The Committee on the Rights of the Child today(19 May) concluded its consideration of the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Lebanon on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Pierre Bou Assi, Minister for Social Affairs of Lebanon, introducing the report, reaffirmed Lebanon’s commitment to creating a safe environment in which children could develop their potential in line with the fundamental principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Education was mandatory and free of charge until grade nine and this right was extended to refugee children as well; education demand created by refugee children was overwhelming, and today refugees made up half of the school children in the country. Primary health care was free of charge for children and a universal health care system was being developed to ensure access to care for disadvantaged families and individuals. The National Committee for the Elimination of Child Labour had drafted a programme for the elimination of worst forms of child labour, and social centres run by civil society organizations worked to bring an end to worst forms of child labour. Lebanon fully shouldered its responsibilities with regard to Syrian refugees, and in spite of the high costs for its economy and infrastructure, it would never renegade on its humanitarian obligations. The Minister urged the international community to strengthen Lebanon’s capacity to support thousands of children who must be the priority.
In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts recognized the challenges arising from the Syrian crisis and recognized the tremendous efforts of the Government and people of Lebanon to provide care and support for the refugees from Syria and the region. What progress had been made towards the adoption of a unified and comprehensive child protection law and ensuring that the definition of the child, including in personal status laws, conformed to the Convention? Experts were very concerned that corporal punishment was not criminalized and was still practiced and accepted in schools and at home, about the high incidence of sexual violence and abuse of children, and about the law which absolved a rapist from legal and criminal responsibility if he married the victim. Given the large refugee population, issues of birth registration and nationality were of concern, in particular low birth registration rates for Syrian refugee children and Bedouin children. Discrimination against Lebanese women in matters of transmission of nationality to their children was also of concern. The delegation was also asked about progress in the implementation of the national disability policy and in the integration of children with disabilities, including refugees, in mainstream schools.
Hatem Kotrane, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on Lebanon, concluded by outlining key issues in Lebanon which included corporal punishment, data collection systems, the recruitment of children by armed groups, and child beggars
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Bou Assi stressed the need for everyone to work together in harmony and determination to support children and achieve the goal of protecting the child’s best interest.
The delegation of Lebanon included representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Lebanon can be seen here.
Presentation of the Report
PIERRE BOU ASSI, Minister for Social Affairs of Lebanon, introducing the report, described the extremely fluid political and security situation in the Middle East, which had had direct consequences on the Lebanese society and children in particular. Lebanon was firmly committed to creating a safe environment in which children could develop their potential in line with the fundamental principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The legal and policy framework was in place as were many governmental and non-governmental institutions that worked on those issues. The Ministry for Social Affairs worked with others on protecting and advancing the rights of children to allow them to advance, flourish and participate effectively in public debates and decision-making. The commitment of Lebanon to human rights was embodied in the adoption of the law at the end of 2016 to set up a national human rights institution and a national preventive mechanism against torture.
Children in Lebanon were entitled to free education up to grade nine and this right was extended to refugee children as well. The education demand by refugee children was overwhelming: the figure of school-aged children had increased from 27,000 children in 2011 to 150,000 children in 2012 and to 187,000 children in the school year 2015/2016. In order to respond to the demand, it had been decided to allocate 315 State schools to provide additional classes and education to refugee children, in addition to providing regular education to Lebanese and refugee children. Fifty per cent of school going children in Lebanon were refugees. Lebanon was developing programmes for early childhood education and for electronic literacy.
Children benefited from primary health care provisions through the national health network run by the Ministry of Health; more than 90 per cent of the children in Lebanon were covered with various primary health networks, including vaccination. The Government was in the process of developing a universal health care system, which would ensure universal access to health care for disadvantaged families and individuals. The National Committee for the Elimination of Child Labour had been put in place and it had drafted a programme for the elimination of worst forms of child labour, which would run to 2020. Social centres had been set up in cooperation with civil society organizations to bring an end to worst forms of child labour and a child labour monitoring mechanism would be set up.
The ramifications of the Syrian crisis were being very strongly met in Lebanon which shouldered fully its responsibilities with regard to refugees, with high costs for its economy and infrastructure. Lebanon always had a strong humanitarian approach and would never renegade on its humanitarian obligations. It was incumbent on the international community to pull together and strengthen Lebanese capacity to support thousands of children who must be the priority and must be treated as the cornerstone of future human societies.
