WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP REPORT OF HONDURAS; CHILD LABOUR, WORKING CONDITIONS IN MAQUILADORES AMONG ISSUES

26 July 2007
WOM/1641

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP REPORT OF HONDURAS; CHILD LABOUR, WORKING CONDITIONS IN MAQUILADORES AMONG ISSUES

26 July 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1641
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber A, 797th & 798th Meetings (AM & PM)

WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TAKES UP REPORT OF HONDURAS;

 

CHILD LABOUR, WORKING CONDITIONS IN MAQUILADORES AMONG ISSUES

Minister of National Institute for Women Describes

Systematic Effort to Ensure Equality, Non-Discrimination in Judiciary

The Minister of the National Institute for Women of Honduras, promising to speak candidly to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, acknowledged impediments to Government efforts to improve women’s situation in Honduras, from a lack of coordination to limited funding and persistent cultural attitudes, but systematic efforts were under way to reform discriminatory legislation, sensitize police and judicial personnel, and generally “open up a space for action” through the national policy for women.

Presenting her country’s combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic report, the Minister, Selma Estrada, said the Institute had been working steadily with the Supreme Court of Justice -- on which 8 of 15 judges were women -- the prosecution service and the police to train relevant personnel, particularly judges.  All judicial staff up through to the appeals court were trained, including in the provisions of the Women’s Convention, in an effort to ensure gender equality and non-discrimination in judicial affairs.

The Supreme Court of Justice also sought to standardize the laws and root out the remaining discriminatory provisions, she said.  It was important that the penalties be increased for “femicide”, or the murder of women, occurring in Honduras, and decisions on such legislation were pending.  Additionally, a decree had been initiated to establish family courts in which to try cases of violence.  There had been extensive overhaul of the legislation regarding violent acts -- for example, there was a new law on domestic violence -- and a “one-stop” solution had been introduced to enable low-income women access to the judicial system and to ensure it was corruption-free throughout the entire process.

Some 40 per cent of the budget for poverty eradication went directly to the local councils, the mayors, and that was then allocated to projects focusing largely on women, she said.  There had been an increase in the Institute’s budget, and next year, new work would be launched with those increased funds in play.  The Institute also worked with women’s centres to empower not only women, but also the mayors and local councils to make them aware of their responsibilities and the need to use the budgets correctly, to the benefit of women.

Honduras had ratified the Women’s Convention in 1980, and the Minister announced today that a decision on accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention was currently pending with the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, who would then pass it on to National Congress.

Experts commended the Government for having 8 women judges of 15 on the Supreme Court of Justice, but asked how many cases concerning women had reached the Court, given that more than 100 women were murdered yearly, and the numbers of cases of rape and sexual abuse were alarming, not to mention the unreported cases of domestic and other forms of violence against women.  Related questions focused on the incompetence of the police and their attitudes, specifically whether the police were acting in accordance with the new law on domestic violence, which compelled them to respond and investigate domestic violence cases.  There was a law and a system -- the “one-stop” service -- but the Government had to make it work.

The Committee pressed the delegation on a range of other troubling issues, including trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation, high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates, underrepresentation in politics, scant budgetary allocation for the Women’s Institute, the large and virtually unregulated informal labour market, child workers and the working conditions in the maquiladores.

Noting that trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or prostitution was the most common reported form of trafficking in Honduras, one expert was seriously concerned that Honduran legislation punished prostitutes and prosecuted women who engaged in prostitution, but did not punish the practitioners. Traffickers, according to the Convention, must be punished, as it was not the victims who committed the crime.  The Government needed to look at the demand side.  With the reportedly high rate of pregnancy among adolescent girls, she stressed the need to charge those men making the young girls pregnant, and urged the formulation of a law on the carnal abuse of female children.

With more than 350,000 children working in Honduras, the situation was alarming, a member of the delegation acknowledged.  However, the Government was reviewing all legal aspects governing child labour with the objective of eliminating it altogether.  Given the sometimes abject poverty in the country, a child sometimes went to work.  The Labour Code, however, set down the minimum age for work, the length of time that could be spent at work and the conditions under which a child could work.  Further, sexual exploitation often occurred behind closed doors, and young people employed in house work were being trained to protect themselves.   Honduras would make sure that employers of children were punished.

