DISCUSSION FOCUSES ON MEASURES TO PREVENT HUMAN TRAFFICKING, AS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE REVIEWS COLOMBIA’S REPORT

25 January 2007
WOM/1603

DISCUSSION FOCUSES ON MEASURES TO PREVENT HUMAN TRAFFICKING, AS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE REVIEWS COLOMBIA’S REPORT

25 January 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1603
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 769th & 770th Meetings (AM & PM)

DISCUSSION FOCUSES ON MEASURES TO PREVENT HUMAN TRAFFICKING, AS WOMEN’S

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE REVIEWS COLOMBIA’S REPORT

 

Questions Also Raised Concerning Abortion Issues,

Measures to Combat Sex Tourism, Child Prostitution

Amid a flurry of questions on trafficking in persons from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Colombian officials described recent progress in establishing such trafficking as a crime and prosecuting offenders.

Presenting Colombia’s fifth and sixth periodic report to the 23-member panel of experts, Martha Lucía Vásquez Zawadzky, Presidential Adviser for Women’s Equity and Chief of Delegation, discussed the creation of a new anti-trafficking law and Government bodies to monitor compliance.

However, experts pressed officials for details on everything from Colombia’s national trafficking strategy to combating sex tourism.  One expert asked where complaints about violations of women’s rights could be filed.  Had the comprehensive strategy to combat human trafficking, as called for by the agreement between the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), been implemented?  Moreover, had it been publicized and used among non-governmental organizations?

In her response, one delegate said complaints could be brought to Colombia’s Office of the Procurator and the Ombudsman’s Office, noting that all public bodies were responsible for addressing those complaints.  Judges must give priority to “tutela” (trust or protection) actions filed by women over any other action.

Regarding assistance to women victims of trafficking, she said a new law, Law 905 of 2005, provided measures against trafficking and established standards of care for victims.  Thanks to that new law, the Government had achieved significant progress in fighting crimes domestically and internationally, as it allowed perpetrators to be brought to justice without their victim’s consent.

The national strategy against trafficking in persons was outlined in Law 905, she continued.  The Inter-institutional Committee to Combat Trafficking, chaired by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and comprised of representatives of the Office of the Procurator and the Ombudsman’s Office, among other bodies, had devised the plan.  The Committee had budgetary autonomy and the 2007 budget would total $500,000.

Prostitution of children and sex tourism were also of concern, another delegate added.  An agreement had been developed between various Government bodies and the tourist sector to prevent child sex tourism.  Another document signed by 32 governors and 3,400 mayors committed them to examining childhood and adolescence issues.  The Ombudsman’s Office was also party to an agreement to ensure care for victims of sexual abuse.

While commending Colombia for its decision to decriminalize abortion in the cases of rape, serious malformation in the fetus, or where pregnancy posed a risk to the mother, experts wondered whether the Government would ensure compliance with the law among medical professionals and about any plans for further decriminalization.

Addressing those concerns, one delegate emphasized that no health provider was allowed to create administrative obstacles to performing abortions under the Court-specified conditions.  As for further decriminalization, another delegate added that the three branches of Government would have to act harmoniously to carry out such a change.

The Committee will meet again on Friday, 26 January, at 10 a.m. to consider Tajikistan’s combined initial, second and third periodic report.

Background

Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Colombia.

The delegation was headed by Martha Lucia Vasquez Zawadzky, Counsellor of the Presidential Advisory Council on Gender Equality, and included:  Claudia Blum, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations; Maria Isabel Nieto Jaramillo, Deputy Minister of the Interior of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice; Blanca Elvira Cajigas de Acosta, Deputy Minister of Health and Wellbeing of the Ministry of Social Protection; Jorge Leon Sanchez Mesa, Deputy Minister of Labour Relations of the Ministry of Social Protection; and Clara Ines Vargas Silva, Director of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It also included:  Jairo Montoya, Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations; Ana Carlina Plaza, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations; Maria Clara Ortiz Karam, Director of Quality of the Ministry of National Education; Rosa Maria Navarro Ordonez, Technical Director of the Colombian Institute of Family Wellbeing; Carlos Alberto Suarez Garzon, Minister Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations; Ligia Margarita Borrero, Deputy Director of Assistance to Displaced Populations of the Presidential Social Action Programme; Julieta Ruiz, Counsellor of the Special Programmes Council; Juana Acosta, Consultant of the Presidential Advisory Council on Gender Equality; Maria Eugenia Villamizar, Social Coordinator of the National  Statistics Department; Rocio Gutierrez Mendez, Representative of the Directorate General for Social Promotion of the Ministry of Social Protection; Laura Benedetti Roncallo, Adviser of the Auditor General’s Office; Luz Alba Vanegas, Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Gunhild Schwitalla, Adviser of the National Reconciliation Commission.

