Committee on Rights of Child starts consideration of report of DR Congo

Report
from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Published on 28 May 2001
Delegation Asked to Clarify the Fate of Children Sentenced to Capital Punishment, Child-Soldiers
The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning started its examination of an initial report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by asking the delegation, among other things, about the situation of children sentenced to capital punishment and the fate of demobilized child-soldiers.

Over the course of their consideration of the report, Committee members noted that some demobilized child-soldiers had found themselves in the street and others were not reintegrated in the community. Some Experts also said that children were still serving in the armed forces of the Government and some were allegedly falsifiying their age to be recruited in the army. The cases of four children under 16 awaiting execution after being sentenced to death was also raised.

Introducing her country's initial report, Ebamba Boboto, Minister of Social Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the efforts of the Government to implement the rights of children would have been more significant had the war of aggression not created impediments. She said that it was now 33 months since the armed forces of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, in violation of the UN Charter, had occupied Congolese territories. The war had accentuated the poverty situation in the country; 80 per cent of the population, including children, was living in total poverty; and it had caused the death of more than 2.5 million persons who were killed by bullets, were buried alive, died from AIDS, or starved to death, leaving young orphans.

Also included in the Congolese delegation are Marie-Therese Modua, Legal Assistant; Lucie Putshu Kalima, Assistant on Women and Family issues; Annie Kenda Bakajika, Permanent Secretary of the National Council for Children; Nyembo Mbonyo, Member of the National

Preparatory Commission for the Second Summit on Children; Benoit-Christian Kambinga Sele, Charge d'Affaires and Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United Nations Office at Geneva; and Sebastien Mutomb Mujing, Second Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at Geneva.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is among the 191 States parties to the Convention and as such it must provide periodical summaries of its efforts to give effect to the provisions of the treaty.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will conclude its debate with the delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The initial report (document CRC/C/3/Add.57) enumerates the general legal framework for the protection of the rights of the child, and the activities, measures and obstacles relating to the implementation of the Convention. The report notes that since the 1970s, the social fabric of the country has deteriorated due to unfortunate events and outbreaks of wars. The social sectors worst affected by these crises include health, education and the protection of the child. However, the war of liberation of 1996/97 and the accession to power of the new regime opened prospects for a national reconstruction aimed at the rehabilitation of basic social services.

The economic crisis and the armed conflicts from which the country is suffering are still taking a heavy toll on child victims, the report says; and categories of children requiring special protection measures are appearing: unaccompanied children in population displacements caused by the war; street children; children being economically or sexually exploited; children who are caught in mining operations; and child soldiers. There are currently between 15,000 and 20,000 street children in Kinshasa. The scale of this phenomenon can be attributed to poverty, the break-up of families and displacements due to the war, the abandonment of children believed to have magical powers and the death of parents caused by AIDS.

The report notes that only half of the 12 million children of school age between ages 6 and 15 were attending school in 1999. With 42 per cent of them being girls, three-quarters of them leave school before completing primary schooling, in particular, on account of the poverty of their parents, early marriage or unplanned pregnancies. During the period from 1990 to 1995, only 64 per cent of children who enrolled in the first year of primary education reached the fifth year. The principal causes of the qualitative and quantitative deterioration of basic education are the breakdown of structural cooperation and the small size of the education budget, falling to 1 per cent in 1999.

Further, the report says that the hiring or continued employment of a person under age 14 is prohibited; and it is forbidden to employ children under the age of 18 on night work in public or private establishments.

Introduction of Report

EBAMBA BOBOTO, Minister of Social Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said her country had ratified the Convention shortly after the World Summit on Children in 1990 at a time when the country was in political transition which took seven years. That long period of turbulence had been essentially characterized by the break-down of the State apparatus, the destruction of the social infrastructures and economic failure, and the army mutiny. On the development level, the social enjoyment of the family had been affected.

Since the new Government was formed following the revolution of 17 May 1997, a new social policy designed to improve the situation of children had been put in place, Mrs. Boboto said. On the institutional level, the question of children had been put under the Ministry of Social Affairs, through the General Secretariat of the Family. At that level, a National Committee for Children had been created, followed by the Provincial Councils for Children. That institution had the role of elaborating the national policy for the promotion and protection of the rights of children and monitoring its implementation. It was composed of representatives from the Government, Churches and non-governmental organizations engaged in the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

Mrs. Boboto further said that in 1997, the Government had created a programme based on national reconstruction in which the social infrastructure of the health and education sectors would be rehabilitated and improved. With the support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Government had put in place a development programme for 2000-2002 which would allow children to participate in various action plans concerning them.

With regard to the situation of child-soldiers or children in conflict areas, the Government was taking measures to demobilize them and was attempting to reinsert them into the society, Mrs. Boboto continued to say. In addition, in 1999, the Government had organized in Kinshasa a Pan-African Conference on demobilization of child-soldiers in which many countries took part. The number of child-soldiers, which was estimated to be around 20,000, had been reduced because many of them had reached the age limit of 18 years and because of the prohibition of enroling children into the armed forces. An inter-ministerial committee had also been established to coordinate the process of demobilization and to integrate the children into the society.

The war had also prompted the massive displacement of the population among which one million were children, the delegation said. In order to assist the displaced population, the Government had created the General Commission for the Reinsertion, which was a technical organ charged with resettling the displaced persons and integrating them into the society. In addition, hosting and lodging centres had been organized to that end.

