Ghada Al Jabi, Minister of Social Affairs and Work of Syria and head of the delegation, said childhood was among the national priorities of Syria, and work was being carried out at both the official level and the grassroots level with all possible capabilities to improve the status of childhood in Syria. Children should live a happy childhood in health and should be fully educated.
Committee Experts questioned the delegation, among other things, on the Syrian reservations to Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Convention; the nature, role, budget, organization and mandate of the Higher Committee for Children; elimination of discrimination and the considerable progress made to bridge the gender gap and what still remained to be done; what could be done to change the cultural attitude that tolerated corporal punishment and what sort of education was imparted on this topic at school and at the family level; what happened to children who had committed an offense and whether there were any psycho-social treatments and activities to reintegrate them back into society; and what was done to integrate children with special needs into society.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Ghalia Mohd Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur on the report of Syria, said that political will was of the essence in any programme that sought to implement the rights covered by the Convention. She welcomed the raising of the minimum age of work and the work that was done to eliminate discrimination against certain categories of the population. Recommendations would be made with regards to prohibiting the use of corporal punishment at all levels and locations.
The delegation of Syria also included Mohammad Yasminah, Vice-Minister for Education responsible for Basic Education; Ghada Morad, Procurer General of the Ministry of Justice; Mazen Khadra, Director of Sanitary and Elementary Protection at the Ministry of Health; and Souheila Abbas, Third Secretary at the Syrian Mission in Geneva.
The Committee will issue its final recommendations on the report of Syria towards the end of its session, which concludes on 6 June.
The Committee will reconvene on at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 June, to consider the initial report of Kazakhstan (CRC/C/41/Add.13).
Second Periodic Report of Syria
The second periodic report of Syria (CRC/C/93/Add.2) reviews general measures of implementation of the Convention, the definition of the child, general principles of the Convention, civil rights and freedoms, family environment and alternative care, basic health and welfare, education, leisure and cultural activities, and special protection measures taken in the country.
Particular mention is made of the fact that not all Syrian children have access to the welfare and services provided by the Syrian Government, because some live in areas which fall under Israeli occupation. This situation is a stumbling block to social and economic development. Recently, and in spite of the scarcity of the requisite resources and financing, the Syrian Government has made intensive endeavours to develop child-oriented polices and to create an environment conducive to the welfare, growth and development of the child. The Government has made several changes to its legislature with regard to children, and has created a new database with the aim of meeting the pressing need for such a system when formulating comprehensive development plans.
The human person, meaning the child, the man and the woman, remains the central focus for the Syrian Government and the nation’s most precious investment. It is on the human person that Syria depends to face the future and its challenges. The destiny of Syria, as recognized by the Government, is to build a promising future for its children, and its duty is to leave them the best possible legacy.
Presentation of Report
GHADA AL JABI, Minister of Social Affairs and Work of Syria and head of the delegation, noted that Syria was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was at the core of national legislation. Childhood was among the national priorities of Syria, and work was being carried out at both the official level and the grassroots level with all possible capabilities to improve the status of childhood in all fields in accordance with the aims of Syrian human development and in accordance with the Constitution. Children should live a happy childhood in health and should be fully educated.
The second periodic report presented some clarifications regarding the Committee's observations which were issued after the presentation of the first report. It included a review of measures and procedures taken to continue the implementation of the Convention. These measures were aimed at the development of the child through various means, including the establishment of the Higher Committee for Children; new laws and decisions with the aim of improving the condition of children, their education and protection; and a variety of programmes and policies established to improve the lives of children all across Syria.
The Government worked on protecting childhood against exploitation, violence and abuse, and took care of those with special needs. Civil society contributed in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. A national report had been drafted on the current situation of children, and included legal, financial and technical difficulties, and a national plan until 2015 had been drafted.
The occupation of the Golan was a violation of all the human rights of the inhabitants of the Golan, and had caused widespread repercussions on the lives of many, including children. There was no doubt that the Israeli occupation was also an obstacle to the efforts of Syria to implement the Convention on all Syrian territories. Syria reaffirmed its commitment to a comprehensive and just peace based on international legitimacy and Security Council resolutions 332, 348 and 425 as well as the Madrid Formula and the Arab Initiative at the Beirut summit of 2002. Achieving a just peace would guarantee the appropriate environment for the development of childhood, and for the provision of all possible resources to care for children in an ideal manner.