Following a series of Committee questions about the maquiladores, a delegate from the Association of Honduran Maquiladores said there were 130,000 employees in the sector, 69 per cent of whom were women.  For years, companies had been aware of their social responsibility, and Honduras maintained the most modern facilities in Latin America, outfitted with amenities such as air conditioning, lighting that met standards issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, modern cafeterias and medical clinics that were supervised by the Social Security Institute.  Further, the per capita income of a worker in a Honduran maquiladora was about $4,129 per year, compared to about $900 in other sectors.

In addition, he said, the industry offered workers free transport and cooperated closely with international trade unions that inspected premises to ensure that standards were being met.  The industry also supported inspecting agencies and understood that its greatest assets were its workers.  To criticism that the industry encouraged workers to resign, he said that was totally contrary to its philosophy, as such a reputation would restrict progress.  The sector was in fourth place in exports to other countries, including the United States, which would not have been possible without good standards.  His association would work with the Institute to further improve the situation of women workers.

One expert said she was glad to hear there were “five-star” maquiladores in Honduras, but the fact was that profits were being made “on the backs of these women”.  On one side of the coin was an increase in women’s employment; on the other side these women, given the extreme poverty in which they lived, endured terrible working conditions and did not enjoy labour rights.

She said she had reports of some very disturbing practices.  Women were reportedly subjected to pregnancy tests, the working conditions were terrible, the hours were long and the pay was as low as $6 per day, sometimes to produce as many as 5,400 pieces daily.  There were arbitrary dismissals when women refused to work over the weekends, and closures of the companies without respect for the labour rights of women, such as severance pay.  She wanted to know what the Government was doing to safeguard the rights of those women.

Chamber A of the Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 27 July, to consider the combined fourth and fifth report of Indonesia (CEDAW/C/IDN/4-5).

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, met this morning to consider the combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic report of Honduras (document CEDAW/C/HON/4-6).

Presentation of Report

SELMA ESTRADA, Minister of the National Institute for Women and head of the delegation, introduced the members of the delegation:  Vilma Cecilia Morales, President of the Supreme Court of Justice; Sonia Marlina Dubón, Magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice; Irma Grissel Amaya, Special Prosecutor for Women; Nora Urbina, Special Prosecutor for Children; Doris Cortez, Police Inspector; Kenia Irías, Technical Adviser of the National Institute for Women; Arnaldo Solís, President of the Honduras Association of Maquiladores.  Iván Romero Martínez, Permanent Representative of Honduras to the United Nations, was also present.

Ms. Estrada said that the ministers responsible for drafting the text were here to speak candidly to provide all information in connection with the report.  She acknowledged that intensive coordination was still lacking on some fronts, but work was ongoing in a systematic way, especially in efforts to tackle domestic violence.  With limited funding, the only way to make progress was to ensure that efforts were pooled.  Her Institute had been working constantly with the Supreme Court, the prosecution service and the police to train the relevant personnel, particularly judges.  All judicial staff up through to the appeals court had been trained, including in the provisions of the Women’s Convention, in an effort to ensure gender equality and non-discrimination in judicial affairs.

The Supreme Court of Justice also sought to standardize the laws and root out the remaining discriminatory provisions, she said.  It was important that the penalties be increased for “femicide”, or the murder of women, occurring in Honduras, and decisions on such legislation were pending.  The laws must ultimately be enacted by Congress.  Additionally, a decree had been initiated to establish family courts in which to try cases of violence.  There had been extensive overhaul of the legislation regarding violent acts, and a “one-stop” solution had been introduced to enable low-income women access to the judicial system and to ensure it was corruption-free from the time of a complaint throughout the entire court process.

She stressed that when people were educated they became allies.  Some 40 per cent of the budget for poverty eradication went directly to the local councils, the mayors, and that was then allocated to projects focusing largely on women.  There had been an increase in the Institute’s budget, and next year, new work would be launched with those increased funds in play.

