|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
897th & 898th Meetings (AM & PM)
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE RECOGNIZES TUVALU’S EFFORTS TO REVIEW LEGAL
SYSTEM FROM TOP DOWN FOR DISCRIMINATORY ASPECTS, BUT CONCERNED AT ENTRENCHED BIAS
Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today recognized the efforts of a young, small-island nation –- Tuvalu –- to review its legal system from the top down for discriminatory practices, but expressed deep concern that traditional bias held sway in many areas.
Presenting Tuvalu’s combined initial and second periodic reports on the country’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Willy Telavi, Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development, said the treaty had helped to shape Tuvalu’s society by challenging traditional norms as it developed modern governance. Under its guidance, the country had worked for equal opportunity for all, universal health care, free primary school education and maintaining a peaceful and harmonious society.
Since the ratification of the Convention without reservation in 1999, the Government had been reviewing laws to ensure that they were consistent with its obligations, he said. The Constitution and Native Lands Code had been scrutinized, and ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol -- a communications procedure that allows individuals to submit claims of rights violations to the Committee and enables the Committee to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights -- was seriously being considered.
He said that it was critical, however, for efforts towards women’s equality to be placed in the context of the nation’s many challenges, including financial restraints, lack of communication between islands, and climate change. Reconciling local governance, which was based on traditional culture, with the provisions of the Convention was another major hurdle. Tradition, along with Christian principles, maintained morality and peace throughout the country.
Following Mr. Telavi’s presentation, the Committee’s experts expressed concern over the sanctioning of local custom in the Constitution and legal system, noting, for example, that husbands were permitted to “discipline” their wives. Recognizing positive affects of tradition as well, they suggested that those aspects could be maintained while adapting them to the goals of women’s advancement. To root out harmful practices, they urged that the review of the Constitution and legal system for instances of bias be held to a definite timeframe, and that measures be instituted to combat gender stereotypes.
Many experts also expressed worries that efforts to combat domestic violence and gender stereotypes and to encourage women’s greater participation in political life were not nearly extensive enough. Some called for temporary affirmative action measures to be put in place. Finally, an expert on marriage regulations called the situation in that area alarming, saying that it seemed like forced marriage was sanctioned.
The delegation explained that Tuvalu had inherited its laws when it became independent 30 years ago and that those had not yet experienced a complete overhaul, which required consultation with the people. In the process of doing that, it first had to undertake education in the eight islands, which were not even connected to each other by telephone and were very attached to traditional practices. Thirty years ago, women could not sit in the same halls as men during consultations on those issues. Things were changing, but it was difficult.
The delegation maintained that there were very few instances of severe domestic violence; the most common offence was women being slapped. The last incidence of serious violence had occurred in 1996 when a woman had been killed and her husband had been charged with the murder. They said that a police powers bill that allowed law enforcement to intervene in domestic violence was effective and that any complaint lodged with the police had to be pursued under law and not disposed of by traditional mediation. Regarding forced marriage, they said there was a kind of traditional community marriage, but it was subjected to the same regulations as other marriages and the women had a right to refuse.
Concerning temporary special measures, they stressed that equal opportunities were guaranteed under law and that it would be dangerous to favour one segment of the population over another. As it was, women had been quicker to take advantage of scholarships and other opportunities. There were some awareness programmes that had been funded to fight stereotypes and violence against women, and those were making progress. In all areas, however, they acknowledged that there was work to be done.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 30 July, to consider the initial periodic report of Timor-Leste.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined initial and second periodic reports of Tuvalu (document CEDAW/C/TUV/2).
Willy Telavi, Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development of Tuvalu, introduced the report. The delegation also included: Seinati Telavi, Mr. Telavi’s spouse; Kakee Pese Kaitu, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Rural Development; Ese Apinelu, Attorney General; Saini Simona, Director of Women of the Ministry of Home Affairs; Albert Seluka, Legal Advisor of that Ministry; and Saini Malalau Seluka, Human Rights Trainer.