Questions on General Measures of Implementation; Definition of the Child
GHALIA MOHD BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur on the report of Syria, noted that the statement of the delegation was very informative and this was appreciated. She also spoke of the benefits enjoyed by the children of Syria, and noted the difficulties of the situation. Response to the report was positive, but there were still some recommendations that the Committee had suggested before, and which had either not been implemented or had only been partly implemented, particularly in the context of reservations to Articles 14, 20 and 21. Perhaps this was due to a lack of comprehension of the provisions of the Convention. The Government was congratulated for its creation of a new statistical and informative database, since this would give it greater capacity to create appropriate plans and strategies. She then noted that the Higher Commission for Children had widespread support and a wide purview in playing a coordinating role, but asked where its monitoring function lay.
Committee Experts asked questions on such topics as the implementation of the Convention; the Syrian reservations to Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Convention and whether this was due to a misunderstanding of the flexibility of these Articles as well as of their true nature; minimum age for marriage; budgetary allocations for the Higher Committee for Children; amendments to the law on the age of discernment and legal responsibility; how the National Committee on Children and the Judicial Committee worked together; whether the Higher Committee on Children had the necessary expertise as well as the ability and mandate to follow-up policies and plans; what percentage of Syrian children had heard of the Convention and why this was so startlingly low; how was information collected on certain aspects related to the protection of children; and the definition of the child with regards to education. The Experts also voiced satisfaction for the implementation of the suggestions made at the presentation of the previous report, and congratulated Syria for implementing many international Conventions, including ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour.
Response to Questions on General Measures of Implementation; Definition of the Child
In response to the questions, the members of the delegation said that they hoped that the constructive dialogue with the Committee Experts would lead to positive results. Regarding the reservations which had been referred to several times, it was clear that the Committee gave this issue particular importance. As for Article 14, the reservation was restricted only to the right of the child to choose a religion, and not to the right of freedom of expression or conscience. Syria provided an appropriate environment for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression or conscience. For articles 20 and 21 regarding adoption, the principle of "kafala" was provided for in Syrian legislation. These reservations were clearly justified.
As for the Higher Committee on Children, this Committee’s functioning was referred to in the report. It was responsible for many aspects of the life of the child in Syria, and the follow-up of the implementation of the Convention. The Higher Committee was thus the competent authority for establishing the policy on childhood and monitoring its follow-up and implementation. It also made recommendations to the Ministerial Cabinet and submitted information to all relevant parties in order to implement the reports made. Since 1990 and until 2000 a National Plan for Children had been adopted with the participation of experts and responsible individuals. The budget of the Higher Committee was part of the budget of concerned ministries, but it would in the future have an independent budget that was sufficient for its functions. The accomplishments of the Higher Committee were numerous.
The delegation then responded to other issues, saying that with regard to primary education, law number 32 made it compulsory from the first year of education until grade nine at the age of fifteen. Education during this period was free. There were many youth organizations which helped to forge the character of children and provide guidance in the field of education.
There was coordination between the committees in the provinces and the Higher Committee on Children which ensured that many conflicts and differences were resolved, both on the national and on the personal levels, since children could make complaints to the provincial committees with the aim of resolving a personal issue. A child could not be held legally accountable for a criminal act before the age of fifteen; instead, reform measures aimed at protecting the child from the circumstances which had led him or her to break the law were implemented. There was no penal sanction before the age of fifteen, after which punishment was light.
Marriage in Syria for girls was allowed at the age of seventeen, and for boys at eighteen, and it was believed that this was a very appropriate age with regard to the physiological development of the girl. There was a differentiation since the boy would be responsible for the financial situation of his family once he was married, and therefore he was obliged to wait until an age where he could provide for his family by working.
Information with regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child was disseminated by all Ministries, and the Ministry of Justice, for one, had made great efforts to provide the text of the Convention to all people in all judiciary situations. The text was available to all the people of Syria, including children, and was up on the wall in all courts where it could be clearly seen.
With regard to the question of the Palestinian refugees, there were 450,000 of these refugees in Syria, and they enjoyed all rights enjoyed by the people of Syria except for the right to vote. There was an annual programme for Syrian and Palestinian children, which was run in concert with UNICEF.
Syria did not have a problem with landmines, and had therefore not signed the Convention on Landmines, although it did attend meetings of the Ottawa Convention as an observer. This issue remained under active study. The only place within national borders where mines had been laid was in the Golan Heights. Once Israel had withdrawn from the Golan Heights, the mine issue in Syria should be resolved.
