Sudan

Committee on Rights of Child examines report of Sudan on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

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Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning reviewed the initial report of Sudan on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

In opening remarks to the Committee, Sami Abd Eldaim Yassin, State Minister with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Women and Child Affairs of Sudan, said a legal workshop had been held to harmonize domestic law with Sudan's obligations under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the resulting draft bill on children was now before Parliament. Among new developments, the National Council for Child Welfare, responsible for coordination and monitoring of efforts to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols had been established; a unit for the protection of the family and the child had been set up 15 months ago; two weeks ago, approval had been given to establish a special unit on children's protection within the army; an action plan on violence against children had been adopted; and there was a Working Group on the protection of children from sexual abuse in conflict areas, which was being conducted in partnership with the United Nations, the African Union, and civil society institutions.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Joyce Aluoch, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sudan, observed that things were looking bright for Sudan. It appeared that the national will was in place, both at the national level, and on the part of the Government of Southern Sudan, to put all the new laws in place for the better protection of children in Sudan. Concluding recommendations from the Committee would centre on issues of monitoring, budgetary allocation, implementation of existing programmes and laws, and ratification of related international human rights instruments by the Government. Indeed, the most important priority for Sudan now should be implementation of the laws, policies and peace agreements that it had concluded.

Other Experts raised a series of questions during the discussion, including what resources had been allocated over the past few years to implement the Protocol; why there was no specific law criminalizing the sale of children in Sudan; whether there were any exceptions to the prohibition against the death penalty for children in Sudan; why Sudan had not criminalized the use of child camel jockeys; whether there were functioning courts that had the capacity and capability to prosecute and penalize the crimes set out in the Protocol; what was being done to address raids carried on villages to abduct children for forced labour; and what was being done to address reports of child slavery in the country. An Expert was particularly concerned about the provision regarding forced child labour in the Sudanese penal code, whereby anyone who pressed a person into labour by illegally forcing them to work against their will was subject to a penalty of up to one year in prison and/or a fine. That left the door open for imposing just a small fine for what was a very serious crime.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Sudan towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 8 June.

Also representing the delegation of Sudan was Ibrahim Mirghani Ibrahim Mohamed Kheir, Permanent Representative of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as other representatives from the Permanent Mission of Sudan in Geneva; Amira Elfadil Mohamed Elfadil, Secretary-General of the National Council for Child Welfare of Sudan; and representatives of the Government of Southern Sudan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, the legal system and the Police Force of Southern Sudan.

As one of the States parties to the Convention, Sudan 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 to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee next reconvenes in public, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 May, it will take up the combined second and third periodic reports of Kazakhstan (CRC/C/KAZ/3).

Report of Sudan

The initial report of Sudan on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/SDN/1) says it is prohibited to employ children in forced labour, sexual exploitation, pornography, or illegal trafficking, or to use or employ them in armed conflict in Sudan. The offence of selling children is a new offence that is not known in Sudanese society. There have been no cases of this kind, since the Sudanese social heritage and prevailing customs and traditions forbid this practice. It is very difficult to commit this kind of offence in Sudan. Sudanese law does not mention this offence as a primary offence, but rather as an adjunct to other offences such as forgery, deception or enticement. These offences are contained in the Sudanese Criminal Code of 1991 and carry heavy penalties. With regard to pornography, this is indecent material and performances as defined in the Criminal Code, as well as in the 2004 Children's Act, which prohibit the publication, offer, distribution, reproduction or possession of any printed matter or audiovisual work of art that panders to children's basest instincts, projects an attractive image of behaviour that contravenes social values or traditions, or encourages juvenile delinquency. Article 30 of the Children's Act requires managers of cinemas and similar public facilities to use every possible advertising method to display prominently, in Arabic, announcements about performances that children are not permitted to see. Anyone who breaches articles 28 and 30 of the Act shall be liable to a term of up to one month in prison and/or a fine. The Criminal Code of 1991 makes no mention of what is known as trafficking in human organs and therefore does not criminalize or prescribe penalties for this offence.

The National Council for Child Welfare set up a committee to combat the exploitation of children in camel racing. The committee members include government institutions and some civil society organizations. As part of its plans, the committee demanded the enactment of laws and regulations and the introduction of tighter controls on children travelling abroad; organized awareness-raising workshops in several states on the employment of children in this work, which violates their rights; and involved local community leaders and families in community awareness-raising programmes about these practices.