Presentation of Report

In an introductory statement, CLAUDIA BLUM, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations, said women’s advancement had been incorporated into Colombia’s National Development Plan and various national action policies.  The principles of women’s rights, gender equity, equal opportunity and respect for diversity had been increasingly integrated into State policy.  The National Congress had enacted laws to correct structural flaws and build strong economic and social institutions for women’s benefit.  Colombia recognized the central role of internationally agreed standards to protect women’s rights and had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1982.  The National Congress had approved the Optional Protocol in 2005 and the President had ratified it on 27 December 2006.

Presenting Colombia’s combined fifth and sixth report for the 1999-2006 period, MARTHA LUCIA VASQUEZ ZAWADZKY, Presidential Adviser for Women’s Equity and Chief of Delegation, said measures adopted had been analyzed in the context of different political circumstances and during the Presidential re-election process last year.  Colombia’s desire to introduce gender mainstreaming into all policies was expressed in the National Development Plan and would be enhanced in the 2006-2010 period.

The Government had pursued three strategies towards gender equity, she said.  Affirmative action had included the “Women Builders of Peace and Development Policy”, which focused on employment and business development, education and culture, political participation and the prevention of violence against women.  That policy contained a plan for the 2006-2010 period, to promote the defence of women’s rights before the justice system.

The Social Reactivation Policy, supported by seven social equity tools, had contributed significantly to real equality between women and men, she continued.  Also, Colombia had consolidated a State policy to eliminate discrimination against women, with legislative progress made.  Between 1999 and 2006, the country had adopted 9 international laws on women and 20 laws offering special protection.  Further, the Constitutional and Supreme Court of Justice had handed down some 3,000 decisions related to women and protecting their rights.

Institutionally, Colombia was committed to promoting women’s rights through various bodies, and the Office of the People’s Defender and the Office of the Procurator General had special delegates for women’s affairs.  Public entities addressing violence against women included the Counsellor’s Office for Women’s Equity, accountable to the Presidential Administrative Office.   Colombia intended for it to work more efficiently in implementing affirmative policy for women and it had executed projects totalling almost $8.5 million between 2002 and 2006.

Gender mainstreaming efforts had included a “National Agreement for Equity between Women and Men” signed in October 2003, she continued.  That agreement had special meaning for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325, as it accentuated women’s participation in all spheres of society.

Concerning prostitution, Colombia had ratified the Protocol to prevent, repress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, she said.  Further progress had been made in establishing trafficking in persons as criminal, and creating an inter-institutional Committee for the Struggle against the Traffic in Persons.

Turning to political life, she highlighted the fact that, in percentage terms, more women than men currently voted, with women having recorded 51.9 per cent of the vote in the May 2006 elections.  In 2005, women’s participation in public service had increased, due to the application of the Quota Law.  Some 131 women were engaged in diplomatic posts and 35 were heads of diplomatic missions.

On education, she said illiteracy among women had fallen and the Government was materializing an “education revolution with a gender perspective”.  In the employment sphere, conditions for women were more favourable than in 2002.

Also, progress had been achieved in sexual and reproductive health.  On the participation of rural women in decision-making processes, the Social Management of Rural Areas policy had included programmes for women, such as one supporting rural microbusinesses.

Women had been recognized as having equal legal capacities to men and the Constitutional Court had eliminated provisions of law that limited the legal capacity of women, she said.  Moreover, that court had decided to de-criminalize abortion in the cases of rape, serious malformation in the fetus, or where pregnancy had represented a risk to the mother.  Follow-up mechanisms were in place, including the system for evaluation of public administration performance (SINERGIA), the system for the follow up of governmental social policy results (SIGOB) and the Gender Affairs Observatory for monitoring.  Since 2004, that body had been made a permanent unit accountable to the Presidential Counsellor’s Office for Women’s Equity.  Challenges remained, including the continuation of policies, creating better education and reducing all forms of violence against women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 1-6

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked if any of the 30,000 court cases on the treatment of women had referred to the Convention.  Was there any specific training on the Convention and the Optional Protocol for the judiciary?  Was there a mechanism to monitor compliance of national laws with the Convention’s provisions?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about human rights and international humanitarian protection for women affected by areas where there was armed conflict.  Did the Ministry of the Interior and Justice have protection programmes for women?

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked about the difference between the functions and mandate of the inter-institutional bureau for women’s affairs and the inter-institutional committee for women’s affairs.  Where could individuals go to file complaints against discriminatory practices?  Did women use such complaint mechanisms widely?  Were women aware of these services?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the functional and structural changes in the draft law to strengthen the President’s Advisory Council on Gender Equality?  How did that Advisory Council coordinate its work with other bodies?  What structures existed at the departmental and municipal levels to ensure the Convention was implemented regionally and locally?  What special temporary measures or affirmative action plans had been put into practice to show that article 4 of the Convention was being implemented?

