COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD REVIEWS INITIAL REPORT OF DOMINICA
28 May 2004
Committee on the Rights of the Child 28 May 2004
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the initial report of Dominica on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Davis Letang, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Information of Dominica, said the small eastern Caribbean nation of Dominica, which had a population of 69,625 inhabitants, faced serious economic challenges due to the phasing out of preferential market access for its banana exports and a post 11 September decline in tourism. Despite the economic difficulties, Dominica had placed children high on its agenda and the Government stood resolute in its efforts to do everything possible for the survival, development, protection and participation of the nation’s children.
Committee Experts questioned the delegation of Dominica, among other things, about the different definitions of the child; birth registration efforts; the situation of teenage pregnant students; difficulties in giving assistance to children in foster homes; the hostility of some parents against the Convention; ownership of land by indigenous peoples; the minimum age for sexual consent; the status of the Convention and if it was invoked in courts; the distinction made between “legitimate” and “illegitimate children”; preventive measures against child sexual tourism; and problems of school dropouts.
In preliminary remarks, Ghalia Mohd Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of Dominica, said the delegation had contributed to the knowledge of the Committee on Dominica, and it now felt prepared to draw its conclusions on the report. She said that corporal punishment was a concern for the Committee and the State party itself. Dominica should adopt a law prohibiting the use of corporal punishment. Alternative disciplinary measures should be used by families. For that matter, an educational campaign should be launched.
The delegation of Dominica also included Melena Fontaine, Education Officer, Chairman of the Child Rights Committee; and Martin Anthony, Assistant Chief, Welfare Officer, Coordinator of Child Rights Activities.
The Committee will issue its formal, written conclusions and recommendations on the report of Dominica towards the end of its session, which concludes on 4 June.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 1 June, to consider the second periodic report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (CRC/C/65/Add.24).
Report of Dominica
The initial report of Dominica (CRC/C/8/Add.48) provides information on the efforts of the State party to give effect to the provisions of the Convention through administrative, legislative and judicial measures. It gives information on the general principles of the Convention including civil rights and freedoms; family environment and alternative care; basic health and welfare; and education, leisure and cultural activities. The report notes that despite the poor state of the country’s economy, programmes and activities geared to improve the status of Dominican children have over the past 10 years been accorded high priority. Social policies and legislative reform in favour of children have had positive results. The United Nations Children’s Fund and other funding agencies have for many years worked in partnership with Dominica to enhance the quality of life of children and their families.
In its conclusion, the report says that the preparation of Dominica’s initial report on the Convention afforded the opportunity to review the childcare services in place and also the legislative, judicial and administrative measures in force. It was recognized that certain laws should be reviewed and new legislation enacted in order to improve the status of the Dominican child.
Presentation of Report
DAVIS LETANG, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Information of Dominica, said that the small eastern Caribbean nation of Dominica, which had a population of 69,625 inhabitants, faced serious economic challenges. That was largely due to a series of external shocks which included phasing out preferential market access for its banana exports and a post 11 September decline in tourism, among other things.
Despite the economic situation, Dominica had placed children high on its agenda, Mr. Letang continued. As a sign of its special commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of children, the Government on 28 January 1990 had signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had ratified it on 13 March 1991. At the time of ratification, several Dominican laws already conformed to the Convention. In 1999, through the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund, a review of all the laws pertaining to children was undertaken. However, it was concluded that there was a need for the enforcement of the laws and also the establishment of support services and facilities.
Mr. Letang said the Government had recognized the need for a coordinated approach to policy development and implementation. Strategic areas of child protection, education and health had been identified for action. Child abuse management procedures were now in place, establishing actions to be taken by child protection agencies in matters of child abuse.
In the field of education, Mr. Letang said policies had been developed and were now being implemented in the areas of health and family life education, information and communication technology in education, universal secondary education, curriculum development, literacy and early childhood education. A national youth policy had been adopted by the Cabinet and was now being tabled for adoption by Parliament. Other policy initiatives now focused on children at risk, including children with special needs.
On health issues, Mr. Letang said a national policy on HIV/AIDS was now being implemented. Programmes on mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS were now integrated in the maternal health programme. Dominica’s primary health care system was a model of good practice for many developing countries.
In conclusion, Mr. Letang said his Government stood resolute in its efforts to do everything possible for the survival, development, protection and participation of the nation’s children.
Questions Raised by Committee Experts
GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur to the report of Dominica, thanked the delegation for its appearance before the Committee. She asked if the State party had ratified the relevant International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions pertaining to child rights, as well as The Hague conventions.
With regard to general measures, she asked if the Child and Family Act had been updated, about the work of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender Affairs and Information, and if it had a cross-sectoral function. She also asked what sort of body was the independent monitoring mechanism for children’s rights and who were its members. She asked if the Child Rights Committee received and examined complaints related to children. Was there a national plan of action on children’s rights?
Ms. Al-Thani also asked if workshops and training were provided for individuals dealing with children. Within the school system, did the Government distribute the Convention in a child-friendly format to students? Was the Convention translated into the local language other than English?
Ms. Al-Thani said that the report had mentioned that Dominica was distinguished to have an indigenous group of Carib Indians totalling about 3,000 people, and the population of Carib children totalled 1,000. What measures were being taken to prevent any discrimination against the group and to improve their living conditions, since they were living in remote areas?
There was a law allowing for corporal punishment in Dominica, Ms. Al-Thani said. The penal legislation also provided for flogging of children aged 12 and above. What was the situation in the family with regards to corporal punishment?
