UNITED NATIONS Press release COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF MAURITIUS Committee on the Rights of the Child 19 January 2006 (Chamber B) The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Mauritius on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Introducing the report, Indranee Seebun, Minister of Women's Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of Mauritius, said despite its limited economy and trained human resources, much had been achieved by Mauritius since 1995. Among the recent initiatives taken by the new Government, which had been in place since July 2005, was the Programme for 2005-2010 which contained a number of policy decisions aimed at ensuring the survival, development, protection and participation of children. The Minister also noted that her Ministry was in the process of reviewing the National Children's Policy as well as the National Plan of Action, which were prepared in 2003 and 2004, in order to better safeguard the rights of the children in line with the Convention, with focus on early childhood development and the State parental empowerment programme. Complimenting the remarks by the Minister was Aruna Devi Narain, Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, who said the proposed Child Protection Act would give force of law to the Convention. Mauritius considered that one of its main achievements in recent years in the field of promotion and protection of children's rights was the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children. The Child Protection Amendment Act of 2005, she added, gave effect to Mauritius' treaty obligations and was aimed at preventing and punishing child trafficking by criminalizing various forms of the offence and providing for very hefty penalties. In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Joyce Aluoch, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, thanked the delegation for the frank and open discussion which had addressed most of the concerns of the Committee and made it possible for the Committee to have a better understanding of the situation of children in Mauritius. It was apparent that the Government had the necessary political will to preserve the rights of the child in conformity with the Convention. The Committee, however, would in its concluding observations implore the Government of Mauritius to move towards full nationalization of laws pertaining to the provisions of the Convention. The Committee would also recommend that the State outlaw all forms of corporal punishment. Other Committee Experts contributed to the debate by raising questions related to, among other things, the Office of the Ombudsperson; corporal punishment; adoption; children with disabilities; education, in particular school fees and attendance; HIV/AIDS; juvenile justice; and street children. The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Mauritius towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 27 January. The delegation of Mauritius was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Women's Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection; the Attorney General's Office; the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; and the Permanent Mission of Mauritius to United Nations Office at Geneva. As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mauritius is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of that treaty. The delegation was on hand during the meeting to present the report and answer questions raised by Committee Experts. When Chamber B of the Committee reconvenes in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 24 January, it will take up the second periodic report of Thailand (CRC/C/83/Add.15). *Report of Mauritius* The second periodic report of Mauritius, found in document CRC/C/65/Add.35, which covers the period 1995-2000, comprises plans and projects to be undertaken both by the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Government of Mauritius has taken several measures to amend existing laws and introduce new laws to ensure that the laws of the country do not contravene the articles of the Convention. In 1996, a task force was created to help harmonize the laws of the country with the provisions of the Convention. Wide consultations were held with NGOs and organizations working with children and the task force came up with recommendations to amend the Child Protection Act and the Criminal Code, with a view to translating the provisions of the Convention in Mauritian law. Moreover, the Child Development Unit was created in 1995 to implement the Child Protection Act. Several initiatives have been undertaken to reduce the incidence of child abuse and domestic violence, the report states. The Child Protection Act was amended in 1998 to further protect the child and the Protection from Domestic Violence Act was passed in 1997 to protect spouses and children from violence at home. A reform of the education system is also underway. In 1998, the Ministry of Education started implementing an action plan for education and vocational schools were opened to integrate primary school drop-outs. Discrimination on the grounds of race is unconstitutional and is prohibited in the education system. Action has also been taken to amend the Criminal Code and other relevant legislation to bring them in line with the Convention. The report also draws attention to the Ministry of Women's Rights, Child Development and Family Welfare, which runs a scheme providing emergency support to women and children who are in distress. The Ministry of Social Security provides grants to charitable institutions for the upkeep of orphans and abandoned children. Social assistance is focused on children in difficult circumstances, who receive social aid without having to undergo any income test. There is also a scheme to provide financial assistance for examination fees to children from poor families. The problems of poverty and exclusion rank high on the government's agenda, the report adds. *Presentation of Report* INDRANEE SEEBUN, Minister of Women's Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection of Mauritius, recalled that Mauritius was one of the first 15 countries to ratify the Convention. Since then, Mauritius had pursued all efforts to promote the rights and best interests of its children, who constituted one-third of its population. Despite its limited economic and trained human resources, much had been achieved by Mauritius since 1995, the Minister noted. Among the