Questions from the Experts
HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur on Lebanon, recognized the challenges that the crisis in Syria posed to the countries in the region, and Lebanon in particular, and underscored numerous positive steps in Lebanon, including accession to a number of international human rights instruments such as on persons with disabilities and enforced disappearances. Lebanon had also signed the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure and had repealed the law which had allowed honour killing.
What progress was being made towards the adoption of a unified and comprehensive child protection law in Lebanon? Was there a framework and a mechanism in place to coordinate all efforts in the areas of health, education and others?
The Committee was aware of the financial repercussions of the Syrian crisis for Lebanon and the resources allocated to the key sectors of health and education. Could the delegation inform the Committee about the funding situation at the moment and about the existing data collection system?
Turning to general principles, Mr. Kotrane inquired about steps taken to ensure that the rules governing the transmission of nationality were uniform across all faiths. What system was in place to guarantee the right of the child to be heard and to participate in decisions that concerned them?
AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Lebanon, remarked that the law did not contain a definition of the child, which varied across 17 different laws and was directly linked to personal status laws. What was being done to ensure a uniform definition of a child in the law which was in line with the Convention?
Corporal punishment was still practiced, including in schools, and this practice was seen as a legitimate method of children upbringing. Corporal punishment was still allowed in the family as long as it was done by a parent and as long as it did not leave physical marks on the child. What steps had been taken to accelerate the adoption of the law to ban corporal punishment in all settings?
A study recently conducted in Lebanon had shown very high rates of incidence of sexual violence and abuse against children. What was being done to address this grave concern, sanction abusers and protect children? What mechanism was in place for children to file a complaint of abuse and violence, including for children in institutions and shelters?
What efforts had been deployed to accelerate the abolition of the article which absolved a rapist from legal and criminal responsibility if he married the victim?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Lebanon, noted that, given the large refugee population in Lebanon, issues of birth registration and nationality were of concern, and in particular low birth registration rates for Syrian refugee children and Bedouin children. What measures had been taken to address this problem?
What progress had been made towards the abolition of the articles of the law dating back to 1925 in order to grant Lebanese women the equal right as Lebanese men in transmitting nationality to their children?
Was it true that some hospitals withheld birth certificates for children whose parents were not able to pay? If so, what was being done to remedy this situation?
Birth registration of children aged one and more could only be done through a long and expensive judicial procedure? Were there any efforts to modify the procedure and facilitate birth registration? What rules governed the nationality of children born in Lebanon to unknown fathers?
Freedoms of belief, conscience and religion were guaranteed by the Constitution and fiercely defended by the courts; what was the situation concerning the enjoyment of those freedoms in refugee camps and in particular refugee children? Were there any restrictions to access to information for refugee children?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to questions raised about the participation of children in public debates and in decision-making processes, the delegation said that in 2016 a decision had been made to institute the Children’s Parliament. Consequently, a task force had been established, with the participation of the United Nations Children’s Fund, Save and the Children and other partners, to advance this work and contribute to the drafting of the law to be adopted, following which the Children’s Parliament would be instituted in the National Assembly.
With regard to access to information for refugee children, it was explained that the national plan for the protection of vulnerable women and children contained a goal to ensure access to information to all vulnerable children in the territory of Lebanon without any discrimination. In partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, information hubs were being set up in 57 social development centres through the country, which would be equipped with television screens. Specific programmes would be developed for use in those hubs and would ensure access to information for all, including illiterate people. Flyers and cartoons for children were being prepared on a number of issues relevant to children and were being disseminated in communities.
The Ministry of Social Affairs organized training of various institutions that cared and provided services to children to develop their capacity and enable them to adopt the child protection approaches within their programmes, to implement the State policy, and to develop evaluation and monitoring mechanisms. Each institution which signed a contract with the Ministry was obliged to present a programme and plan of action that integrated child protection approaches and the official policy.
A hotline for children would be put in place in cooperation with the Government of Italy; a centre had already been technically equipped and operating procedures had been prepared, based on international standards and guidelines. The Ministry of Social Affairs in cooperation with other ministries had developed in 2013 the national plan for the protection of women and children, predicated on two essential elements: health and protection against violence. This was a national framework for the provision of services and it regulated the reception of complaints.
The Higher Council for Children, in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund had launched in 2015 a referral programme and a data collection tool for the protection of children and had trained hundreds of officials and workers in direct contact with children.
A study on violence against children had been carried out by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Higher Council for Children, which had shown that 4.1 per cent of children in Lebanon had suffered from sexual violence.