HAZEL GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked if there were any studies comparing progress in eliminating gender stereotypes before the inception of the President’s Advisory Council on Gender Equality and after it was created?

Country Report

Regarding court courses, a delegate said more than 3,000 decisions -- not 30,000 -- had referred to women’s rights.  The Constitutional Court and Supreme Court had mentioned human rights treaties in such cases.  Research was being concluded on a Supreme Court decision on gender equality.  By year’s end, after the research was concluded, she would be able to report whether the Convention had been cited.

On the issue of Constitution recourse for women, another delegate said a “Constitutionality block” existed to amend or drop discriminatory law.  Women had used that recourse in many instances.

Another delegate, addressing human rights protections, said the Ministry of the Interior’s programme had aimed to defend at-risk non-governmental organization leaders, journalists, mayors and Congressional representatives, among others.  The programme complemented protection provided by security forces and the Ministry had created a risk-assessment committee comprised of human rights groups, among others.  Some $35 million had been invested in its protection programmes, which had provided security for 23,000 people, 30 per cent of whom were women.

Regarding the two non-governmental organizations, she said general measures, including the provision of cell phones, and temporary relocation and escort services, had been provided for both those organizations.  Further, self-defence courses for human right defenders and others had been given.

On the Nelly Velandia case and children targeted by human rights perpetrators, measures including support from the police and military had been taken in that case.  Emphasizing that those measures were transitional in nature and were being monitored, she added that the Government was also working with the national police on security, democracy and culture issues to create safe municipalities.

Regarding the concepts of equity and equality, she said equity had concerned different treatment for those at a disadvantage in society.  Specific measures would be developed for affirmative action.  To balance the negative effects of differences, entities had been created to ensure equity and overcome disadvantage.  One such body was an ethnic unit which addressed indigenous and African-Colombian populations.

The concept of equality had been developed by the Constitutional Court, she continued.  In one of its decisions, the Court had ruled that article 43 of the Constitution encompassed equal rights for men and women.  Moreover, differentiation could be justified in some cases to erase historical discrimination.  The Court had authorized the taking of positive affirmative actions to compensate for any discrimination suffered by women and to promote true and effective equality.

Regarding the mechanism to ensure the advancement of women, she said there had been clarity on what that body should be.  As part of the recent Government transition, that body had continued as part of the presidential office.  Today, on the basis of new laws adopted, the Government had broadened its scope to include the Observatory for Gender Issues and laws addressing rural women, among other matters.  The women’s mechanism could design policy for the advancement of women and coordinate all agreements within central, regional and local governments to ensure gender mainstreaming in policies.

The National Agreement on Equality, the only such agreement signed in the Americas, was key to ensuring coordination, she said.  In the area of education, the Agreement had allowed the Government to sign other agreements with universities to make use of their research.  That research would, in turn, support the women’s mechanism and create awareness of gender in all sectors.  The Agreement could be a model for other countries, particularly as it had also established a follow-up round table of gender liaisons in various offices.

On the draft law regarding the women’s mechanism, she said the Presidential Administrative Office and the National Planning Office, among others, had agreed it had not been necessary to present a draft bill.

On the women’s mechanism as part of the presidency, she said the proximity had allowed for its enhanced status as an interlocutor with all institutions and bodies.

On interaction with territorial bodies, she said there were offices for social development or social integration, responsible for working on gender.  The women’s mechanism had interacted with them to implement national programmes and strategies.  It currently was working with 25 of the 32 departments.

On whether affirmative action programmes were temporary measures, she said the Constitutional Court had stated that affirmative action was temporary in nature.  The question centred on deciding how long it should last. 

On stereotyping in education, another delegate said the Ministry of Education in 2003 had established standards for citizen’s competencies, which depended on plurality and valuation of differences for all educational institutions.  Noting that the education sector had been de-centralized, she said the Ministry governed policies while educational institutions set curricula.  A human rights pilot project would conclude in 2008 with a generalized strategy.

Another delegate said Colombia had a national human rights and humanitarian rights strategy in line with United Nations guidelines that required that such a strategy have an operational timeline to ensure compliance, be administered by the State and include partnerships with different sectors of society.   Colombia had a 12 to 15-year plan that involved women’s organizations and other civil society groups.  The national plan would be finalized in 2007 and would focus on five key goals:  cultural strategies to involve all stakeholders in society; the right to human integrity; erasing all forms of discrimination; ensuring economic, social and culture rights for all; and guaranteeing access to justice and fighting impunity.  The Government expected to begin implementing the plan in 2008. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, said her question had not been answered on where people could go to file complaints about violations of women’s rights.  The country report stated that Act 747 of 2002 contained an article on money laundering and indicated that at least seven of the operations conducted with Interpol through 2003 related to women trafficked abroad.  Did Colombia have domestic trafficking cases?  Was it a transit country?  Were there any cases of trafficking involving victims exploited for purposes other than sexual slavery or prostitution?

