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ETHIOPIA: Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Ethiopia

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the third periodic report of Ethiopia on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In opening remarks to the Committee, Ubah Ahmed, State Minister of the Ethiopian Ministry of Women's Affairs, said the Government of Ethiopia had taken a number of initiatives to improve the situation of children in the country. In order to enhance the implementation of policies, the Government had implemented significant budgetary resources to this field, including health care services. Despite developments, Ethiopia still had a long way to go to promote the situation of the children of the country. Various factors posed challenges, and extra efforts were required to keep the pace of progress. Ethiopia was committed to implementing fully the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and strongly believed that multilateral and bilateral support to improve the lives of children would be provided, and that the recommendations of the Committee would help in the Government's efforts to implement its plans.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Committee Expert Joyce Aluoch, who served as Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said it had been a very informative and fruitful dialogue. The Committee had had many issues, most of which had been addressed, and had learnt new things that were not in the report, such as traditional adoptions that could be formalised in court. Registration was still an issue, and this would be raised in the concluding observations. On the whole, the Committee had a much better understanding of the situation of children in Ethiopia. The Minister had a powerful position, and it was hoped she would take the opportunity to work for the children of Ethiopia.

During the debate, Committee Experts raised questions related to, among other things, that there appeared to be much discrimination in the country, especially regarding HIV/AIDS infected children, orphans, children with disabilities and the girl-child, and whether the Government was aware of this and what measures it was taking to avoid this; the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, and to what level these offices were independent and to whom they reported, as well as other related issues including regional representation; how the fight against traditional practices in the family and in schools was implemented within a context of self-expression for and by children; a need for clarification on the amount of donor resources that was available to the Government and whether a drop in this would cause a decrease in allocations for education; and what was the practice, norms and law with regard to the girl child, in particular with regards to inheritance.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Ethiopia towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 29 September.

The delegation of Ethiopia consisted of representatives of the Federal Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, the Social Affair's Committee of the Ethiopian Parliament, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Justice.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Ethiopia is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When Chamber A of the Committee meets at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 September, it will take up the second periodic report of Oman. When Chamber B of the Committee meets, it will consider the initial report of Kiribati.

Report of Ethiopia

The third periodic report of Ethiopia (CRC/C/129/Add.8) says the Federal Constitution provides the umbrella articles for the protection of the rights of the child. As a party to the Convention, the Ethiopian Government has been revising legislation that does not tally with the provisions of the Convention. One crucial exercise on this front has been the revision of the Penal Code. An important inclusion in the revised Penal Code is the criminalization of female circumcision and genital stitching. Two other important steps were also taken in the upholding of human rights. Proclamation No. 210/2000 was enacted in July 2000 establishing the institution of the Ombudsman. The Human Rights Commission was also set up by Proclamation No. 210/2000. Although the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commissioner were appointed in June 2004, the institution has yet to become operational.

Despite these important measures harmonizing national legislation with the provisions of the Convention, there still exist significant gaps in protecting the rights of the child. The most fundamental of these gaps appears to be lack of an effective juvenile justice system in the country. Although it is awaiting endorsement, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict have been submitted to the Council of Ministers, which is expected to pass them on to Parliament for ratification. Although both governmental and non-governmental actors have been involved in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention, coordination of activities has been entrusted to the Child Rights Committees formed at various levels of the Government. The strengthening of existing Child Rights Committees and the establishment of new ones, as well as clubs, has been going on in the regions. Between 2002 and 2003/04, 396 Child Rights Committees have been formed in the regions.

Besides the harmonization of actual laws and the creation of the institutional set-up for the implementation of the Convention, awareness-raising efforts have been under way both nationally, regionally and at the grass-roots level. More importantly, training sessions on the rights of the child have been conducted for members of the law enforcement community. By way of reaching diverse ethnic groups, a booklet containing the major provisions of the Convention has been translated into four of the major languages of the country. Despite these efforts there are multifaceted factors undermining a more effective implementation of the treaty. As these are constituted by the wider socio-economic-institutional environment, they can hardly be overcome within the context of popular participation and concern in the implementation of the Convention. For example, the gap in the legislative system has still to be filled. Second, the institutional set-up has visible deficiencies. Third, although Child Rights Committees are formed at various levels of Government, they are neither institutionalized nor systematized.