Presentation of Report
Mr. TELAVI said that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had helped to shape Tuvaluan society into what it was today by challenging traditional norms as it developed modern governance. Under its guidance, the country had built on its tradition of providing equal opportunity for all, universal health care, free primary school education and maintaining a peaceful and harmonious society.
Since independence in 1978, he said, the Government had worked very hard to improve daily life and pursue development. With recognition of the important role of women in development, the Government would continue to provide an enabling environment to enhance and accelerate the improvement of the status of women.
He said that it was critical, however, for efforts for women’s equality to be placed in the context of the nation’s many challenges, including climate change, which he urged be integrated into the existing international platforms for women. Reconciling local governance, based on traditional culture, with the central Government, which was more modern and receptive to change, was also a major hurdle. Tradition, along with Christian principles, provided peace, morality and culture.
Since the ratification of the Convention, the Government had been reviewing laws to ensure that they were consistent with its obligations. The Constitution and Native Lands Code were put under particular scrutiny. The integration of the Convention in the legal system was tested in the cases of Anderson versus R and Tebulolo versus Pou & Attorney General (2005).
Describing recent positive developments, he pointed to the 2009 passage of a bill recognizing the existence of domestic violence and the creation of police powers for its prevention. In addition, on 1 August, an act repealing discriminatory home-owning regulations would come into effect.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, lauded Tuvalu for the care it had taken in cooperation with various institutions to empower women and ratify the Convention. But she noted some contradictions between cultural practices and real equality between women and men. Were there plans to review the entire legal framework, including the Constitution, which did not provide for true gender equality or expressly address gender discrimination? What awareness-building measures were under way to change people’s mindsets about gender equality? Was there a timeline and stated political will to review basic laws and discriminatory laws before preparing the next periodic country report?
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said the Tuvalu Constitution did not contain a prohibition on the basis of sex. It gave preference to Tuvalu values and cultures, which gave greater rights to men while marginalizing women in most respects. He lauded the fact that the Government was willing to examine closely the possibility of revising laws and the Constitution. He noted that in the framework of the Human Rights Council, Tuvalu had promised to examine some recommendations, among them, to eliminate legislation that was discriminatory against women and to adopt a law that prohibited gender-based discrimination. What concrete steps had been taken towards that goal and what was the timeframe to follow that up? He lauded Tuvalu for actively considering ratification of the Optional Protocol.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that while the delegation’s introductory statement had expressed that the Convention was extremely important to Tuvalu, the treaty had not been incorporated into domestic law and Tuvalu’s judges were not directly applying it. Was there a concrete timeframe for doing that? Had the Convention been translated into the country’s various languages?
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, thanked the delegation for its honest and frank statement on the situation of women’s rights in Tuvalu. What plans were there to change property laws, which were currently unfavourable to women? How was the action plan of the Department of Women being implemented? She expressed concern because the previous plan was very poorly implemented, owing to a lack of funding. Was gender equality a priority for the Government and did it negotiate funding for it?
A delegate said the Government must first conduct a full review of current laws, and then decide at that time whether it would amend any of them. In doing that, it must take into account the Convention’s impact on local traditions, as well as views and inputs from the public.
Another delegate said that the National Strategic Sustainable Development Plan had a target by which the Government would review its land laws.
Another delegate said Tuvaluan was the only local language and that the Convention had been translated into it, thanks largely to assistance from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Regarding inadequate implementation of the previous action plan due to lack of funding, another delegate said Tuvalu indeed had serious financial problems. The National Coordinating Committee for the Convention used to have monthly meetings, but they had been cut due to funding shortfalls. The Committee, however, partnered with the Departments of Health and Education, and with non-governmental organizations to ensure that some of the action plan’s objectives were being met. Although the Convention had not yet been incorporated into domestic law, the Government was focusing more on women’s individual development.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Committee Chairperson, NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, pointing to Tuvalu’s traditional male-dominated values and culture, stressed the need to improve women’s lot, through legislative reform, action plans, media campaigns to erase gender stereotyping, and temporary special measures. She called on Tuvalu to consider joining the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and cultural and social rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said the role played by women in Tuvalu did not match their value. Domestic violence against women must change. Traditions should be adapted to the present. Women’s roles were still relegated to child rearing or homemaking. What future measures were envisioned to change gender stereotypes?