She also asked whether the comprehensive strategy to combat human trafficking, as called for by the agreement between the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), had been implemented.  Was the strategy well-known among and used by relevant non-governmental organizations?  What type of follow up had been done on the recovery and integration programmes for women returning from the Netherlands, Japan and the United States?  What had been done thus far to combat child sex tourism, as called for under Act 673 of 2001 on sexual tourism?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about legal and institutional measures to address article 6 of the Convention.  Was there a specific law to combat violence against women?  What was the Government’s budget to combat violence against women?  How many care centres for victims of violence operated in the country?  Did victims have easy access to them?  Was there a uniform policy to help victims?  Were there any training courses on gender-based violence and human rights for the judiciary and the military?  What Government legal and medical aid programmes existed to assist internally displaced women?  Were there any specific programmes to help female rape victims?  How many trafficking cases had been filed and prosecuted?  Was there a specific law to combat drug trafficking?

Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked if there were any studies on prostitution in Colombia.  Had Colombian law been effective in helping prostitutes?  As prostitution was not criminalized, were prostitutes guaranteed access to health services and exit strategies to leave the profession if they chose to?

Country Response

Concerning where to file complaints on women’s rights violations, a delegate said complaints could be brought to the Office of the Procurator and the Ombudsman’s Office.  All public bodies were responsible for addressing their complaints.  Judges had to give priority to “tutela” (trust or protection) actions filed by women over any other action. 

Regarding assistance to women victims of trafficking, she said Act 800 of 2003 had adopted the Palermo Protocol.  Law 905 of 2005 had adopted measures against trafficking and had established standards of care for victims.  Thanks to the new law, the Government had achieved significant progress in fighting trafficking crimes domestically and internationally.  The entire process of trafficking in persons -– from approaching a person to actually trafficking the person -– was considered a crime.  The new law made it possible to bring perpetrators to justice without their victim’s consent.

The national trafficking strategy against persons was outlined in law 905.  She said the strategy had been devised by the Inter-institutional Committee to Combat Trafficking chaired by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and comprised representatives of the Office of the Procurator, the Ombudsman’s Office and other relevant bodies.  It had budgetary autonomy and the 2006 budget was $500,000.  The 2007 budget was the same.  The strategy -– devised as part of the Ministry’s agreement with the UNODC –- had been completed last August.  The Government was currently fine tuning the strategy and assigning relevant activities to various Government agencies. 

The Centre for 0perations and Observation to Combat Trafficking (COAD) would serve as a model for cities to prevent and prosecute trafficking, she said.  The Government was working on that project with the UNODC and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and hoped to implement it by mid 2007.

Regarding statistics on trafficking, she said Colombia was setting up a national information system and a toll-free number on trafficking.  There had been 12 cases of trafficked women and 3 cases of trafficked men in 2005 and 8 cases of trafficked women in 2006.  The victims were between 9 and 37 years of age.  Most were trafficked through Venezuela.  However, the statistics did not provide satisfactory results.  Attorneys had criminalized trafficking as kidnapping or sex crimes.  Over the next few months, legal specialists from the Attorney General’s Office would work specifically on setting up procedures to criminalize trafficking as such and was in the process of taking over some projects currently managed by the International Organization for Migration.

Domestic trafficking in human beings did occur in Colombia through the same networks used for trafficking drugs, she continued.  Traffickers used “mules” or people to swallow and transport drugs from sellers to buyers.  That act had been criminalized.  Trafficking crimes also involved the transport of people for forced labour, sexual slavery, forced marriages and illegal adoption.

In terms of reintegrating victims into Colombian society, she said the Government had trained personnel in the Office of the Procurator and other institutions how to properly manage the transition process for trafficked persons.  The Office of the Procurator had also devised guidelines and strategies for preventing trafficking and prosecuting cases of trafficking, as well as monitoring Colombia’s compliance with international treaties on trafficking.  It had partnered with the Financial Analysis Unit to track money laundering, which was used for trafficking people.   Colombia’s media project on anti-trafficking, developed with help from the United Nations, was considered the best United Nations project in the world of its kind. 

The women’s mechanism had developed a strategic plan to cover the protection of women in domestic violence, protection after a marriage break-up and in labour discrimination, another delegate continued.  The women’s mechanism was also establishing a joint agenda with the media to eliminate stereotypes.  On 29 January, a seminar on training against gender violence would be held, with family judges and commissioners and the Attorney General participating.  Further, 110,000 copies of a manual on domestic violence had been distributed

Territorial and municipal committees to care for displaced persons had been established, as well as a National Fund for Comprehensive Care for Displaced Persons, another delegate said.  Legal protection also had been established.