There was not enough time to give information on the violation of the rights of the child in the Golan, although it should be pointed out that the inhabitants of the Golan had had Israeli nationality imposed on them, and thus their children had been denied their Syrian nationality. There were also restrictions imposed on the Syrian Arab inhabitants, including the forbidding of the Syrian curriculum and the imposition of the Israeli one. Further, the restriction of movement did not allow the children of the Golan to enjoy their Syrian culture and education. In the domain of health, there was a great distance to cover before reaching hospitals and clinics, which caused problems. Further, the inhabitants of the Golan were deprived of the ability to reach the standard that would allow them to reach prosperity. Syria could not implement therefore the Convention in this territory.
Questions on General Principles; Civil Rights and Freedoms; Family Environment and Alternative Care
Ms. Al-Thani, the Rapporteur on the report of Syria, said that with regard to physical punishment in schools, there was nothing in the second report to indicate that Committee recommendations that this practise be eradicated had been implemented. Further, did children know that they had the right to make complaints on physical punishment to the judiciary, and had this ever taken place. Had any efforts been made to educate parents to the effect that physical punishment as the way of educating a child at school and in the home was unnecessary and unacceptable, she asked. With regard to fostering, she asked for more information on the extended family and its role and relevance.
Committee Experts also asked questions on varied topics, including a request for details on the evolution of civil rights and freedoms in society, since the report only mentioned the law protecting these, and not the action taken to guarantee these rights and freedoms; nationality issues for children; guardianship laws that were in conflict with the Convention; elimination of discrimination and the considerable progress made to bridge the gender gap and what still remained to be done; issues related to maintenance paid for the support of children; what could be done to change the cultural attitude that tolerated corporal punishment and what sort of education was imparted on this topic at school and family level; what was being done for Kurdish children who were without nationality; and what was being done for disabled children.
Response to Questions on General Principles; Civil Rights and Freedoms; Family Environment and Alternative Care
The delegation, responding to these questions, said that with regard to minorities, Syria respected its commitments to children and guaranteed to all children in Syria their rights; it implemented Articles 2 and 7 of the Convention on Rights of the Child, and upheld other commitments made in other international treaties and conventions.
Syria encouraged children to express themselves frankly and in a rational manner, whilst remaining transparent since this taught them true citizenship and how to participate in their political duties in the future. Activities also took place involving children on the Convention on the Rights of the Child with the aim of educating them on its provisions and effects. There were measures in place which ensured that any child whose rights were being violated could complain effectively to a body and seek redress.
In the context of domestic violence, this issue no longer existed in Syria. Many seminars were held daily in order to raise awareness with regards to the rights of the girl child to education, and this had resulted in many positive developments, which had been noted by the Committee members. The proportion of girls in full-time education was almost equivalent to that of boys. There was no distinction between girls’ and boys’ education, and much progress had been done in the field of improving statistics concerning women’s literacy.
There was no law in the Ministry of Education forbidding corporal punishment, although there were ministerial decrees that were firmer than law, and there were deterrent measures, said the delegation. However there was a need to distinguish between this and violence at home, against which there was a law.
Foundling and orphan children were looked after by the Government, which oversaw many types of institutions, and guaranteed them the rights to all advantages and services enjoyed by all other children in Syria. Disabled children could also be cared for by institutions, which were available in all provinces and were free of charge. Homeless children were also cared for at the institutional level, with vocational training provided so that they could become active members of society.
With regards to torture, the child today, due to the changes that had taken place in society, was protected. In the penal code, light punishment was allowed to be performed by the parent or the teacher. However, if this, which could be similar to a smack on the hand, became a beating, and a complaint was made, then an inquiry would take place and the perpetrator could and would be punished. What could be called “full” torture of a child was exceedingly rare.
Questions on Basic Health and Welfare; Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities; Special Protection Measures
Ms. Al-Thani said she was positively surprised when she saw the figures on child mortality and mother mortality, since these were probably the most positive in the region. However, there was a problem with the percentages over the past three years, since there was an increase in 2001 and then a decrease in 2002, and she wondered why this was the case. With regard to vaccination, she was surprised to see the disparity between the various regions and asked what caused this. HIV/AIDS was not a problem and not a cause for concern, but she hoped there was constant education on this issue to maintain this situation. She was also concerned that people working in the area of health were not aware of the rights of the child, and that the boom of the private health sector was causing a great disparity between the health services of the State and the services provided privately. Was there a health insurance system operated by the State, she asked. Finally, she felt that the category of children with special needs were marginalised, and not allowed to play a significant role in society, and asked whether anything was done to remedy this.
