CRC 41th session: Committee considers report of Mauritius



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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