Addressing the needs of displaced persons was a complex task, she continued.  From 2002 to 2006, the Government had allocated 1.4 billion pesos to care for them; however, between 2006 and 2010, more than 4 billion pesos would be allocated, to better address the needs of that population.  The Constitutional Court had handed down a decision in 2004 stating that institutions caring for displaced persons must comply with certain requirements not previously required of them.

Describing the process for displaced persons, the delegate said that, once a person had become displaced, he or she made a declaration to the justice system.  That declaration was then assessed for the level of displacement.  If it was determined that a person had been a victim of violence, various services were provided.  Today, the Government was seeking a comprehensive care system that would include psycho-social care, particularly for women, in the process of grieving.

On sex abuse and domestic violence, another delegate noted that legislation had been changed to adjust to new realities.  Recently, women in Congress had put forward a draft bill on violence against women.  A draft bill also had been developed.  It was necessary to eliminate the requirement for conciliation with the bringing to justice of domestic violence cases.

On care centres, comprehensive care for domestic violence existed, the delegate said, particularly within the Prosecutor’s Office.  Many agencies were involved with that issue; however, greater coordination was needed among them to ensure greater impact.  The fact that more complaints had been registered was a positive development, as it meant that women were more inclined to exercise their rights.

Another delegate added that any victim could come to the centres and be treated with equal rights.  Reception centres also existed for children in 32 regions.

Further, she said that, in 2000, the Government had developed the National Plan for Building Peace and Co-existence, in view of “invisible violence” in the family.  Measures to prevent family violence would be instituted in 32 departments.  The Government had trained about 900 public authorities and held an international seminar against violence.

Returning to displaced persons, another delegate said teenagers were among the most vulnerable of displaced persons and that the pregnancy rate among displaced persons had increased.  There was a 33.6 per cent pregnancy rate among displaced persons versus a 20.5 per cent rate in the rest of the population.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that, regarding gender equity and equality, the decision taken by the Constitutional Court was completely in line with the Convention.

Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked for clarification on the issue of prostitution, the effectiveness of Government policy and the nature of Government interaction with non-governmental organizations and other women’s associations.

Country Response

One delegate responded that prostitution was not a crime; however, connected crimes, including pimping, trafficking and bringing people into prostitution, were indeed punished.  The prostitution of minors was a crime.

Psychosocial care existed for prostitutes and they were also covered within the health system, she said.  There also were programmes for women to seek alternative forms of income.  It was easier to gather data on prostitutes in cities like Bogota that had red light zones; however, there were no national statistics on the number of women working in prostitution.  The Government had urged mayors to assist in that effort.

The prostitution of children and sex tourism were also of concern, she said.  An agreement had been developed between various Government bodies and the tourist sector to prevent child sex tourism.  Another document signed by 32 governors and 3,400 mayors committed them to examining childhood and adolescence issues.  The Ombudsman’s Office was also party to another agreement to ensure care for victims of sexual abuse.

On equity and equality, another delegate said the Government understood equity to mean “preferential treatment” for disadvantaged groups.  Equity was linked to justice, and justice supported proactive action on behalf of women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 7-9

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked if targets set by the Quota Law to have women in 30 per cent of posts applied to all sectors.  What steps were being taken to increase the number of women in the diplomatic sector, which was currently very low?  Was there any time frame for that?  Had research been done to explain the decrease of the percentage of women in Government posts and what steps were being taking to change that situation?  Had there been any proactive steps to nominate more women candidates in political parties? 

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if all political parties had to meet the quota of filling 30 per cent of all posts with women.  Were there sanctions for non-compliance?  What obstacles existed for women trying to enter politics?  How were women protected?  Who defended their human rights?  Despite the overall drop in violence in Colombia, women were still hostages of armed groups.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said only 15.7 per cent of parliamentarian seats were held by women despite huge efforts to mobilize.  Why?  Did Colombia have a proxy system to let husbands vote for their wives?  Did it have electoral legislation and was it proportional?  Did Colombia use a voter’s list?  Six years ago the Quota Act had been passed.  Why then weren’t there more women in electoral level posts and campaigns?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked for clarification of the exact number of women ambassadors.  Was the Quota Act based on article 4.1 of the Convention and general recommendation 25 of the Committee?

Committee Chairwoman, FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if foreigners who married Colombians could keep their citizenship and pass it on to their children.

Country Response

Regarding quotas, a delegate said the Quota Law applied strictly to official posts in the administration, not elected posts.  A recent report of the Attorney General’s Office showed a marked increase in the number of women in the President’s Cabinet.  During the Uribe Government’s first term, a woman had become Minister of Defence for the first time.  Five of the thirteen Cabinet Ministers were women.  At present, four of the Cabinet Ministers were women.