recent initiatives taken by the new Government, which had been in place since July 2005, was the Government's Programme for 2005-2010 which contained a number of policy decisions aimed at ensuring the survival, development, protection and participation of children. One related measure was the provision of free transport for school children to and from school, which was a step to improve school attendance rates, especially for those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Major reforms in the education sector were also being finalized in the best interests of the child in line with the Programme. The Minister noted the launch in December 2005 of the National Strategy for Human Rights that involved consultations with stakeholders, including students in primary and secondary schools. The Government of Mauritius also intended to uphold the right of every child to a name and identity. As a matter of urgency, a high-level committee co-chaired by the Attorney General, and the Minister, had been set up in August 2005 to address the problem of tardy declaration of births and unregistered children. Some 96 out of the 258 undeclared births identified as of July 2005 had now been registered and the Government was now confident that it could considerably shorten the processing time in the coming months. It was recalled that Mauritius acceded to, in September 2003, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. The Child Protection Act, which was passed in December 2005, aimed at fulfilling the legislative obligations of Mauritius under the Protocol. The Act also provided for tough penalties for the offence of child trafficking as well as the offences of abandonment of child abduction and child sexual abuse. Furthermore, actions were being made to suppress and eliminate commercial sexual exploitation of children. The Minister noted that her Ministry was in the process of reviewing the National Children's Policy as well as the National Plan of Action, which were prepared in 2003 and 2004, in order to better safeguard the rights of the children in line with the Convention, with focus on early childhood development and the State parental empowerment programme. This Plan would also include an effective monitoring mechanism on the provisions of the Convention. Steps were also being taken to support early childhood care and development. Accordingly, the National Children's Council was being given the responsibility to run social projects such as the management of quasi-free day care centres for children from very poor socio-economic background and who were at risk. With a view to adopting a holistic and inter-sectoral approach in dealing with children, the Minister added, the Government of Mauritius would introduce a Children's Act which would be a comprehensive, consolidated piece of legislation for and on children. The new Act would provide for tougher penalties for crimes committed against young children. ARUNA DEVI NARAIN, Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said that the Convention had not been made an integral part of the national legislation and that key principles of the Convention, such as the best interests of the child and non-discrimination, had not yet been enshrined in domestic legislation. It was envisaged, however, that the proposed Child Protection Act would give force of law to the Convention. Mauritius considered that one of its main achievements in recent years in the field of the promotion and protection of children's rights was the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children. The Ombudsperson had the duty of investigating possible violations of the rights of children and of advising the Minister on a number of child-related issues. The Child Protection Amendment Act of 2005 gave effect to Mauritius' treaty obligations and was aimed at preventing and punishing child trafficking by criminalizing various forms of the offence and providing for very hefty penalties. It also aimed at making better provisions for the recovery of child victims from harm or trafficking in line with the Convention. Moreover, the Act allowed the Minister to register institutions providing physical, psychological, and social recovery of child victims of injury, neglect, ill-treatment and trafficking. Also noted were the Parental Education Programme, the Child Mentoring Project and the Community Child Protection Programme which aimed at involving major stakeholders – parents, neighbours and the community at large - in the protection of children and the promotion of their rights. *Questions Raised by Committee Experts* JOYCE ALUOCH, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, noted that since its independence in 1978 Mauritius had made significant progress in that it had undergone a significant transition to a strong economy showing overall improvements in social development. Recent reports, however, indicated that there were current economic problems leading to a slow down in GDP growth. While noting that the report covered the period 1995-2005, the Rapporteur noted as positive the new legislation and amendments to existing laws pertaining to children. She indicated that the Committee wanted to learn about the actual implementation of the provisions of the Convention and challenges registered by the Government. Attention was drawn to domestic violence and to reports indicating that this type of violence was on the rise in Mauritius. Also noted were the shortcomings with regard to the Child Protection Act. On the other hand, the movement towards drafting the Child Act was to be commended. The Rapporteur noted that Mauritius was a party to major human rights instruments, as well as regional ones, although it had not ratified the two Optional Protocols to the Convention. Also noted were the reservations admitted by the Government on the article of the Convention dealing with child refugees. More information was sought on both these points. Moreover, the Rapporteur asked for additional information on the application of the Convention into national legislation. Among the other points raised by the Rapporteur were the definition of a "child" compared to a "minor"; the legal ages for marriage, criminal responsibility and for sexual consent; birth registration; and discrimination in schools. She drew attention to reported cases of discrimination against the Creole community and that there was a higher drop out rate and less enrolment for children from this community. Other Experts of the Committee raised a series of