Presentation of Report

UBAH AHMED, State Minister of the Ethiopian Ministry for Women's Affairs, said the Government of Ethiopia had taken a number of initiatives to improve the situation of children in the country. The Constitution contained key articles on the rights of the child, many of which replicated the basic articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Various laws had been amended to bring the Penal Code into line with the Convention. The amended Penal Law had removed the provisions allowing courts to order corporal punishment on minors, and provisions on sexual violence and sexual exploitation, abduction, and early marriage. There was also a provision aimed at eliminating harmful traditional practices impacting the health and welfare of children. The current criminal procedure law was also undergoing reform, and many of the procedures had positive implications for any legal action against children.

In order to enhance the implementation of policies, the Government had implemented significant budgetary resources to this field, including health care services. Notable achievements had been registered in the enrolment in the health care sector, and in primary education, and the gender dimension in this area was significant, as female enrolment had increased. Several basic education centres had been established in various regions. The Government had prepared a national Plan of Action which focused on various areas in order to improve the well-being of the children of the country and translate the provisions of the Convention into practice. Implementation of this Plan had been going well. Various programmes and projects had been established to care for HIV-orphans.

Despite developments, Ethiopia still had a long way to go to promote the situation of the children of the country. Various factors posed challenges, such as HIV/AIDS. Extra efforts were required to keep the pace of progress, and this was why the Government had chosen to focus more on problems than on activities in the third periodic report. Efforts had been made to include the participation of all stakeholders during the preparation of the report, including civil society. Efforts had also been made in different sectors to implement children's rights, and these had been included in the report, without repeating what had already been stated in the previous report. Ethiopia was committed to implementing fully the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and strongly believed that multilateral and bilateral support to improve the lives of children should be provided, and that the recommendations of the Committee would help in the Government's efforts to implement its plans.

Questions Raised by Committee Experts

JOYCE ALUOCH, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said Ethiopia was a Federal State, and was the most populous nation in Sub-Sahara Africa after Nigeria. It was a developing country which had suffered wars, droughts, and devastating floods. Besides this, the report said that the population was predominantly illiterate, and the rate was higher in the countryside. The matter of access to basic social services such as health care and education was an issue. The majority of the population did not have access to potable sources of drinking water. It was the third periodic report, which was due in 2003, but submitted in April 2005. Given the circumstances of the country, the delay was within reasonable limits. Despite the social, political and economic challenges, the Government had taken a number of initiatives to fulfil its obligations as a State party to the Convention.

In information given to the Committee, the Government had said there were no financial constraints on implementation, but the high turnover of manpower was a problem. Although the Government allocation of funds to the social sector was increasing, the report did not contain information specifically on the funding for the implementation of the Convention. The National Plan of Action was not translated or distributed to stakeholders, and this was also a problem. The new Penal Law that criminalized harmful traditional practices was a positive step, as was the adoption of the National Plan for Gender Equality, which was mentioned in the report. A law dealing with the issues of vital registration had been drafted and submitted to Parliament, and a plan on birth registration was in place, and further information should be given on these, and whether there were institutions for registration available in the country, as failure to register births was criminalized in the new Penal Law. It was currently impossible to tell how many children were in the country.

The creation of Child's Rights Committees was mentioned in the report, but there was concern, Ms. Aluoch said, with regards to their coordination, and how victims, especially women and children, could report abuses to these Committees. The five-year Health Sector Development Plan was welcomed, and its effectiveness should be detailed, as well as how it operated. Regarding the revised mandate of the National Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, there was also a need for further information. The recent introduction of free of charge Anti-Retrovirals was also welcomed. The report lacked information on concrete measures taken with regard to the Committee's previous concluding observations, and there was nothing in the report to this effect. There was also concern that Ethiopia had not ratified the two Optional Protocols to the Convention. Other issues raised by the Expert included the legal definition of a child; the age of criminal liability; the need for awareness campaigns to publicise the legal age for marriage; and concern for legal provisions on corporal punishment.