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, expressed concern over the practice of husbands disciplining their wives and daughters. Were there clear policies, strategies or programmes in place to systematically eradicate traditional discriminatory practices? Was it possible to try different approaches to effect change, such as through oral traditions, community leaders and youth movements, or giving recognition to communities that had empowered women? Tuvalu should conduct small studies on traditional cultural practices and women’s and men’s perceptions of them as they related to human rights. She encouraged the Government to make good on its promise to conduct research on prostitution and to do the same for trafficking, and to include its findings in the next periodic report.
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, noting that domestic violence was commonplace and considered a private matter, asked what plans were in place to adopt laws and launch action plans to address that violence.
VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, referred to the Government’s consideration of a new police act to address domestic violence. She asked for further information on the contents of the bill and special measures to protect women. What could be done to accelerate enactment of that law? Under section 156.5 of the Penal Code, a girl 15 years or older who was subjected to incest was criminalized and deemed a felon. The Committee had implored the Government to repeal that, since girls subjected to incest were victims, not criminals. What had been done in that regard? What concrete steps had been taken to create a law addressing all types of sexual offences?
Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, said the way in which sexual assault was addressed in the current legal framework was completely unacceptable. In what framework was sexual offence addressed in the court system and how was the law applied? Were judges sensitive to local customs and traditions? How could the law be enforced at the local level?
ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said the country report lacked information on surveys or research on trafficking and prostitution. Were there plans to gather such data to identify the prevalence or lack thereof of prostitution or trafficking? Was the Government ready to take steps to address it in the future? The Government had paid little attention to domestic violence due to the low number of reported cases. But that low number did not necessarily indicate a lack of incidence or low prevalence. Did the Government have plans to systematically document the problem by collecting data from clinics, hospitals, schools and the private sector? She expressed concern that the police could investigate complaints of gender abuse, but that they were compelled to leave if the owner of the home or premise where the abuse was allegedly occurring asked the police officer to do so.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked for more information on the new bill to empower the police to investigate complaints of gender violence. Was the Government providing protective measures, such as restraining orders, for women victims of domestic violence? She implored the delegation to take into consideration the Committee’s recommendation on domestic violence when drafting the new law.
The delegation explained that Tuvalu had inherited its laws when it became independent 30 years ago and the legislation had not yet had a complete overhaul, which first required consultation with the people. In the process of doing that, the country first had to undertake education in the capital and in the islands, which were not even “contactable” by telephone and which were very attached to traditional practices. Thirty years ago, women could not sit in the same halls as men during consultations on those issues, whereas, now they could. Change was occurring, but it was difficult.
The delegation maintained that there were a few severe instances of domestic violence; they usually consisted of women being slapped. The last incidence of serious violence had occurred in 1996 when a woman had been killed and her husband had been charged with the murder. The police powers bill that allowed law enforcement to intervene in domestic violence was effective. Any complaint lodged with the police had to be pursued under law and not disposed of by traditional mediation.
In addition, New Zealand and Australia were training police in dealing with the issue, a delegate said. The department of women’s affairs had teamed up with non-governmental organizations to create awareness on the need to eliminate violence against women. A recent march on the main road of the capital had brought the issue to the fore, and there were now women who brought complaints to the courts themselves. All programmes were still at very early stages, but the delegation expressed hope for progress as time goes on.
Regarding trafficking in persons, the delegates explained that it was very difficult to enter or leave Tuvalu and that all strangers were noticed, owing to the small size of the communities. However, they agreed that the problem should be included in the report.
They acknowledged the need for temporary special measures to increase the number of women in Parliament, but there was a standing policy of equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender. There were no rules or laws that prevented any women from getting involved in politics or the civil service. They stressed that it would be dangerous to favour one segment of the population over another. As it was, women had been quicker to take advantage of scholarships and other opportunities.