Unable to deny the existence of cultural attitudes hampering the work, she said she was working for the State, but also seeking to defend the rights of women, including through the establishment of sound relations with women’s organizations.  Efforts were also being made to involve other civil servants and enhance their commitment to the cause.  There was a national policy for women that cut across the sectors of health, education and violence prevention, which enabled the opening up of a “space for action”.  The Institute also worked with women’s centres to empower, not only women, but also the mayors and local councils to make them aware of their responsibilities and the need to use the budgets correctly, to the benefit of women.

She said it was also important to work with the media, which was an effective means to overcome existing taboos.  Women’s groups were also active in the municipalities, and their collaboration was sought.  She was aware of the stereotypes, particularly with respect to indigenous women.  They were discriminated against not only in the general population, but in their own culture.  Efforts were being made to change those attitudes beginning in childhood through the teaching of tolerance and rights for all, including women.  The Institute was also working closely with the trade unions, including the teachers’ union, which boasted 60,000 members.  An alternative education commission had also been established in the remote areas of the country.  On the subject of illiteracy, work was under way in 54 municipalities in a project called “I Am Capable”.  Of the 700,000 taught so far, most had been women.

On fertility, she said her Institute was working with various State institutions, and policies had been developed up to the presidential level to fulfil the third and sixth Millennium Development Goals, in connection with HIV/AIDS.  Efforts had been pooled with women’s groups to ensure results.  The President had ordered that antiretroviral medication be purchased immediately, and the First Lady had set up a coalition at United Nations Headquarters, where she worked alongside other First Ladies of Latin America to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS in the region.  Education was also important when it came to teenage pregnancy.  Men had to be educated and trained if their attitudes were to be changed.  As for migrant women, work was under way to gather statistics, including at the regional level.

There were nine women in the last session of the National Congress as a result of the application of the quota law in the 2005 election, she noted.  Women “really have to win our place” at those levels.  Presently, 26 per cent of the members of Congress were women, and there were eight women in the Supreme Court, so “we are really making progress -- winning space for ourselves”.  Still, the goal was 50 per cent representation.  Act number 104 required that political parties work towards that goal.  As a start, men in power must be made aware that “this is not just a whim, but a right”, and women were determined to achieve that goal.

She said that Honduras had ratified the Women’s Convention in 1980, but it had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol, on of only two countries in the region -- Nicaragua the other -- that had not yet done so.  She announced today, however, that the President of the Supreme Court would render an opinion on that and then pass it on to Congress.  So, the procedure was under way for accession to the Protocol.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked about articles 1, 2 and 5.  She was happy to note that the delegation had brought good news about the Optional Protocol.  She was aware that the National Women’s Institute had been lobbying, she said, noting it was important for the Committee to have enough time.  She was concerned at Honduras’ delay in submitting its periodic report, as the seventh report was due in March 2008.  She urged the delegation to submit its report in a timely manner.

As Honduras had been one of the first countries to ratify the Convention, she was concerned that discriminatory legal provisions still existed.  There had been improvement in the legal framework; however, the Family Code and Labour Code needed work.  She suggested abolishing all laws that discriminated against women.

On the preparation and status of the report, she urged that the concluding comments of the Committee be presented to the National Congress.  Acknowledging the country’s “considerable advances”, she said that the laws had not had a “considerable impact” on the lives of women.  The judicial administrative system had not been responsive and there had been reports of long delays and gender insensitivity.  She stressed the need for intensive training for judges and others on the Convention’s provisions.  As the Convention was integrated into the domestic laws, there had been no judicial pronouncements on the provisions of the Convention.  She asked for information on measures that ensured women’s access to justice.  What legal aid system was in place, and what were the criteria for obtaining it?