Other Experts raised a series of questions pertaining to, among other things, that there appeared to be much discrimination in the country, especially regarding HIV infected children, orphans, disabled children and the girl-child, and whether the Government was aware of this and what measures it was taking to avoid this; the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, and to what level these offices were independent and to whom they reported, as well as other related issues including regional representation; reports of oppression of NGOs by Governmental forces; that the age of penal responsibility was set at 9, but it was not possible to express one's opinion before the age of 14 and the need for an explanation of this; how the fight against traditional practices in the family and in schools was implemented within a context of self-expression for and by children; reports of very young children in employment within the informal sector; the funding for policies in favour of children; and a request for further information on budgetary ear-marking for the implementation of the Convention.

Response by Delegation of Ethiopia

Responding to these questions and others, Ms. Ahmed said on the issue of the establishment of the new Women's Affairs Ministry, as it was new, it was not easy for it to establish all the funding to cover children's affairs. However, it took the responsibilities previously covered by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and had also taken their staff, and therefore had had no difficulty in implementing the provisions of the Convention. The children's issue was maybe not addressed in other ministries, but the Ministry was trying to cover them itself, in concert with other stakeholders. In relation to harmful practices, it was difficult to address all issues at one time, and different traditional barriers were hampering the elimination of these practices. The first harmed by these practices were women and girls. With relation to early marriage and inequality, and in order to tackle these problems, it was basically important to ensure the participation of communal groups, including Elders, who were often heard to greater effect than were officials. On action on gender equality, there were seven priority areas, including reproductive rights, and the National Action Plan for Gender Equality was incorporated in the National Action Plan for the country as a whole and in the development strategy plan for the country. Through this, even though the issues and problems were very wide, they were not avoided nor minimised. Every Governmental organization was responsible for mainstreaming gender issues in their policy and strategy plans. The National Plan on Gender Equality should be disseminated and known by everybody.

Another member of the delegation said on the implementation of the concluding observations of the previous report, whatever steps that had been taken in the last five years were hopefully effective in this regard. The present situation in Ethiopia made it difficult to put the system in place, but work had been done. A national study had been undertaken to determine the situation, and a Draft Bill had been submitted to Parliament. An Action Plan had been developed to implement this Bill, and different formats for communication had been developed. The implementation of the National Plan of Action was being monitored by a range of Committees, as was the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. The Health Care Plan gave due importance to the health of children and women. Harmful traditional practices were related to the activities of the people and to different ethnic groups, and to mitigate the problem there were different awareness programmes.

There were Children's Parliaments, the delegation said, and children could express themselves through these. These were organised at a district level, and had not yet reached the national level. All children knew where to go to express their views and how to complain, even though some of them were not necessarily aware of their rights, due to their various ages. Those who were older were hopefully aware of their options. There were hotlines so that children could directly call institutions which could then take charge of the situation. The coverage of health, Ms. Ahmed said, was increased, and every district had two workers who dealt directly with children and mothers' health. Every person could report abuse of a child, and everybody had the responsibility to inform of an illegal act which directly impinged upon children's rights.

On the domestication of international instruments, the delegation said this was not included in the report, as the Constitution said that any international treaty to which Ethiopia was a party became part and parcel of the law of the land when it was ratified. The Convention had been ratified, and was therefore part of the law, and could be applied as much as any other legal instrument in the country. More and more judges were filling gaps in the law by invoking articles in international conventions, and this was also true for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was a programme for harmonising legislation with international commitments. Under-age marriages were cancelled. There was a new training institute for judges and prosecutors which was conducting quite extensive programmes on a number of issues that affected children. The judicial process affected children's lives in a number of ways, and judges and prosecutors were sensitised to this. There was a cluster of three different age groups for criminal responsibility - from 9 to 15, from 15 to 18, and from 18 upward. There was the possibility of treating any child under 18 differently, and there was a process for young offenders.