In the past, there had been 276 political parties and movements in Colombia, she said.  That made it difficult for women to be strongly identified with a party.  In 2006, the number of political parties and movements had been reduced to 14.  The reduced number should make it easier for women to participate.

Party statutes drawn up many years ago were being reviewed and drafted, she continued.  Women did have a say on voter’s lists.  While there was not a law on legislative quotas for women, Colombia did have open voter’s lists.  That was a way to compensate for traditional difficulties faced by female candidates.  Open lists increased women’s chances for getting elected.

The Quota Law was part of Colombia’s affirmative action and temporary special measures, she said.  The courts did not set deadlines for employing affirmative action.  In 2005, women held 33 per cent of new official posts; 6.25 per cent of governorship posts; 6 per cent of mayoral posts; and 15.2 per cent of local council and assembly posts.  Women accounted for 11 per cent of judges in Constitutional Courts, 9.7 per cent of judges in the Supreme Court and 26 per cent of State Council posts.  On average 16.4 per cent of judges in high courts were women.

In October 2005, the Government had signed a political pact with all political parties and movements requiring them to form and implement action plans to increase the number of women in their membership.  In terms of penalties for non-compliance with quotas, she said repeat offenders could be suspended for as long as 30 days and could lose their posts if the pattern persisted.  Civil servants were given courses on the Quota Law.

The Government was promoting women’s community councils at the local level, she said.  A total of 323 councils comprised indigenous women, displaced women, women political leaders and academics.  Their objective was to define a common women’s agenda and create a network for popular participation.

Regarding kidnapped women and women held hostage by armed groups, she said that, thanks to a comprehensive strategy, there had recently been a drastic reduction in the number of kidnappings, murders and general attacks on the population.

Another delegate said the low percentage of women in political office had to do in part with the lack of public order and the high level of violence in the country.  The illegal paramilitary had harassed voters, and the current administration was trying to change that for the upcoming October 2007 elections for governor, mayor and counsellor posts.  Women were increasingly filling high-level posts.  For example, the Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations had been the first female President of Colombia’s National Congress.  The delegate noted that she herself was the first Deputy Minister involved in political affairs.   Colombia was not only trying to meet quotas.  It was trying to ensure gender mainstreaming.

In 2006, 408 of the country’s 1,908 indigenous governors were women, she said.  Elections were held in indigenous territories, which were highly autonomous.  The governments of those territories had integrated women’s rights into their traditional practices. 

Political parties had begun placing women on their voter’s lists, she said.  In Bogota, Colombia’s capital, 25 per cent of municipal council heads were women.  Those were elected posts and what happened in the capital had an impact on the rest of the country.   Colombia’s Government had signed a covenant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the October 2007 elections.  There would be a very wide-ranging campaign to invite women to actively participate in the elections.

Another delegate said Colombia now had women ambassadors to important countries such as the United States, Germany and Japan.  It had appointed women ambassadors to the United Nations, the European Union office of the United Nations, Nicaragua, Kenya and Spain.  The 35 female heads of missions included women heading consular services.  The Minister for Foreign Affairs was a woman and so was her predecessor.  Women held 36 per cent of diplomatic posts.  A total of 106 of the country’s 257 career diplomats were women.

Concerning children’s citizenship rights, she said a child born abroad to Colombian parents was granted Colombian citizenship if the child’s birth was recorded at the Colombia Consulate in the foreign country.  The child could obtain Colombian citizenship as long as at least one parent was a Colombian citizen.

Experts’ Questions and Comments –- Articles 10-14

Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, said the school dropout rate from ages 11-17 was highest, attributed to a lack of economic resources and pregnancy.  How many of those dropouts were indigenous or non-Colombian girls?  Girls should not be prevented from returning to school because of pregnancy.  How many measures had been taken to ensure pregnant girls enjoyed educational opportunities?

Would sexual and reproductive health activities be put into school curriculums to raise the level of sexual education of boys and girls?  Because of armed conflict, many displaced children could not receive education.  Law 2562 allowed children of displaced persons to receive public education, she said.  What measures had the Government taken on that front?  How many displaced children had gained the opportunity to return to school?  How many were girls?

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, addressing article 11 and commending Colombia for progress in the areas of employment and job creation, asked about pay inequalities.  The pay gap remained significant.  Was there data on the gap in the public sector?  How many cases had been brought under article 13 of the Constitution on pay gaps?  What were the outcomes?  Two workshops at the national level on the right to equal pay had taken place.  Did the Government envisage incorporating into the Labour Code the principle of equal remuneration?  Did the Government have data on numbers of displaced, indigenous and disabled women who had benefited from the National Training Service (SENA)?