Concerning violence against women, there were reports that police had not always applied protection mechanisms in urgent cases, and promoted “reconciliation”, which should not be promoted.  She asked for the numbers of police officers who had received training and who had trained them.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, focused on the 11 national mechanisms for the advancement of women and gender equity.  She could not assume that all were part of the Government’s national machinery, as many of the mechanisms listed in the report perhaps functioned on the level of civil society and existed as agreements between different ministries.  Referring to the National Institute for Women, she expected it to be vested with the full responsibility to advance women and create gender equality.  Did the law that had created the Institute define its mandate, functions and responsibilities?  If so, could the delegation provide information on how that mandate was defined in regard to gender mainstreaming, specific gender equality policies and full implementation of the Convention?

She asked for information on the number of employees within the Institute, measures that existed to coordinate gender mainstreaming at the interdepartmental level and which person was responsible for monitoring the law on equal opportunities.  For the regular evaluation of measures, was there a similar structure to the one created for the law on domestic violence that would monitor the law on equal opportunities?

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, discussing articles 3 and 4, said she was surprised that, while Honduras had ratified the Convention, it was only the second time that the Committee had held a dialogue with the country.  What had contributed to the delay?  The report, indeed, showed what remained to be done to have the Convention implemented.  On the mechanism for gender equality, what was its position in the administrative hierarchy?  Did it have the capacity to raise issues with the ministries?  Often, progress had been made slowly for gender mechanisms and, therefore, each ministerial department would need to consider the consequences of decisions on women.

She also wondered about the resources available for the national mechanism, in terms of territorial collectives.  Often, countries adopted laws requesting that a commission on women, and local mechanisms to ensure application of national law, be established in each locality.  As the National Institute for Women was the main body working for equality, did it have specialized personnel to handle complaints from women?

Article 4.1 had not been properly understood, she continued.  Several countries had encountered problems with that article, which allowed for the use of temporary special measures to prompt women to move up in any given hierarchy.

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said she was impressed by the delegation’s commitment to women.  She asked about article 4 on temporary special measures, including for women in political life, as the participation of women remained unacceptably low.  The head of the delegation had informed the Committee that there was 26 per cent representation in the Parliament; however, the quota of 30 per cent had not been fulfilled.  Women accounted for only 6 per cent of the country’s deputies and there were no quotas for high-level administrative and foreign service positions.  In 2005, only 17 per cent of embassy positions abroad had been occupied by women.

Participation was far less than expected, she stressed.  Article 4.1 of the Convention called on States parties to employ special temporary measures and Honduras needed quotas and timetables to accelerate achievements of substantive equality.  Further, a legislative basis for use of those measures was needed in the Constitution or other legislation, in accordance with the Convention.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, commended the Government for the number of women judges on the Supreme Court of Justice, but asked how many cases concerning women had reached the Court, given that more than 100 women were murdered yearly, and the numbers of cases of rape and sexual abuse were alarming, not to mention the unreported cases of domestic and other forms of violence against women.  A question had already been asked about the incompetence of the police and their attitudes.  Were the police acting in accordance with the new law on domestic violence, which compelled the police to respond and investigate domestic violence cases?  The law was of no use if it was not implemented.  Was there any monitoring to see whether the “one-stop” service was working?  There was a law and a system, but the Government had to make it work.

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, agreeing that the media was extremely important in combating stereotypes, asked for data on the number of women actually working in the media, and whether there was a Government policy to change women’s image through the media.

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, had heard that the Institute, while it performed wonderful work, employed only 50 people, who sought to implement the Convention countrywide.  She had also been told that the staff was “generally removed” from the changes in Government, resulting in a loss of technical expertise and policy experience.  If that was true, was that the usual Government practice, or was that peculiar to the National Institute for Women?  Regarding its budget, she heard that it was only 0.001 per cent of the national budget, and that for women’s programmes overall, only 3.3 per cent of the national budget was allotted.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica and acting Chairperson of Chamber A, noted that the most common reported form of trafficking in Honduras was trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or prostitution, and in the form of “out trafficking” to other countries.  The delegation had said that Honduran legislation punished prostitutes and prosecuted women who engaged in prostitution, but it did not punish the practitioners.  That was a major problem, because traffickers, according to the Convention, must be punished; it was not the victims who committed the crime.  The Government needed to look at the demand side.  As for adolescent girls being made pregnant, was there any charge for men making those young girls pregnant?  There must be a law on carnal abuse of female children.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about access to justice and the matter of impunity.  She also asked whether rape was a crime or a courtesy.  In Latin American culture, the latter attitude was deeply rooted.  She related a case of a 26-year old male charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl.  The judge had ruled that the young man did the girl a favour.  The data in the report by Honduras showed a high level of impunity in cases of violence against women in the country.  In cases of sexual violence, the prosecutors were very concerned with evidence of vaginal secretions.  Even though those were involuntary, including in young girls, judges took it as evidence that violence had not occurred.