A comprehensive review of all laws that concerned children had been undertaken to identify those laws that needed to be harmonized with the Convention, such as the juvenile justice law, the law containing definition of children and others.
There was still no unifying law on the rights of the child, but all laws in the country were applicable to all juveniles on Lebanese soil without concern for gender, nationality, or children born out of wedlock, such as the law for the protection of women and their families, or the law for the protection of victims. The laws also considered the best interest of the child.
With regard to birth registration, the delegation said that a child could be registered without any obstacle regardless of refugee status or nationality up to the age of one; after the age of one, a judicial procedure called “certifying the birth” was in place. This was a petition submitted to the court by a parent or a guardian, and the court would then issue a decision; it was not necessary to be represented by a lawyer and individuals who could not afford to pay the legal fees – about 20 US$ - could request legal aid. The court decision had to be made within six months. Children born out of wedlock were registered by the parent who recognized the child; if a child was born to a Lebanese mother and non-Lebanese father, and the mother would recognize the child before the father and demand registration, the child would be registered under her name and would receive her nationality.
The nationality law dated back to 1925 and was based on the patriarchal lineage; there were attempts by civil society organizations to amend it, but there were important political and social obstacles.
The law stipulated that a Lebanese child placed for adoption must be consulted before the foreign adoption was finalized. There was no tolerance for acts of sexual violence and abuse of children and perpetrators of such crimes were handed down the most severe sentences.
With regard to violence and corporal punishment in schools, the delegation said that the directives contained in the circular were clear: any perpetrator of corporal punishment against children was severely sanctioned and monitoring mechanisms were in place to ensure that the directives were implemented. The Ministry of Education was in the process of developing a child protection policy for schools which would include the possibility of sending a case of violence against children for prosecution, and protecting children victims from discrimination.
Corporal punishment was allowed at home only by parents and as long as it did not leave physical marks on the child; non-governmental organizations were calling for the revision of this law and for the prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings, which the Government was currently considering.
In 2015 and 2016, more than 70 legal decisions had been handed down to protect children victims of violence, either by placing them with their mothers, removing the perpetrator from the home, or by placing the child outside of the family.
In follow-up questions, a Committee Expert asked the delegation to provide a detailed explanation about paternity testing and how it applied to all religious denominations in Lebanon, and whether there were any intentions to set up a centralized institution to receive children’s complaints against State institutions that violated their rights.
The delegation responded that children had multiple channels through which to file a complaint, for example directly with the Ministries or with the child protection unit in the judiciary. The right to DNA testing in establishing paternity was not enshrined in the law, but everyone could access DNA testing and a judge could request one in cases where parentage was contested.
Questions from the Experts
In the next round of questions, ANN SKELTON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Lebanon, asked about the judicial review of a decision to remove a child from parental care and about the process to release a child from alternative care.
What training did the staff in alternative care institutions receive and how many social workers were there in Lebanon?
What age were “infants” in the Lebanese system and why was the number of infants in alternative care going up while the number of all other categories of children in alternative care had gone down?
The Committee had earlier recommended that laws and practices of kafala be removed and that Lebanon take steps to ratify the 1993 Hague Inter-Country Adoption – what progress had been made in the implementation of those recommendations?
Did all children born out of wedlock have a word “illegitimate”, or a word of a similar meaning, on their birth certificate or identity document?
Ms. Skelton recognized the tremendous efforts of the Government and people of Lebanon to provide care and support for the refugees and displaced persons from Syria and other countries in the region, particularly in the education sector, and asked about birth registration of refugee children. What was the policy of the State concerning the children of migrant workers?
What practical steps had been taken to implement the national plan to protect children affected by armed conflict and to prevent the recruitment of children in armed forces and in domestic and foreign armed groups?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Lebanon, inquired about the progress made in the implementation of the national disability policy, and the steps taken to integrate children with disabilities in mainstream schools, including refugee children with disabilities.
There was a tendency to institutionalize children with disabilities, particularly children with intellectual disability, and the Committee was concerned about their wellbeing and exposure to violence.
What was being done to expand the network of primary healthcare centres and ensure the primary healthcare coverage throughout the country?
The high rate of infant mortality among Syrian refugees was another issue of concern, said Mr. Nelson and asked about concrete measures taken to address this particular problem. Primary health care for refugees was funded by non-governmental organizations and not the Government; more information was requested about the future of health care for refugees?
Had there been any comprehensive studies in assessing the situation of adolescent health concerns in relation to tobacco or substance abuse?
AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Lebanon, asked the delegation to inform about the results of the education strategy and who were its main beneficiaries.