On women working in maquiladoras and banana plantations, she asked what was being done to ensure their rights, especially regarding their health and safety.  On monitoring working conditions of women in the informal sector, she asked how the Government addressed that issue.  On social contracts with employers, how did the Government ensure implementation of legislation?

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, congratulating the delegation on progress in political affairs, asked about women’s health issues.  Did the Government have figures on abortion?  She had information that 350,000 abortions had been carried out illegally per year.  Was that true?  The Constitutional Court had decriminalized abortion in some cases.  Did women go to jail if they had undergone an abortion?  Was there draft legislation on decriminalizing abortion in cases other than those outlined by the Constitutional Court?

Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about access to primary education for internally displaced persons.  Estimates had indicated that 50 to 80 per cent of internally displaced children did not have access to education.  On labour employment, she was concerned at the high percentage of women working in the informal sector.  On the free trade agreement with the United States, was there a specific clause contained in it to protect women’s rights?

On abortion, she was concerned that, although abortion had been decriminalized in certain circumstances, other country experiences had shown that institutions and medical professionals often would refuse to follow the law.  Had the Government undertaken a campaign to work with doctors and health-care workers to ensure compliance?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, regarding articles 12 and 14 said one Government study showed there was a migration, especially of single women, to rural areas.  Law 731 had included health components for rural women.  What was the state of health services for women in rural areas and how many women used those services?

Some 450,000 abortions had been carried out in unhygienic conditions each year, she said.  Data showed that 78.4 per cent of all abortions had been the result of unintended pregnancies from not using contraception.  Was the use of contraceptives and family planning communicated?  Was there a possibility to further decriminalize abortion?

What was the mortality and infant mortality rates in rural areas?  Were there plans to reduce those rates?  Law 771 had been passed to improve quality of life in rural areas.  Since passing that law, how many women had benefited?

Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about article 14 and programmes for rural women.  About 31 per cent of displaced women lived in extreme poverty.  Did those women qualify for microcredit programmes?  What was the maximum and minimum limit for that credit?  Other than the microfinancing fund, did banks provide credit to rural women?  On displaced households, how did the Government address their concerns?  Did microentrepreneurship efforts address consumer goods or agricultural products?  What factors led women to become involved with drug trafficking?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, on legal provisions to benefit rural women in housing and agriculture, asked what ministry was responsible for implementation of those provisions.  What body monitored implementation?  She asked for details on contracts with private agencies for the promotion of occupational health.  Had there been a gender impact assessment?  She also requested details on the number of rural women benefiting from social interest housing.  What attention was being given to rural women who had been victims of armed conflict?

Country Response

On compulsory education, one delegate said that free education was provided up to grade 9.  On dropout rates, she said the phenomenon was more frequent among boys than girls.  Teen dropouts due to pregnancy were common and often the school was rigid in preventing them from returning to school.  Remedial support was provided in those cases.

The Constitutional Court had allocated funding for internally displaced persons, she continued.  Until 2005, 230,000 internally displaced children had been helped through flexible care packages, as institutional attention was not always the best solution.  The Government was trying to secure access to schools and integrate those children.  Internally displaced children were schooled free of charge.

Further, Ms. VASQUEZ ZAWADZKY added that there had been an improvement in the dropout rate, falling from 7.1 per cent to 6.2 per cent.  The Constitutional Court also had protected the right of pregnant girls so that they would not need to drop out while pregnant.

Another delegate, discussing the six-year-old “Families in Action” programme, said many internally displaced persons had been covered.  The goal was to cover 1.5 million families.  Mothers of minor children would be given access to health services.  The Government would like that programme to be the basis of all work done to combat extreme poverty.  It would be monitored on a monthly and then annual basis for five years and would shed light on how to best help people out of extreme poverty.

SENA also had several programmes, including vocational training for 18-30 year-olds.  That programme had been very successful and was open to all displaced persons.

On employment, women’s participation had increased, another delegate said.  However, most of those women were working in the informal sector.  There was a policy to create jobs and improve conditions.  The women’s mechanism had developed measures to ensure women had access to the financial sector through a microcredit programme, which gave credit and training to rural women.

The women’s mechanism also worked on marketing, she said.  About 90 per cent of businesses in Colombia were microbusinesses (less than 10 employees).  Of that, 50 per cent had been created by women.  Efforts had focused on strengthening those in food, handicrafts, clothing and leather industries.  The women’s mechanism had created the Female Entrepreneur Fair, which allowed heads of microbusinesses to promote their products in the capital city.  Also, President Uribe had given millions of pesos in credits to strengthen medium- and micro-enterprises, based on the belief that it was an important tool to escape poverty.

No information was available on salary gaps in the public sector, she continued.  Tutela actions and trade union-related mechanisms could be invoked in discrimination cases.

Turning to internally displaced persons, she said their homes showed a higher percentage of women heads of household.  While 80 per cent of male-led households contained a spouse or companion, such was not the case for female-led households, which was why affirmative action was needed.