There were no juvenile criminal courts, the delegation said, but the process was completely different for juvenile offenders - the trial was informal, prosecution was different, as were elements for mitigation. When it came to punishment, however, there were some similarities for children between 15 and 18 and the punishment for adults. However, there was no penal code for those children. Many laws had an inbuilt system providing for children to express themselves, including in adoption and divorce proceedings. The Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman were only two years old. The former included a Commissioner for Women and Children. Commissioners had the duty of ensuring that all Governmental officials and institutions respected human rights standards. Efforts were made to make the presence of the Commission felt through events and seminars publicising the Commission's activities.

Questions by Committee Experts

During the second round of questions, the Rapporteur Ms. Aluoch said she remained concerned that important decisions in a child's life such as marriage or inheritance were often made by older members of the family and children did not have a say. She also wondered why children under ten did not have a right to express their opinion in cases of divorce. With regards to maintenance, it appeared that there was some difficulty with regards to recovery of this, and children suffered as a result. The Hague Conventions had not been ratified in certain respects, in particular adoption, and she asked whether these were being studied. There was a need for increased record-keeping on adoption, both internal and external. On children affected by HIV/AIDS, the entire State party report, the additional replies and the other information said nothing about child-headed households, and Ms. Aluoch asked if there were such households, and what was being done to support these children.

Other Experts raised questions on, among other things, labour and sexual exploitation and the lack of the ratification of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; substance abuse and trafficking and the apparent lack of legislation prohibiting this; what the Government was doing to provide shelters for the victims of sexual exploitation; what was the situation of health reforms and efforts made to reduce the high child and mother mortality rates; other health issues including the length of training for nurses, teenage pregnancies and breast-feeding; a need for clarification on the amount of donor resources that was available to the Government and whether a drop in this would cause a decrease in allocations for education; why education was not compulsory; what was being done to cut the large number of crimes and wide-scale violence; whether Ethiopia had taken measures to systematically create judiciary bodies that were uniquely devoted to juveniles; issues linked to child labour and the early age for this; and what was the practice, norms and law with regard to the girl child, in particular with regards to inheritance.

Response by the Delegation

Ms. Ahmed, responding to these questions and others, said concerning family planning and related issues, there was a problem in Ethiopia with regards to reproductive health, and this directly affected children. The Government had taken a crucial initiative in this regard, advocating and working to create awareness among the rural population, and contraceptives were advertised. However, the problem was access to and supply for family planning. The Government was trying to communicate with the different stakeholders to minimise gaps. Reproductive health had to be backed by education for women with regards to their rights. Work was being done to provide a primary health service for needy women in rural areas.

The delegation said that many local adoptions took place according to local traditions, not through the courts, and this was why it was difficult to determine the number of adoptions. Efforts were being made, through sensitisation, to reverse this situation. However, international adoptions went through a legal process, and therefore the number was clear. If an adoption was revoked, the process was clearly determined through the law, as were the conditions for revoking. Actually, legal provisions permitted adoption for every child. Practically, it was basically for orphans and for maybe children whose parents were terminally ill - thus it was not really for all. There was no contact between adoption agencies and the parents, as the former adopted from the orphanages. There was no limit on the number of agencies, as they also invested in the country, with social benefit programmes which benefited those who were not eligible for adoption. With regards to the Hague Convention, it had been reviewed, but the Government had not yet taken it to the concerned body, as all the possibilities and capacities for implementation should be assessed first.

On the issue of child-headed households, the programmes and projects designed for orphaned children covered these households also, even though there was no specific programme designed for them. As for child labour, the delegation said poverty was high, and the fertility rate was high, and in this situation, child labour was to be expected. To fight this problem, legal frameworks had been put in place, and ILO Conventions 182 and 178 had been ratified. A national survey had been held to determine the magnitude and concentration of child labour, according to which more than 85% of those involved in child labour were performing house-keeping activities or working in the family business. Work was being done to involve stakeholders in order to fight child labour.