issues during the first round of questions pertaining to corporal punishment; budget allocations; freedom of association; training for members of the police in child matters; procedures for registering cases of child brutality; the right to privacy, including in the media; the right of a child to be heard as regards decisions related to their own lives; and the child's right to be heard in medical cases. An Expert pointed out that many children with disabilities were not sufficiently enrolled in the schooling system and asked what measures were being taken by the State to reduce that trend. Another Expert asked for information on the functions and powers of the Ombudsperson and her independence. He also sought information on the functions of the National Human Rights Commission and on the involvement of non-governmental organizations in drafting national policies related to services for children and their coordination with Government bodies. A Member of the Committee raised the issue of differing views between civil and common laws and asked whether there were steps taken by the Government towards harmonizing these differences of opinion when it came to the provisions of the Convention and how they were applied in Mauritius. An Expert also asked whether minors suspected of having committed terrorist acts could be subjected to the State's Anti-terrorist Act. Another Expert asked the delegation for additional information on children born out of wedlock; economic, gender and regional disparities; and human rights monitoring mechanisms. In a second round of questions, the Rapporteur asked what was being done to promote equal parental responsibility. She also sought information on the results of the Family Survey conducted in 1994 that addressed issues of domestic violence and alcoholism; the illicit transfer of children; adoptions procedures; teenage pregnancies; vocational training centres; and child abduction. The Rapporteur noted that English was the official language used in schools and asked why that was the case given the high percentage of Creole speakers. Turning to HIV/AIDS, the Rapporteur noted that this issue was still considered a taboo in society and that free testing and counseling was not available to children under the age of 18. She asked for information on what measures the Government had taken to address this issue. Another Expert asked for clarification on the transition from obligatory primary schools to secondary schools given that primary school enrolment was nearly universal whereas only 67 per cent of school age children were enrolled in secondary schools. This had led to a high number of street children, he added. On the issue of juvenile justice, while recalling that the age of criminal responsibility was set at 14, an Expert asked whether a child could receive sentences that deprived them of their liberty at any age or whether there was a set age limit. Also noted was that there were more girl juvenile offenders than boys, and he asked for clarification on this. Other Experts asked questions on subjects concerning student youth councils; the sexual and economic exploitation of minors and child prostitution and efforts to reintegrate child victims; legal provisions on pornography; children without parental care; family reunification; juvenile detention centres; public expenditure for health; child mortality; malnutrition rates; and adolescent and reproductive health. While noting there were nine national colleges in Mauritius, a member of the Committee noted that there seemed to be some discrimination reflected in enrolment rates in these colleges, in particular that students of Asian origin were reportedly favoured over those of Creole origin. More information was sought on Government efforts to address this as well as the Government's "Bridging the Gap" programme. *Response by Delegation of Mauritius* With regard to the ratification of the two Optional Protocols of the Convention, the delegation noted that there was no objection to doing so. Both instruments had been signed and legislation would soon be drafted. As to its reservation pertaining to refugee children, it was noted that the Government would soon withdraw this reservation. In response to a question, the delegation noted that all international instruments acceded to by the Government had to be nationalized in order for the courts to give effect to them and the country's international treaty obligations. The Children's Act would aim to domesticate the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ombudsperson for Children had the duty of making recommendations to the Government to bring national legislation in line with the Convention. As regards cooperation with the NGO-community, the Government acknowledged that there was a need for enhanced cooperation between the Government and civil society in general. Concerning questions on the definition of a child, the delegation said a child in Mauritius was defined as an unmarried person under the age of 18 and that a child was able to get married at the age of 16 pending parental consent. In that regard the Ombudsperson had made recommendations to review this legislation. The age of criminal responsibility was 14 years and the age of sexual consent was 16. On discrimination, the delegation said there was no general discrimination against the girl child in Mauritius. As to Creole children, the delegation said there was no systematic discrimination against members of this community either. On birth registration, the delegation said the entire birth registration system had recently been computerized and centralized which facilitated this process. In response to a question, the delegation confirmed that there was no provision in the Constitution of Mauritius expressly prohibiting corporal punishment, however, as per the Penal Code, acts of violence against children in institutions and detention centres were treated as a criminal offence. There was a provision in the Education Act prohibiting the practice in schools; any case of corporal punishment carried out in school was subject to prosecution under the Child Protection Act and could be reported to the Ministry of Women's Rights, Child Development, Family Welfare and Consumer Protection, as well as to the Office of the Ombudsperson, for investigation. Regarding freedom of association, the delegation noted that in practice it was very unlikely that a children's association would be prohibited on grounds of immoral activity. In response to a question, the delegation