Other Committee Experts also raised questions. They asked, among other things, about the participants in the preparation of the report; budget allocation for child rights activities; the different definitions of the child; birth registration efforts; the situation of teenage pregnant students; difficulties in giving assistance to children in foster homes; lack of specificity in freedom of association by children; absence of disaggregated data collection; provisions of training for personnel handling complaints; access to appropriate information and the existence of public libraries; the hostility of some parents against the Convention; ownership of land by indigenous peoples; the minimum age for sexual consent; the status of the Convention and if it was invoked in courts; and the three-year arrangement with the International Monetary Fund and its impact on the rights of children.
Response by Delegation of Dominica
Responding, the delegation of Dominica said that the Child Rights Committee was composed of government and civil society representatives, and it focused on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
There was a central statistics office which collected data, in addition to sections in various ministries, the delegation said. However, the Government was making efforts to improve its data collection system and its dissemination.
With regard to the question on the perceived hostility by parents to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the delegation said the Government had been spending time to educate the parents and children on the provisions of the Convention. Sensitization programmes had been launched involving parents and the general public. The Government had been focusing on educating the population on the Convention, and it was committed to continue that effort.
With the advice of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Government had been harmonizing the different age groups, and would bring the relevant ages in line with the Convention, the delegation said.
Replying to a question on the consumption of liquor by children of 12 years, the delegation said there was no specific law on the consumption of alcoholic drinks by children above 12 years which was a concern to the Government. However, the authorities were contemplating adopting legal measures to overcome that problem.
Recently, special attention had been paid to establish guidelines with regard to pregnant teenagers to pursue their studies before and after delivery, the delegation said.
The issue of corporal punishment was a problem for Dominica and many other Caribbean countries, the delegation said. However, Dominica had reached a stage in the dialogue on the issue which might lead to the prohibition of corporal punishment. With regard to flogging sentences, it was the court that interpreted the law on flogging. With regard to corporal punishment in the family, measures had to be taken to educate parents, which would take some time to accomplish. After the dialogue and intensive education provided to the parents, the law on corporal punishment might be repealed.
The Carib Indians collectively owned the land where they had lived for the last 100 years ago, the delegation said. The Carib child was not in any way distinguished from other Dominican children as far as services and other amenities were concerned.
There was a policy by the Government to make available libraries to all children throughout the country, the delegation said. In addition, it had established a mobile fairy-tale programme to reach children in areas were there were no library facilities.
The Government was working on a national plan of action for children; UNICEF had pledged to support its realization, the delegation said.
The National Youth Council encouraged the wide participation of children and youth in the realization of the Convention, the delegation said. The Council was involved in the development of a youth policy, including setting up a youth parliament.
There had been some loopholes in the full accomplishment of birth registration, the delegation said. Only births that took place at health centres were processed for immediate registration. The public was encouraged to register new births within one year without incurring any fee, meaning that a payment should be made for registration beyond that date. A name should be given to the newborn before the registration process.
Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts continued further questions. They asked, among other things, about the general situation of children with disabilities, who were almost all living with their parents; the relationship between home deliveries and infant mortality; breastfeeding programmes; the situation of children in the “Youthquake” and the length of their stay; the distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate children”; protection against child sexual tourism; problems of school dropouts; adoption procedures; direct access by children to social security; and training of teachers.
Response by Delegation
Infant mortality had declined from 28.1 per 1,000 in 1974 to 17 per 1,000, the delegation said. Mortality in the one to four years group had shown a decline, and was holding at a rate of 1 per 1,000. Under-nutrition among children was virtually non-existent.
Teenage pregnancy was on the decline, the delegation said. Only a few such cases were reported as compared to the past. The decrease was attributed to the promotion of adolescent reproductive health and its introduction in schools.
Abuse of drugs had been of concern to the Government, the delegation said, adding that with the help of international agencies, programmes had been implemented to prevent drug abuse. The European Union was actively supporting such efforts through financial assistance.
The “Youthquake” operation was a rehabilitation centre for delinquent and disadvantaged children, the delegation said, adding that the activities were supported by the State.
The Government was aware of the distinction being made between legitimate and illegitimate children, and the law had been a subject of concern to the authorities, the delegation said. The distinction was mainly relevant in matters of inheritance. The Government realized that the issue should be regulated through possible legislative means.
There were no children with disabilities living in institutions, they all received care at home, the delegation said. At present, there were 49 children enrolled at the Alpha Centre, which catered to children with moderate to severe mental deficiencies. A survey conducted jointly by the Ministries of Education and Health had revealed that 93 children with disabilities who were of school age were not in school.
With regard to sexual tourism, there was no evidence of such incidents, but preventive measures had been taken, the delegation said. Tourism was important to the country; the problem of sexual tourism involving children had not yet surfaced. The Government, nevertheless, should increase its vigilance on the phenomenon.
GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-TAHNI, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of Dominica, said the delegation had contributed to the knowledge of the Committee on that country; and it was now prepared to draw its conclusions on the report. She acknowledged the legal reforms made to harmonize the laws with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although the efforts in the field of coordination and monitoring were laudable, it was essential to establish an independent monitoring mechanism.
Ms. Al-Thani said Dominica should resolve its difficulties relating to birth registration. Corporal punishment was a concern for the Committee and the State party; the State party should adopt a law prohibiting its use. Alternative methods of disciplinary measures should be used by families. For that matter, an educational campaign should be launched.
Ms. Al-Thani welcomed the new procedure introduced with regard to domestic violence and encouraged to State party to carry out an in-depth study on the root causes of the phenomenon. While she welcomed the reform of the curriculum, she encouraged the State party to include human rights teachings in it.