With regards to child sexual exploitation, continuous awareness-creation activities were held, and there was a National Plan of Action in which prevention and the rehabilitation of victims was emphasised. By implementing the Plan of Action, the sexual exploitation of children should be minimised. One of the forms of trafficking was transnational, and required international cooperation. Different measures had been taken in this regard, and offices had been opened in receiving countries. Some pilot studies had been held internally, and a network was being built to manage internal trafficking. On the education sector, enough of the budget was assigned from the Government according to its capacity, and there was an increase of the financial allocation every year. It varied per region according to priorities. There was a need to build the capacity of district administrators, Ms. Ahmed said, in order to increase their ability to cover certain topics. On the drop-out rate, statistical data showed that this was decreasing from year to year, the delegation said. There was an idea within policy that special education and training was provided for those with special needs, and this was done within the capacity of the Government, which limited the figures of participation. There was around 10 per cent of children with disabilities, and around 1 to 2 per cent was in the education system, integrated within the regular system.

Affirmative action gave impetus to increasing the number of girl-children attending school, Ms. Ahmed said, but traditional practices impeded this. Work was being done to encourage parents to send all their children to school, and to create a good environment for girls in primary and higher education, encouraging them to stay on for university, among other things.

Responding to these questions and others on juvenile justice, the delegation said concerning divorce, succession and the right of the child to be heard, Ethiopian law on these points was fairly clear that generally speaking children had the right to be heard with regards to adoption, maintenance, and custody, among other things. There were situations where the consideration had been left to the judge, assuming that the judge would weight the issue and consider the better interests of the child. On the practical realities of the right to be heard, most of the time, the judge was there to listen to what the child had to say. There were also new initiatives which would facilitate conditions for children to express themselves.

On the trafficking of children, the United Nations Convention on Trafficking of Women and Children had not been ratified, but some of its principal points had been incorporated during the reform of the Penal Code. There were bilateral agreements with Sudan and an extradition agreement under which the offence of trafficking children was included, the delegation said. There had been an increase of the penalty for those trafficking in drugs. The purchase of cigarettes by minors was not forbidden, nor was the purchase of alcohol, although minors were not allowed to consume alcohol. The law clearly forbade corporal punishment and all forms of cruel and inhuman treatment.

Regarding the treatment of children between 15 and 18 in the criminal process, the law said there should be special treatment for this category, and this included free mitigation by judges of penalties imposed on children - judges could also impose alternative measures. On inheritance, cases could be taken to the courts to claim an inheritance, and there were some examples of this. Previously, prisons did not have a special unit for detaining children after conviction, but there were now three or four regions which had managed to have a special unit for the treatment of convicted children. There were also some regions which had managed to have areas for rehabilitation for children. The law was very clear that when a child was adopted, they had to live with the adopting family, which was legally obliged to bring the child up; the law also provided that the child should have full access to information on the birth family.

There were some issues related to detention of street children and in connection with some arrests that had taken place in recent times, the delegation said. The law was clear that if the police were to detain a person, they had to be taken before the courts in 48 hours. There was also a policy of habeas corpus on which the law was very clear. With regards to the detention of children in various incidents of recent civil unrest, there had been supervision by the courts and the prosecution, with the result that some of these schoolboys had had their prosecution dropped and the suspects had been released. There were a lot of street-children in Addis Ababa, and they were not detained merely because they were street-children.

Preliminary Observations

JOYCE ALUOCH, Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, in preliminary concluding remarks, said it had been a very informative and fruitful dialogue. The Committee had had many issues, most of which had been addressed. The Committee had learnt new things that were not in the report, such as traditional adoptions that could be formalised in court. Registration was still an issue, and this would be raised in the concluding observations. On the whole, the Committee had a much better understanding of the situation of children in Ethiopia. The Minister had a powerful position, and it was hoped she would take the opportunity to work for the children of Ethiopia. When making bilateral agreements, Kenya should be involved.

UBAH AHMED, State Minister, Ministry of Women's Affairs, concluding, said the delegation accepted the constructive dialogue that had taken place, and was confident that the issues that were raised had been raised to show the gaps in Ethiopia in protecting its children. The implementation of the legislation and the implementation of the Convention would continue, and the constructive dialogue would be of much help to this effect.

For use of the information media; not an official record


SOURCE: Relief Web.com

Date: 9/13/2006

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