acknowledged that there had been complaints recorded against members of the police force for using brutality; for those cases involving children, the Office of the Ombudsperson had been called upon to investigate them. As to the right of a child to be heard, the delegation said at present there was no real provision in the law for a child to be heard in cases involving them; it was the hope of the Government that this right would be guaranteed as per an amendment to the Children's Act to be passed later this year. In response to a question on the right to privacy, while indicating that the press operated freely and without control of the Government, the delegation indicated that there was an exception to this rule when it came to press reports concerning children so as to protect them and maintain their privacy. As to children with disabilities, the delegation said according to the latest survey conducted there were some 3,000 children with disabilities under the age of 18 living in Mauritius. These children benefited from various Government allowance schemes; those included free transport, special scholarships, and tax breaks. There were 24 day care centres, operated by non-governmental organizations, in Mauritius which catered to children with disabilities. Overall, there were 39 special education institutions in the country in which 1,183 children with disabilities were enrolled. In general terms, the National Human Rights Commission had the right to investigate any rights enshrined in the Constitution of Mauritius. The Ombudsperson for Children had the power to carry out her own investigation and/or make her own recommendations on cases dealing with children. Moreover, the Office of the Ombudsperson could formulate its own proposal on any national legislation within its area of responsibility. Regarding non-governmental organizations, there was extensive cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations on the development of national policies concerning children. One such example was the drafting of the Government policy on the sexual exploitation of children. In response to a question on the island of Rodrigues, the delegation noted that since 2001 there had been the Rodrigues Regional Assembly which had areas of responsibility including policy and education. Matters involving school children were debated at the Assembly. As to the question posed on the State's anti-terrorist act, the delegation said it was unlikely that the provisions of this law, which were quite severe, would be applied to minors. With concern to adoption, the delegation noted that Mauritius had acceded to the Hague Convention concerning international adoption, although it had yet to be domesticated. It was hoped that a national law would soon be drafted. On questions pertaining to the State's education policy, the delegation said schools in Mauritius were free, with the exception of a few private schools. Text books were free for all primary level students and were subsidized for certain secondary school students. By and large, secondary students had to pay for their school books. As to admission to Catholic schools and a policy where 50 per cent of seats were reserved for Catholic students, the delegation indicated that the Supreme Court had found this policy of reserving seats based on creed to be unconstitutional. It was noted that Catholic schools did reserve 50 per cent of their classroom seats; however it was not done in a discriminatory manner. Moreover, as of 2004, schooling in Mauritius was compulsory up to the age of 16; it was hoped that this would help reverse the problem of school dropouts. As per the law, it was a criminal offence if parents did not send their children to school. The delegation noted that overcrowding in schools was a major problem in Mauritius; to address this problem, a Committee was looking into it and remedial action should be taken within the coming months. Turning to the issue of HIV/AIDS, the delegation said the Ministry of Women's Rights, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, launched a programme in October 2005, with the participation of some 30 children infected with the virus and their parents; this programme provided counseling and psychological support for parents and children. Moreover, since September 1999 a programme on mother-to-child transmission was also being implemented. Antiretroviral drugs were also made available free of charge as was testing and counseling which was being done in five regional centres. Peer education was also conducted as was nationwide awareness raising campaigns. On the issue of juvenile justice, the delegation noted that the age of criminal responsibility was 14 in Mauritius; as per the Juvenile Offenders Act a juvenile under the age of 14 could not be ordered to prison or to pay a fine. Juvenile offenders between 14 and 18 could be sent to detention centres although preference was given to alternative measures of punishment - those measures included probations. There was a juvenile court in Mauritius which heard all cases involving minors. As to street children, the delegation said the Government had been carrying out rehabilitation programmes for these children so as to integrate them into society. In principle, the police could not detain these children. Concerning alternative care centres for minors, the delegation said there was a periodic review being undertaken on an informal basis in order to assess the conditions of these centres. *Preliminary Remarks* JOYCE ALUOCH, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Mauritius, thanked the delegation for the frank and open discussion which had addressed most of the concerns of the Committee and made it possible for the Committee to have a better understanding of the situation of children in Mauritius. It was apparent that the Government had the necessary political will to preserve the rights of the child in conformity with the Convention. The Committee, however, would in its concluding observations implore the Government of Mauritius to move towards full nationalization of laws pertaining to the provisions of the Convention. The Committee noted that corporal punishment was not prohibited in Mauritius, neither in the home, nor at school or in institutions. Among other things, the Committee would recommend that the State outlaw all forms of corporal punishment. * *** * This press release is not an official record and is provided for public information only.
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