In 2010, Palestinian refugees had been authorised to enrol in national schools and universities if they possessed identification documents – what was the situation of the implementation of this initiative, what was the concrete procedure to be followed to enrol and how many Palestinians were enrolled in public schools?
Progress was lacking in inclusive education however; what were the intentions concerning the development of a national inclusive education strategy?
HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur on Lebanon, asked about concerted efforts to eliminate child labour, measures to reintegrate children living in the street, and measures to eliminate the sale and trafficking of children for sexual and labour exploitation. The situation of trafficked children was of particular concern to the Committee, given that they were in situations of complete servitude and even slavery, and were exploited through pornography and prostitution.
Mr. Kotrane inquired about the juvenile justice system in Lebanon, the existence of the specialized juvenile court with trained judges, and how the provision of detention as a last resort was implemented in practice.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to questions raised about education, the delegation said that school curricula were under review to make them more responsive to modern times, and to make them interactive and better adapted to children’s learning styles and abilities. This process was expected to take three to five years to complete. All the subjects and items included in international human rights principles would constitute the basis of the formulation of the curricula.
The official language in Lebanon was Arabic and textbooks were in that language; there were also textbooks in English and in French. Science and maths textbooks were Arabized until seventh grade and were taught in French or English in higher grades. Syrian children were native Arabic speakers so the language of instruction was not an issue.
Education was mandatory from the age of six to 15 years. The Ministry was also focused on the very important phase of early childhood and had introduced early childhood education from the age of three. It was working hard to make the early childhood phase mandatory for children. Because education was mandatory, all children in Lebanon, regardless of their nationality or migratory status, were accepted in schools; this included Palestinian refugee children who could be accepted in public schools where the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East schools were not available.
Syrian children were accepted in the morning period if there was room for them, if not they attended school in the afternoon period where they were taught by the same teachers, same curricula and same textbooks used for morning classes. At the moment, there were 70,000 Syrian children in the morning period. The direct cost of education of Syrian children was $15 million and this figure only included teachers’ salaries. There were 39,000 Palestinian children in private schools, which included the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East schools and 5,000 Palestinian students were in public schools.
Civic education included a number of core elements which were mostly derived from international conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The most important topics included the life of the family, how to live in the society, rights and duties of children, citizenship and patriotism, belonging to a country, and the importance of public debate and decision-making; all the teachings were adapted to the age of the child.
The philosophy behind inclusive education was to tailor the school to the needs of the child with disabilities, which included adapting the curriculum and teaching methods to the needs of the child, training of teachers, and the provision of professional support to the teaching staff.
The decision to extend education to refugee children was a political decision that the Government had made in line with its commitment to humanitarian principles, and this decision had incurred important financial costs. Inclusive education was another financially and administratively burdensome issue, and this was another area where Lebanon demonstrated its attachment to humanitarian principles. The financial cost was high as each child with disabilities had a shadow teacher.
Turning to questions the Experts raised in relation to health, the delegation stressed that all health centres were open to everyone in Lebanon regardless of nationality or migratory status. Councils for young people, which had been set up in all areas of the country, had discussed issues of adolescent health; their decisions and resolutions had been adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2014, which had led to the adoption of the national policy for adolescent health, the first in the Arab region. The national strategy for health in schools had been adopted and implemented through health programmes in schools under the aegis of the Ministry of Education.
Efforts were being undertaken to transform some of the medical centres into youth health centres to provide health services, information and advice to adolescents. The national drug use observatory had been set up and data was available on the Ministry of Health website. There were 230 persons living with HIV/AIDS, including 36 persons aged 15 to 29 years; all received free of charge anti-retroviral therapy.
The refugee population, which represented one third of the total Lebanese population, created immense pressure on the health infrastructure; as preferential treatment was given to refugees, frictions arose between refugees and the local population. In 2014, a number of international organization had put in place a programme to equalize services provided to refugees and Lebanese citizens alike. The infant mortality rate in Lebanon was 7 per 1,000 live births. Undocumented individuals in principle could not access health services, but access for undocumented children was under the discretion of the Ministry of Health, which, with its humanitarian spirit in mind, ensured their access to health services.
All decisions concerning the removal of children from the family setting and their placement in alternative care were subjected to a judicial review. Procedures had been put in place to facilitate access to nationality to children born to Lebanese mothers and non-Lebanese fathers.