Funding was needed for strategies to fight stereotypes, they said. Some had indeed attracted funding including for projects that had targeted local community leaders. Studies have been conducted on how traditional attitudes hindered women’s participation in decision-making and development. Internet services were now available to the population in the outer islands and it was important to now consider how to utilize that medium.
Experts Comments and Questions
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, reiterated the importance of previous Committee recommendations on domestic violence and stressed the need for a specific law on family violence.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked if women’s equality was a priority when applications were made for development assistance.
Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked if physical punishment was allowed in schools, and how alcohol affected men’s violent behaviour.
Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, and Ms. TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, also emphasized the importance of more action against domestic violence. Also speaking on that issue, Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked if traditional notions could be adapted so that women did not require their husbands’ permission to participate in political life.
In terms of efforts to end violence against women, Mr. TELAVI said the Government had started with the police powers and duty act. Regarding the Penal Code, the Attorney General would need to look into sexual offences and the country would need technical assistance to revise legislation in that regard. There was police training and an awareness programme to end domestic violence. The police were also leading efforts to combat gender violence related to alcoholism. In terms of shelters for women victims of violence, according to local customs, it was the responsibility of neighbours to look after and help others in need.
Another delegate said that during the 1990s, the Tuvalu Council of Women had built a shelter for women victims with funding from the Canadian Government. But since there were so few victims using it, the building had since been occupied by the Council. Regarding alcoholism, people lived in open houses, making it difficult for men to rape or abuse women since other family members and neighbours were watching. In terms of corporal punishment, schools had a policy that only the head teacher was allowed to carry out physical disciplinary measures.
The Government was partnering with the Regional Rights Resource Team and UNIFEM’s trust fund to devise domestic violence legislation, either as a single piece of legislation or within the framework of all other laws. That was still in the early stages.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, lauded the gender parity of the delegation and called on it to make women part of all of its delegations at international conferences. She commended the Government for ratifying the Convention and offered the Committee’s services to interpret and implement it and other human rights treaties it had signed and would sign in the future.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he was unsure if Tuvalu was fully complying with its obligations under article 9, since it did not allow for dual citizenship under its Citizenship Act and it stated that a Tuvalu woman had to adopt her husband’s nationality. If a Tuvalu woman married a foreigner, did she have to renounce her Tuvalu nationality? If that marriage ended, did she have the right to reinstate her Tuvalu nationality? The Convention stated that a woman should not be rendered Stateless or be forced to adopt her husband’s nationality.
A delegate said the Government had already passed the amendment to the Citizenship Act, which allowed for dual citizenship. People no longer had to renounce their citizenship. When women divorced, they had the right to regain their Tuvalu citizenship.
Another delegate said Tuvalu women participated actively in the Tuvalu delegations at international conferences.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked why education was different for girls and women and boys and men, particularly at the secondary and higher education levels. Few women entered the civil service or were in decision-making posts. There should be strong motivation for women to be present in those areas. Why were only fathers and not mothers penalized for not sending their children to school?
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, said it was difficult to gain a full picture of employment and income-generating activities in Tuvalu. How was fishing, which appeared to be a major income generator, organized? What role did women have in that field? The 12 weeks of mandatory maternity paid leave was too short and the rate of pay during that time, at 25 per cent, was insufficient. Was the Government considering extending maternity leave time and payment?
BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, thanked the delegation for providing sex-disaggregated data on education in the opening statement and country report, and the fact that the country had an education act. But there was no information on children who were pushed out of secondary schools, she said, stressing the impact of that practice on girls, which could result in teen pregnancy and poverty. She asked that information on girls’ dropout rates be included in the next periodic report. Data showed that girls largely pursued school diplomas, while boys pursued university degrees. Girls were largely absent from the fields of science and technology. What was being done to redress that and what was the timeline for it?
She said that corporal punishment was a form of physical violence and it had serious repercussions for family and societal life, and noted that the Government had pledged to build awareness about that practice and legal arrangements to end it. Could the delegation comment on that?