Committee Experts also asked questions on such topics as the institutionalization of children who were under threat; whether there were specialized officials for dealing with issues of juvenile justice; who oversaw the institutions for juvenile offenders; what happened to children who had committed an offense and whether there were any psycho-social treatments and activities to reintegrate them back into society; a request for more data on delinquency by age, sex, type of offence; conditions in pre-trial detention places; whether children always had access to free legal aid; whether there was any attempt to provide children with safe recreational activities in cities; whether there was a mechanism to ensure that all children attended school; whether there were any administrative or legal measures taken to limit smoking, particularly in the context of protecting the environment of children; and budgetary issues.
Response to Questions on Basic Health and Welfare; Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities; Special Protection Measures
Responding, the delegation said the time today had been most constructive and useful, and this gave rise to optimism and an urge to continue the productive work which had already begun.
With regard to the indicators of health and infant mortality, there was an error in the report, and the figures were in fact for the year 2002. As for the other figures, they were related to the urban and rural areas, and not to the year. The current rate of these figures was good, and was one of the prime indicators of the development in Syria in this field.
HIV/AIDS was not a major problem in Syria, and there was focus on continuous education and awareness raising through the direct channels of the media, the ministries, and civil society. There were continuous seminars held with youth and other age groups, and a programme had been created for vulnerable groups aimed at having one to one discussions in order to continue awareness raising in this field.
There were problems with the University Hospitals with regard to the dissemination of the Convention, but work was being done through an initiative called “Children-Friendly Hospitals” which aimed to provide them with appropriate support and services in this context. There was no doubt that the disparity between public and private health care was a serious matter for the competent authorities. During many years the State had shouldered a heavy burden of providing healthcare free of charge, and this had been changed but not in order to put too much weight on the citizen. There was a programme that attempted to alleviate the disparity and to ensure that all had access to the best possible healthcare.
There were also programmes for the protection of people from passive and second-hand smoking. Some villages were now smoke-free and had received prizes from the World Health Organization for this. This was also done in cooperation with youth programmes.
With regard to disabled children, there was a project for them in schools, and as far as the health sector was concerned, there was training to deal with the problems of these children, and assistance was also provided to them in their daily life. The schools of the Ministry of Education also enrolled handicapped children from the rural areas, and a First National Forum on Handicapped Children had formulated projects, the implementation of which was being monitored. Teachers were also trained with regard to these children. The number of handicapped children was increasing, and this was in fact due to the awareness raising which had been initiated in this field. Families with children with special needs were now reporting their existence, and were no longer hiding them as a stigma.
There had been many seminars and discussions held on the Convention on the Rights of Women to make this issue clear in the minds of men and women in Syria.
Preliminary Concluding Remarks
Ms. Al-Thani, in preliminary concluding remarks, thanked the delegation since today had been an extremely useful day which had provided the Committee with a lot of information which had been lacking. The political will was of the essence in any programme that sought to implement the rights covered by the Convention. Many recommendations would be made on the report, and these included the question of the reservations to various articles. There was pleasure that the minimum age of work had been raised, and that work was done to eliminate discrimination against certain categories of the population. Recommendations would also be made with regards to prohibiting the use of corporal punishment at all levels and locations. Recommendations on the phenomenon of dropouts from schools would also be made. It was hoped that in Syria's third periodic report, the Committee would read of more developments and more implementation of all provisions of the Convention as well as implementation of the recommendations that would be submitted by the Committee.
Ms. Al Jabi, the head of the Syrian delegation, said the children of today were the makers of tomorrow, and it was a responsibility and a duty to provide them with an environment conducive to the formation of the generations of the future, since these future generations would have many responsibilities. All the valuable comments and opinions had been listened to; the delegation was happy and satisfied at having participated in this constructive dialogue, and she wished the Committee Experts much success in their endeavours. Syria was confident that more and more progress would be made in the interest of children, and wished to underline that fact, since this commitment reached the highest echelons of the Government. There was hope for justice and lasting peace to be attained for all, including especially the children in the occupied territories of the Golan and the children in Palestine, and the children of nations struggling to attain nationhood and freedom, to live in a bright future.