded a delegate, noting that parents had a choice whether to enrol their children in private or public schools. There was a programme to enable pregnant teens to remain in education throughout the pregnancy and re-join the classes after the delivery, and efforts were ongoing to institute school feeding programmes as a concrete measure geared towards school retention. This year, almost 2,000 students had received support to obtain school uniforms and footwear.
Recognizing lifelong benefits of early education, the Bahamas would commence, as of 2019, to offer universal preschool education from the age of three, with the aim of increasing the number of seats by 1,000 per year. The Government was determined to provide tablets to all pre-schoolers and school children to facilitate digital literacy and access to online and distance learning programmes, including online access to qualified teachers, which was very important in rural areas.
By the end of this fiscal year, each school in the country, including on the Family Islands, would be provided with high-speed Internet and mobile devices, including the interactive whiteboards to enable access to open and distant education, which was critical for the provision of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teaching, since most qualified teachers were based in the capital. Also on the Family Islands, resource centres would be set up so that even the adult population would be able to access online and distance learning programmes, and childcare for children under the age of five would be provided for parents to enable them to attend the classes.
The digital revolution, as it was known in the Bahamas, was one key form of intervention to improve the quality of education in schools and overcome distances and lack of qualified teachers throughout the country. The National Advisory Council for Education and the Private Sector Educational Authority had the mandate to advise the Minister of Education on action to improve the quality of education. The national accreditation board would be set up to monitor the implementation of educational standards in all schools in the country, private and public alike.
The Bahamas was currently developing the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which once adopted by Parliament, would pave the way to deal with emancipated youth and the right for a woman to have an abortion. Thanks largely to the efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission, including the social marketing of condoms and education and awareness programmes in schools, the number of new infections had been reduced by 43 per cent during the 2006 to 2015 period. The data on the number of legal abortions was not available, the delegation said, stressing that abortion was legal if the pregnancy was a result of rape or if the mother’s life was in danger.
On child labour, the delegation said that children aged 14 and above could have part time work but the work must not interfere with compulsory schooling which extended until the age of 16.
Questions from the Experts
In the next cluster of questions, the delegation was asked to inform on the mechanism in place to assess the structural impact on women, especially vulnerable women, of national development strategies, structural adjustment programmes, and trade liberalization policies, and to explain the gender responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda. What was the situation concerning women’s access to credit and microfinance?
The Committee was concerned about the growing incidence of forced evictions and the lengthy and cumbersome judicial proceedings. Could the delegation comment on access to social housing and on access to social security benefits for women who had never held formal employment? Recognizing that the Bahamas was considered an international tax haven, an Expert commented on its extraterritorial obligations under the Convention, and asked about measures in place to ensure that its tax laws did not impede the ability of other countries to mobilise tax revenues for their own programmes geared towards the development of women.
Turning to vulnerable groups of women, the Expert asked about the outcomes of the Family Islands Women Survey which had assessed the needs and challenges of women and girls, and which measures were being taken as a result.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that there were social welfare programmes and social workers in all the Family Islands, which meant that single mothers, the elderly, and all other vulnerable categories of the population received support, for example in the form of food vouchers. Most shanty towns were found in the country’s capital, New Providence; they had electricity and running water from the wells, telephones, and there were stores, restaurants and businesses. The concern was that the buildings were not built to the code and the spatial organization did not allow for access to emergency vehicles.
A system of the so-called parking houses enabled farmers from the Family Islands to market their produce: they would deposit items to the parking houses, which the Government would buy and then market. The same went for handicrafts. The majority of the parking houses beneficiaries were women. Primary health professionals were either based in or regularly visited the Family Islands, and provided the referral where needed.
The financial services sector was one of the most important sectors of the economy which, directly or indirectly, provided employment for 20,000 people and accounted for 15 per cent of the gross domestic product. The Bahamas was committed to meeting the highest international standards of tax cooperation and tax transparency and aimed to continue to preserve its reputation as a clean and compliant financial jurisdiction. An international legal cooperation unit dealing with all requests for legal cooperation from other jurisdictions, including on financial and tax issues, had been set up. The Bahamas was a signatory to the 2002 International Standards on Transparency and Information in the Tax Area, and was compliant with the requirements of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of the United States. At the same time, the Bahamas was maintaining a strong regime which did not allow for money laundering and financing of terrorism.
A land audit was being conducted with a view to register every piece of land and to provide the people with land titles to the land they were cultivating.
Questions from the Experts
In the final series of questions, an Expert remarked that the Family Courts were understaffed and lacked resources. In the Family Islands, what arrangements were made for urgent matters, such as preventive orders?
Fifty per cent of children were born out of wedlock and in most cases were raised singlehandedly by mothers, which, culture notwithstanding, was not always a choice made by the women, considering that establishing paternity for unmarried fathers was a humiliating and long process. Maintenance procedures were tedious and “not worth the trouble”, it was said – what measures were in place to ensure that fathers complied with their maintenance obligations.
Responses by the Delegation
On the question of the Family Courts, the delegation said that the difficulty was related to the environment in which they operated, as traditionally, all the courts, including criminal ones, were located in one common area. People often avoided addressing the Family Courts as they did not want others to think that they were dealing with a criminal matter.
Maintenance orders were a challenge as well, and at the moment, there was no system in place to ensure automatic collection from fathers’ salaries. Courts ordinarily ordered a DNA analysis in paternity determination procedures. Every widow and married woman was required by the law to maintain her children, and under the Child Protection Act had the right to apply for the maintenance of the child. It was indeed frustrating to obtain maintenance from the father, and this was one of the areas that was being looked into.
The law did not recognize de facto unions as yet. Under the law, with the consent of the court, the age of marriage could go as low as 14; the last such marriage had been recorded over 30 years ago.
FRANKIE CAMPBELL, Minister of Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas, in his concluding remarks, expressed gratitude for this opportunity to present the progress in the implementation of the Convention, a process which would be to the benefit of all women and girls in the Bahamas. The Minister invited all United Nations agencies to assist the Bahamas in addressing the remaining challenges, including in the area of training for members of the judiciary on the Convention, harnessing the leadership of women achieved in the political arena, implementing gender equality policies and national action plans, and setting up data collection mechanisms. The achievement of gender equality and the elimination of forms of discrimination against women was a journey and not a destination, he said, adding that the Bahamas was fully committed to walking this path, with courage and stamina.
DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended the Bahamas for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations, which the Committee would issue with the purpose of the more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.
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