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, noted the increase in teen pregnancies, decrease in contraceptive use among teens, the fact that abortion was illegal, rural women had poor access to health care and that there was no socially-responsible framework to help women with disabilities. She asked for more details on plans to revise the law on abortion. What efforts were there to bring more adequate health-care services to rural women? Why were there no State measures to assist women with disabilities?
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked for more concrete information on the current regulatory and legal framework governing abortion. Was there data on the number of women who were legally permitted to have an abortion? What were the legal and regulatory requirements to obtain an abortion?
A delegate said the country depended largely on fishing for its livelihood and most of the population lived by the sea. Traditionally, there was equal opportunity for women in that area. People found guilty of corporal punishment would be subjected to criminal action. Regarding shortfalls in education programmes, he attributed those to a lack of available funding for teachers and textbooks. There were no discriminatory polices against girls in higher education. In fact, girls were enrolled in science and technology education programmes, including in the field of medicine.
Regarding the rise in teen pregnancies, a delegate noted improvements in that area due to awareness programmes in the outer islands. Abortion was illegal in Tuvalu, but doctors could legally perform them on a pregnant woman with life-threatening complications, provided they had the woman’s consent. There were no reported cases of legal abortions so far. The Health Ministry was working to enact a policy to assist women with disabilities. It had conducted a nationwide survey on persons with disabilities, which would guide policy formulation. A regional ministerial meeting in November in the Cook Islands would address disability issues.
Regarding the secondary school dropout rate, another delegate said the Government had devised an “Education for Life” programme to guarantee universal access to educational opportunities, including trade and vocational programmes. In the past, many children who graduated from primary school were not prepared academically to enter secondary school. To remedy that, the Government developed a secondary school entrance exam. Tuvalu had only one public high school. Many students were sent to Fiji to attend high school or were placed in vocational education programmes at home. Education received the greatest percentage of the Government’s federal budget, followed by health care.
Another delegate said the law had changed to give women on maternity leave their full pay during the period of leave. In terms of the criticism that the 12‑week maternity leave was too short, he said women were granted longer leaves if they required it due to health reasons.
Another delegate said the country’s annual national budget was just $20 million, with education receiving the greatest percentage of funding. There was no gender-based discrimination in the education system. The system was limited due to Tuvalu’s very small population, its remoteness and the great distances between villages. People often went overseas to receive an education.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked about measures to encourage women to enter into higher and better-paid posts in the fishing sector.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked for data on the extent of legal and illegal abortions, as well as on reproductive health-care education and counselling, particularly in schools. Safe motherhood services were essential for reducing maternal mortality. Without data on that, the Committee could not assess whether maternal health-care services were sufficient to prevent maternal mortality.
A delegate said the Government was now looking into a process to assist people with disabilities. It had requested funding from one donor country for that programme and had been turned down. It was seeking other donors at present. Fishing was traditionally a male-dominated profession, but the Government would look into ways to bring more women into the field. While there had been no women in senior posts several years ago, there were presently several, among them, the Attorney General and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Rural Development.
Regarding abortion, another delegate said that women presently could legally obtain an abortion only if the mother’s life was in danger, but there had been no requests to use that provision thus far. Regarding the culture of male dominance of brothers over their sisters and the rise in teen pregnancy, she said that in the past, incest between siblings and teen pregnancy were underreported. The Government was taking those concerns into consideration when drafting policies to end teen pregnancy and address incest.
In terms of measures to bring more women into the fishing sector, another delegate said there were no policies that prevented women from engaging in fishing activities. There were regional programmes for women’s advancement and participation.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about gender perspectives in disaster management plans and, in particular, provisions for elderly women. She also asked about programmes on improving the water supply in rural areas, health services, other development programmes and the related trust fund.
The delegation said that 1,000 water tanks had been donated for installation around the islands as part of an extensive, internationally-assisted water improvement project. Fifty dollars a month was provided to all citizens age 70 or older for subsistence.
The delegates acknowledged that climate change was already affecting Tuvalu, which had a national adaptation programme that encouraged planting along the coast. There was no disaster policy, but the country had requested mitigation assistance from industrialized nations. There were also projects to phase out the use of fossil fuels and move towards carbon neutrality.