Children with disabilities carried a disability card which specified their disability and as of 2017, there were over 3,000 card-carrying children. It entitled them to access the various public institutions for learning and rehabilitation, as well as to access the 200 institutions that would help their placement in mainstream and special schools. The Ministry of Education organized regular training for the management, teaching and support staff in those institutions.
Follow-up Questions and Answers
In follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked how the right of the child to recreation was considered in the civic education subject; to which degree views of the child were considered in sentencing decisions by the courts; and the intentions concerning the ratification of the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption. What was the situation of children accused of terrorism, were they still treated as children? How positive was the abolition of the honour crimes in practice, were those forms of violence against women a thing of the past?
Experts also inquired about strategies in place to fight child marriage, data available to illustrate the situation of trafficking in children, and policies in place to increase the number of judges dealing with child and juvenile justice.
On the national human rights institution, the delegation explained that the law on the National Authority on Human Rights, adopted in October 2016, did not mention the specific duties of this body, except to define that it would act also as a national preventive mechanism against torture. The adoption of the law, which at the time was one of more than 300 bills before the parliament, indicated the importance accorded to the protection of human rights in the country. The National Authority had the mandate to receive complaints for any human rights violations, to engage in fact-finding, and to contribute to finding a solution.
Of the budget allocated to the Ministry for Social Affairs, 70 per cent was allocated to children and persons with disabilities.
The national plan for the elimination of worst forms of child labour aimed to provide support to vulnerable individuals, particularly refugee and displaced children, through protection, inclusion, elimination of costs and other measures. Labour legislation was being reviewed and labour inspections were strengthened to monitor the implementation of the labour law, particularly in the agricultural sector. Another measure was to support Syrian children who were out of school to re-integrate into education and so be removed from worst forms of child labour.
Migrant workers often worked under the kafala system; they had to have appropriate paperwork. Efforts had been made to protect domestic workers through a national commission which had launched a guide for employers and domestic employees on rights and obligations.
There was a need to increase the capacity of labour inspections to ensure the greater protection of children. The minimum age of work for children in non-dangerous farm work had been increased to 16 years of age.
Child begging was an acute problem and the number of children exploited through begging was increasing; these children were usually orphans, out of school and living in the street. Lebanon sought the advice of the Committee and the United Nations Children’s Fund in addressing this problem.
About 30 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, which, together with refugee flows, increased the risks of trafficking in organs. All organ donations were carefully regulated by the law.
The military situation in the region gave an impetus to the incorporation of the provisions of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the military operations and training, as well as in the behaviour of army personnel.
With regard to children accused of acts of terrorism, the delegation explained that all terrorist suspects were referred to the military system of justice. The military court defined the charge and a sentence was pronounced in accordance with the law on minors. Upon arrest, military authorities would inform the parents or the guardians of the child and involve social workers. No action was taken against the child before the court procedure was completed.
The delegation also explained what was being done to address the problem of unexploded ordnances, including cluster bombs and landmines, and said that some three million such unexploded units had been removed to date, together with over 370,000 land mines. Swathes of land had been affected and it was estimated that one million unexploded ordnances remained to be destroyed.
On children in armed conflict, the delegation said that the High Council for Children, in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund, addressed the situation of children detained in police stations and that particular plans to protect children living in areas of armed conflict had been drafted and would be rolled out across the Government. In cooperation with municipalities and civil society organizations, activities were ongoing in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps.
An awareness raising campaign had been set up to dissuade children from joining armed groups and to support their reintegration. The national strategy on early childhood was being developed which would address this topic as well.
There were eight centres that provided support to abused children. The State stepped in if children were not well cared for; financial and other kind of support was provided to families and their situation was monitored. There were four cases of trafficked children in 2014 and four in 2015.
HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur on Lebanon, concluded by saying that the Committee was aware of the sensitivity of some of the subjects addressed during the dialogue, and said that corporal punishment should be abolished and data collection systems developed in a way to provide adequate and disaggregated information. There was evidence that certain armed groups were enlisting children, and Lebanon would also need to address the situation of child beggars. The Committee would support Lebanon in addressing those key questions and would issue its recommendations with this in mind.
PIERRE BOU ASSI, Minister for Social Affairs of Lebanon, stressed that children must grow as human beings and flourish in a global community, and noted with regret that many children were still deprived and living in poverty and were exposed to multiple risks. Lebanon had put in place policies to give the necessary support to children and it worked with civil society and other partners in achieving the goal of protecting the child’s best interest. Everyone must work together in harmony and determination and seek the means needed to carry that work forward.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and sent regards to the children in Lebanon.