To promote parity in the private sector, the Government was ensuring education for women; she added that, women had been joining the ranks of the financial sector.  The Government had taken a sampling of 50 multinational and national businesses, and noted that a salary gap indeed existed.

Turning to teenage pregnancies, another delegate said studies showed that, while women might know about contraceptives, they still had become pregnant.  To address that issue, the Ministry of Social Protection in 2003 had developed a sex and reproductive health policy which had been implemented.  Results included institutional management improvements and budgetary resources to support it.  Maternal care, use of contraceptives and childbirth care had been emphasized.

On maternal care, the delegate said, the Government had created a mandatory service-quality component, which had led to an evaluation of services provided for all illnesses, and included reproductive health and maternal mortality.  On rural and urban coverage, the social security service had different systems, one subsidized and one contribution-based.  The Government had made efforts to enhance both systems.

On abortion, the Constitutional Court in decision 355 had outlined the conditions under which voluntary abortion could be performed, she said.  No health provider was allowed to create an administrative obstacle to performing abortions under those specified conditions.  Poorer populations linked to basic health services would be seen in public hospitals.

In cases of conscientious objection, it was essential to point out that such an objection was a personal decision.  Women must be treated within five days of the three situations described by the Constitutional Court.

On the possibility of expanding decriminalization for abortion, another delegate added that three branches of Government would have to act harmoniously to carry out such a change.

Another delegate said the Colombian Family Welfare Institute did not hand over the actual salary of exploited child workers to their mothers, but it provided day programmes for children.  About 600,000 children were benefiting from the family welfare system.  Madres comunitarias, or house-mothers, could affiliate themselves with the General Social Security System for Health.  Legislation was being drafted to enable such mothers to join pension funds.  A total of 8.8 per cent of house-mothers had not completed primary school.  The Family Compensation Fund was providing them with primary schooling.  Almost $9 million had been earmarked for housing subsidies for house-mothers.

Regarding the free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia, another delegate said the agreement did not have an expressed provision to protect women’s rights.

In terms of credit access for rural women, she said the women heads of household programme provided lines of credit to women.  In 2006, a total of 56.9 per cent of credit to women heads of household was issued to rural women.  In 2006, a rural development promotion body provided 200 million pesos to women farmers and a total of 500 million pesos benefited 1,500 rural women.  The Productive Alliances Project’s 2006 budget was 12 billion pesos, and 15 per cent of its participants were women.

Concerning women’s involvement in drug trafficking, another delegate said most mules, or people used to swallow and then transport drugs, were women.  Also worrying was the fact that children were serving as mules.  The Government had massive ongoing campaigns to dissuade people from this practice.  It also had stepped up efforts at airports, ports and other exit points to capture mules.  Police, security and the army were working to combat drug production.  Drug trafficking was an internationally shared responsibility among Governments in seller and consumer countries.

Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 15-16

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if legal aid was provided to women for marital disputes.  How many cases of free legal aid had been granted to women?  She asked for statistics from 2003 to 2005 on domestic violence.  Did they show a drop or increase?  How many domestic violence cases were dealt with annually by family courts?  How many family commissions were there?  Were they mainly in rural or urban areas?  What kind of orders did they make?  What happened to repeat offenders?  Were there any coercive mechanisms to enforce compliance?  Were police officers and judges trained to deal with victims and perpetrators in line with national prevention policy?  Who ran shelters for domestic violence victims?  How many shelters were there?  How many women died annually because of domestic violence?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked what happened when a woman married a man of a different religion.

Country Response

A delegate said women had the same rights as men to choose a mate and to dissolve a marriage, but women did face difficulties with legal access.  A strategic plan had been implemented to facilitate women’s access to legal aid and resolution.  Free legal aid was offered to poor people, through all faculties and universities.  It was not enough to have a legislative framework if women did not have access to the courts.

Concerning family commissions, another delegate said family commissions in municipal capitals had been working to implement the Child Code signed on 10 December on sexual and domestic abuse.  Each commission had a victim care team of psychologists, social workers and in some cases a medical doctor.  Colombia was making a tremendous effort to develop information systems and an information management culture on domestic violence.  It had a national legal forensic medical institute.

In terms of reconciliation, another delegate said women had the right to chose not to reconcile with an abuser.  Sentences for violators were increased by three quarters if the attacker was a family member.  The reconciliation process was abandoned for repeat offences.

Another delegate said Colombia was a country of different religions.  Any religious group could open a house of worship as long it did not violate the Colombian Constitution.  All houses of worship must be registered with the Ministry of the Interior and Justice.  A woman could marry someone of any religion.  That religion was recognized of it was registered with the Ministry.  It was up to the married couple to choose their own religious status.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.