They said that the main hospital was located in the capital and the journey was often dangerous for women who are coming there to give birth. There was a transportation project being put in place to deal with that problem. Regarding the trust fund, access for citizens of the outer islands was being increased. Access to small, low-interest credit loans had also been put in place for women in rural areas.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Turning to marriage and family arrangements, RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that the situation in that area was alarming. It seemed from the report that women were subjected to forced marriages. The marriage age of 16 was not in line with the Convention’s expectations. Concerning the dissolution of marriage, she saw many problems with maintenance payments and asked if the system for such payments would be made stronger. In addition, she urged the enactment of rules for the equal distribution of property. She asked if the land issue made custody more favourable to the father.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked what rights were applicable if a spouse died intestate. She also wanted to know if polygamy was legally recognized in the country.
The delegation said that polygamy was not legal. Regarding maintenance payments, the court would only enforce such payments if a complaint was made by a woman. Divorcing parties had to put forward their claims for division of property; there was no automatic division in favour of either party. There were separate courts for land disputes and disputes over other property.
Customary marriages, which occurred when the expenses were borne by the whole community, must be registered like statuary marriages, the delegation said. There was no obligation for a woman to accept such a marriage; she could refuse. Concerning the division of property if a spouse died intestate, the land court would decide the issue. There was no difference in divorce law that applied to customary or statutory marriages.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked whether mental health services were part of the overall national health-care plans, and whether they were gender-sensitive. What Government plans existed to tackle the increase of sexually-transmitted diseases among seafarers and women victims of rape?
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked if there were plans to change the lands code, which granted more property rights to sons than daughters. What was the law of property distribution and was their equal sharing between women and men? What was the Government doing to eliminate women’s shame and enable them to better demand their property rights upon divorce?
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about the rights of widows to property other than land, such as bank accounts and investments.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked if there were any cases in which women had used the courts to obtain their rights. As the office of people’s rights was overburdened, were there more informal dispute settlement mechanisms, and was the Convention used by them?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked if there were both customary and civil marriages, and what the difference was between the two. In divorce cases, was article 16 of the Convention applied? In divorce, did the mother or father get custody of the children? Were divorced mothers entitled to alimony and could they remain in the marital home? Was the divorced mother on the same legal footing as the divorced father? Could she leave the country without the divorced father’s permission?
A delegate said the age of consent of marriage in Tuvalu was 16, but anyone under the age 21 needed their parent’s consent to marry. Divorced women could stay in the marital home and were granted custody of the children. Their right to property and other shared assets was determined by the courts. Regarding provisions on property distribution in the lands code, she said the eldest son was granted preference because he was expected to take care of the family in the case of the death of his parents. As that traditional practice was changing, the land code could be revised.
Another delegate said at present there was no proper mental health-care service because the country lacked qualified professionals to provide it. The Ministry of Health worked with church pastors, who often provided mental health counselling. The Government had also adopted a plan to combat sexually-transmitted diseases and spread awareness about them. There were educational and awareness programmes for seafarers and their wives. Non-governmental organizations, such as the Tuvalu Family Health Association, the Council of Women and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also assisted in that regard.
Another delegate, on implementing international conventions in domestic courts, said each of the outer islands had their own court, which determined divorce settlements. If the divorced parties could not agree on the issues of maintenance and custody, the case was referred to a senior magistrate court located on the capital island. The physical distance often inhibited women’s access to it. Only if there was ambiguity in domestic law could cases apply provisions of international conventions.
In concluding remarks, Mr. TELAVI said the session had given the Government the opportunity to look at issues raised by the Committee to ensure its compliance with the Convention. He duly noted the Committee’s comments and concerns.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, said she recognized the limitations Tuvalu faced due to its remoteness and climate change. She hoped, however, that it would advance women’s rights and empowerment and that it would incorporate the Convention into domestic law and invoke it in the courts, as well as raise the legal age of marriage to 18 and accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
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