Presentation of Report

SAMI ABD ELDAIM YASSIN, State Minister with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Women and Child Affairs of Sudan, said, with regard to legislative measures, that Sudan had ratified all regional and international instruments related to children, beginning with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols. It had also ratified all the international human rights instruments from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights up to the two protocols to the Four Geneva Conventions. Those had become part of the legislation in Sudan, and national laws had also been harmonized with the international protocols and conventions that had been ratified. In addition, a legal workshop had been held to harmonize domestic law, including the 2004 Children's Act, with Sudan's obligations under the Optional Protocols. That workshop had been made up of jurists, civil society organizations working on children's issues, and State institutions operating in the children's domain, and led to a draft bill on children in 2006 that was now before parliament for ratification.

Mr. Yassin noted that Sudan's Penal Code already provided clear legal protections for the children in line with the Protocol. In addition, the Military Code criminalized such acts, and the El Fasher, Abuja and Darfur Peace Agreements all included provisions to protect the rights of the child. Moreover, the Constitution of 2005 provided that all international human rights instruments to which Sudan was a party formed part of its law, and state constitutions had similar provisions. Thus, Sudan was taking very active steps at both the State and federal level to protect children.

It was true that data and statistics were few, Mr. Yassin said. However, with the ratification of the Protocol, Sudan now intended to set up a statistical centre on children's issues, with the help of UNICEF and others, to create an up-to-date database on children.

Mr. Yassin then drew attention to a number of new programmes and developments for the promotion and protection of children's rights in Sudan. To start, the former Social Welfare Ministry had become the Ministry on Social Welfare of Women and Children. A National Council for Child Welfare had been established, responsible for coordination and monitoring of efforts to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, as well as all on all issues to do with children's rights. A unit for the protection of the family and the child had been set up 15 months ago, in accordance with the provisions of the Optional Protocols. So far, it had offices in Khartoum and Southern Sudan, but it was planned to establish offices in all areas of the country, with the help of UNICEF. Just two weeks ago, approval had been given to establish a special unit on children's protection within the army, and the first group of trainees had already been sent to Kenya for training. A group had been established to provide assistance to children without families, to help find their families, and to place them in temporary care until they could be found. (There were some 1,600 children in foster care in Khartoum.) There was also a programme to protect children who had been displaced and to voluntarily return them, in cooperation with UNICEF, which was established in February 2007. There was a year long, country-wide media campaign to raise awareness on children's rights, in partnership with UNICEF. Finally, an action plan on violence against children had been adopted, and there was a Working Group on the protection children from sexual abuse in conflict areas, which was being conducted in partnership with the United Nations, the African Union, and civil society institutions.

In conclusion, Mr. Yassin wished to highlight that, since the mid-1980s, Sudan had been suffering from natural disasters, such as drought, coupled with civil wars and conflicts, which had had very adverse effects on children in the country. Nevertheless, Sudan had been able to establish a community base capable of protecting children in all aspects. Following the signing of the El Fasher, Arusha and Darfur peace agreements, the conditions were in place for furthering and enhancing of the rights of the child in Sudan.

Questions by Experts

JOYCE ALUOCH, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sudan, noted the very many new developments and programmes Sudan was putting in place to protect children's rights. Like many developing countries, Sudan suffered from problems caused by poverty, instability and insecurity, and a high national debt burden. It was good news that Sudan had managed to turn its economic situation around recently, but they still faced economic difficulties. In addition, there were a number of conflict areas in Sudan, which had obviously impacted negatively on Sudan's human rights obligations. In that regard, negotiations, which had led to a peace agreement in Darfur, Abuja and elsewhere were welcome news and a step forward.

Turning to the Optional Protocol, Ms. Aluoch recalled the Committee required non-governmental organizations to be included in the drafting of periodic reports, and she wondered if that had been done in this case; the report did not really follow the guidelines set out by the Committee.

Ms. Aluoch was also concerned to know what was the status of the Optional Protocol in Sudan until the bill regarding children mentioned in the presentation was in place. It was her understanding that, until those measures had been adopted, the Optional Protocol could not be implemented directly in Sudan.

Ms. Aluoch was further concerned that the report itself noted that there was a "confusion" on the age limits for criminal liability of children, and it had not been stated at what age a child could be recruited into the armed forces.

While the delegation had affirmed that it was a party to all of the regional and international human rights conventions, Ms. Aluoch would appreciate clarification as to whether Sudan had taken any action to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Convention against Torture, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. As far as she knew, Sudan was not a party to those instruments.

NEVENA VUCKOVIC-SAHOVIC, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Sudan, welcomed the many prevention measures, training and education programmes related to the Optional Protocol that had been implemented by Sudan. However, there had been very limited data on those programmes, in particular with regard to child prostitution. How was it possible for Sudan to draft legislation to prevent the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography without any statistics on those crimes? She was particularly concerned to know the extent of child prostitution, with special regard to Darfur and Southern Sudan.