The efforts of the Government to implement the rights of the children would have been more significative had the war of aggression not created impediments, the delegation said. It was now 33 months since the armed forces of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, in violation of the UN Charter, had occupied Congolese territories. The war had accentuated the poverty situation of the country; and 80 per cent of the population, including children, was living in total poverty; and it had caused the death of more than 2.5 million persons who were killed by bullets, were buried alive, and died from AIDS or starvation, leaving young orphans.

Discussion

Following the introduction of the report, the Committee Experts raised a number of questions. An Expert said that everything had to be done anew because of the various difficulties encountered by the country, including wars. It was hoped that the peace agreement signed by the warring factions and the Government would be implemented to bring durable peace in the region. The criminal responsibility was fixed to 16 years by the Congolese legislation, however, there were children of lower ages in prisons, some of them sentenced even to capital punishment. There was also a difficulty for the free movement of United Nations personnel in the country; and the delegation was asked about the efforts taken by the Government in providing assistance to children in the occupied territories, including vaccination.

The Expert further said that the report did not contain aggregated data on the situation of children. There was no information on how the various institutions working in favour of the rights of the child were coordinating their work or how they cooperated.

If the Government would have given more attention to education, all other problems would have been solved by themselves, another Expert stated. The budgetary amount allocated for education was only 1 per cent, which was very little. The situation of child-soldiers and the progress made in demobilizing them was also of concern.

Congolese legislation prohibited the drafting of children into the armed forces before the age of 18 years, an Expert said. In some cases, the age of a child was falsified and children as young as 13 were recruited as soldiers. Another Expert added that some of the ex-child-soldiers had become street children; there was also a certain degree of discrimination against minorities and against child girls.

The parties to the war were from countries which had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an Expert said; what was the prospect of peace in the region? Since the Government had small resources available for social affairs, particularly education and health, did it receive financial assistance from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) or the European Union?

A Committee member asked about the role of the non-governmental organizations in promoting the rights of children in collaboration with the Government; how could children lodge complaints? Was there any mechanism such as the office of the ombudsman? Was there a legal provision which gave the child the right to be heard in the family or in school?

In response to the Committee's questions, the members of the delegation said that although there were 450 tribal groups in the country, there was no problem of minorities or anything related to questions of discrimination of minorities. The Government had launched a 'world movement' in collaboration with the United Nations system to promote and protect child rights.

With regard to the situation of children in the occupied territories, the Government was able to send text books and other materials through representatives of UNICEF, the delegation said. In addition, with the help of international organizations, the Government was able to send medication and launch vaccinations in the occupied territories. So far, it was through such organizations that the Government continued to implement the exigencies of the Convention.

The Government was aware of the need of children for health services and education, however, there could be no achievements without a real peace in the country, the delegation said. The Government had appealed to the international community to come to its assistance in resolving the problem. Since every thing was devastated by war, the Government had to start from scratch.

Concerning child-soldiers, since the Government had prohibited the recruitment of children as soldiers, their number had drastically reduced. There were cases in which children were abducted to serve as soldiers or militia by the armed groups.

There was no preferential treatment of any ethnic groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the delegation said. The 450 ethnic groups were all nationals of the country and were equally treated.

The Government did not know why the armed groups were waging war against the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the delegation said. The absence or the prohibition of political parties was not an excuse to wage war. It was true, the provision to create a political party had been revised by the late Congolese President Kabila. For the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the war waged by some of the neighbouring States was rather to pillage Congo's resources.

The age of majority for girls was fixed at 14, the delegation said; a draft law was being submitted to the judicial authorities to increase the age of majority for girls to 18 years; and it was also hoped that the discrimination against girls would be reduced through others measures that the Government was intending to take.

The law on abortion had to be revised to protect the rights of unborn children, the delegation said. The legislation had a lacunae in the areas of abortion, which only prohibited and made it punishable under the criminal code. The definition of abortion had omissions and shortcomings with regard to the protection of the human life in process of gestation.

Answering the question on capital punishment against children, the delegation said that five children who had been sentenced to death had been pardoned by the President of the Republic on 17 May.

An Expert stressed that the Committee had received information indicating that child-soldiers were still part of the Government's armed forces. With regard to the cases of the four children who were sentenced to execution, information confirmed that they were still on death row and had not been pardoned. The information provided by the delegation concerning 5 children might be a different case.

The transitional Constitution of the Congo did not recognize the age of recruitment into the army to be 18, the Expert said. However, the delegation had confirmed it to be 18, but did not indicate the legal sources. With regard to working children, those working in the diamond mines were facing dangers because of their young age. On other topic, there were no statistics in the report on the sexual exploitation of children, particularly girls, who were exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. Were there any programmes to help victims of sexual assault and exploitation? The age of minimum age for marriage and sexual intercourse should be raised. In addition, there was no legal provision prohibiting child pornography.

Another Expert said that in Kinshasa, there was a camp in which Tutsi tribes were 'protected', and asked if they were discriminated against or whether they were being protected from hate propaganda because of the war with the neighbouring States.

The decree against street children had treated them as offenders of the law, said an Expert. The rate of street children was also higher in the capital city, Kinshasa, rather than in the provinces. The Expert asked about the impact of the decree on the delinquency of the youth and if there were special programmes to integrate those street children into the community.

Another Expert asked if the Government was prosecuting those involved in recruiting children, and if those demobilized child-soldiers were held responsible for the acts they committed as such.