Other Experts raised a series of questions, including, what resources had been allocated over the past few years to implement the Protocol; why there was no law criminalizing the sale of children in Sudan; were there any exceptions to the prohibition against the death penalty for children in Sudan; concrete cases of implementation of the Protocol; why Sudan had not criminalized the use of child camel jockeys; effective impunity for those committing crimes proscribed by the Optional Protocol in Sudan, and whether there were functioning courts that had the capacity and capability to prosecute and penalize the crimes set out in the Protocol; what was being done to address raids carried on villages to abduct children for forced labour; efforts to address reports of child slavery in the country; and what was known about the foreign children, reportedly abducted by militias and used for fighting in Sudan.

An Expert was particularly concerned about the provision regarding forced child labour in the Sudanese penal code, whereby anyone who pressed a person into labour by illegally forcing them to work against their will was subject to a penalty of up to one year in prison and/or a fine. That left the door open for imposing just a small fine for what was a very serious crime.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to questions, the delegation noted that two non-governmental organizations had been involved in the original drafting of Sudan's report. At later stages of its preparation other civil society organizations had read the report and given feedback, and that feedback had been incorporated in the final version.

The delegation reiterated that all international human rights instruments ratified by Sudan were part of their domestic law, and so the Optional Protocol was currently enforceable in Sudan. Sudan then undertook to harmonize its laws with those instruments. The Children's Law of 2004, which harmonized the law with the Convention, was an example of that.

Forced labour was criminalized under Sudanese law. The delegation underscored that it was a well-known principle enshrined in Sudanese law that, regardless of the crime committed, crimes committed against children bore heavier penalties.

Prior to the age of 18, children were not criminally responsible and could not be sentenced to the death penalty, except as provided in the Constitution in exceptional cases.

In terms of children's instruments to which Sudan was a party, the delegation said that the African Charter on Rights and Welfare of the Child had not previously been implemented because there had been a lack of clarity regarding its status. It had been ratified and henceforth would be included in its laws.

In terms of budgetary allocations for children's issues, the delegation pointed to the growth of the Sudanese economy, and noted that, as a result, it had been possible to increase funding for children's issues. In 2005, 9.6 per cent of general expenditures, or 2.5 per cent of Sudan's gross domestic product, had been budgeted for children, as compared with 2004, when only 8.2 per cent of general expenditure had been allocated for that purpose. Moreover, between 2002 and 2006, in conjunction with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), some $250 million had been allocated for children.

Regarding Southern Sudan, and problems related to the Lord's Resistance Army, the Southern Government had formed a centre for healing former child soldiers, in conjunction with UNICEF, and also helped to send them back to their homes. In terms of the buying back of child slaves by non-governmental organizations, the organization Christian Solidarity had done that. Unfortunately, however, that organization had no way of returning those children to their families or reintegrating them in the community. The Southern Government had stopped Save the Children UK from attempting to buy back children, explaining that such payments were encouraging the practice. Children should not be paid for, but should be taken back and reintegrated into their communities.

In terms of legislation, the Government of Southern Sudan was starting from scratch, and most of its laws had not yet been enacted, the delegation observed. Child welfare was a priority issue. There was a child bill that specifically targeted child marriages. There was also a programme in place to help return abducted children and women. In terms of combating children's abduction across borders, negotiations had been held with the Government of Uganda to address that situation.

Regarding early marriage throughout the country, the delegation acknowledged that some of the 570 tribes in Sudan practised early marriage.

As for female genital mutilation, that practice could only be combated through changing social views. Several workshops had been held, and there had been awareness-raising campaigns to discourage that practice. Moreover, following the order of the President of the Republic, the National Council of Physicians had issued a decree prohibiting that practice for all physicians and midwives, and providing penalties for those who performed it.

With regard to children used in camel races, Sudan had a bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates to deal with the situation of the children used as camel jockeys. The Council for Child Welfare had also undertaken a survey in conjunction with UNICEF to return child jockeys and to provide the necessary psychosocial support, and a mechanism had been established to provide financial compensation to children who had participated in camel races. A memorandum of understanding was also in place with a Qatari charity organization to provide community support, including schools and health care facilities, in the affected regions of southern Sudan, and some $4 million had been earmarked for that purpose.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

JOYCE ALUOCH, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Sudan, in preliminary concluding remarks, welcomed the fruitful dialogue with the delegation. Things were looking bright for Sudan. It appeared that the national will was in place, both at the national level, and on the part of the Government of Southern Sudan, to put all the new laws in place for the better protection of children in Sudan. Concluding recommendations from the Committee would centre on issues of monitoring, budgetary allocation, implementation of existing programmes and laws, and ratification of related international human rights instruments by the Government. Indeed, the most important priority for Sudan now should be implementation of the laws, policies and peace agreements that it had concluded.

NEVENA VUCKOVIC-SAHOVIC, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Sudan, also thanked the delegation and looked forward to working with them in future on these issues.

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