As the Committee’s general recommendation 25 had stipulated, States must comprehensively carry out more than formal juridical requirements of equal treatment of men and women, she said.  Direct discrimination was easily understood, but indirect discrimination in laws, both on the public and private fronts, must be addressed.

Delegation’s Response

On the submission of reports, one member of the delegation said she had not worked in the Institute at the time of their submission.  However, she could promise that the delegation would pass on the Committee’s requirements and would ensure that the country submitted its future reports in a timely manner.

Addressing the effectiveness of legislation, the President of the Supreme Court discussed the link between national legislation and the provisions of international instruments.  Activities were carried out through inter-institutional mechanisms among the police, judges and prosecutors.  Training was funded by the judiciary and other institutions, as well as through international cooperation.  Support had also been received through the National Congress and the Supreme Court.

Progress had been achieved with the help of women’s groups, she continued, noting that women were beginning to understand what type of domestic violence was occurring.  Women used to think that violence was purely physical; however they now understood it was also psychological.  That alone had led to a change in the approach of law enforcement officers.  Also, in the past, little use had been made of international instruments.  Today, however, they were quoted in court findings.

On protection, she discussed the introduction of a legal provision, whereby the judge was responsible for follow-up on sentencing and ensuring safety of the victim.  In the past, the appeal process had been a problem.  Through reform, it was today possible to ensure that women were duly protected throughout the process of appeal.

Reconciliation was a practice that used to occur, she explained, noting that corrections had been made thanks to the involvement of various organizations, such as the Centre for Women’s Rights.  On the recording of information, she said future reports would provide a more realistic look at an overall picture that could be demonstrated by statistics.  She was aware of the shortcomings in that area, particularly relating to intra-family violence.

The police inspector said the force was comprised of 15,000 members, all of whom had entered through the police academy, where education on the prevention of domestic violence was part of the curriculum.  Training manuals were currently being updated.  Due measures, however, were not always applied.  It was important that all officials worked with the same standards of security regarding women’s complaints, and the force was working with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice in that area.  Police training was undertaken with the National Institute of Women, the Supreme Court and the special prosecutor’s offices. The police were constantly receiving training on standard practice in dealing with women’s complaints and hoped to establish offices throughout the country.  She added that complaints could be brought against officers, and such complaints would be investigated.

The head of the delegation then explained that it was not easy to replace people in positions of authority each time the Government administration changed, as there was a learning process associated with each post.  The Ministry for Security, for example, initially had not been aware of women’s issues and needed education.  The Institute had made agreements with various departments to discuss issues with new entrants, but it was also important to work at the grass-roots level with police forces.  Further, there was a gender-rights training module, which should be given to those “on the beat” who were directly in contact with the community.  She added that Honduras was reforming its laws and attempting to speed procedures.

On the prosecution’s work with the police, the Special Prosecutor for Women’s Affairs said her office was working in a coordinated manner with the police.  Women could submit a complaint against police, and there was a judge responsible for ensuring compliance with various measures.  Also, training programmes on domestic violence issues were improved each year and the success of those efforts had been seen in more consistent compliance with the law.  The gender unit in the police would have been “unthinkable” years ago, she added.

Turning to the women’s mechanisms, the head of the delegation said the National Institute for Women was an autonomous body.  It had initially maintained a very small budget, which made it difficult for the office to carry out its projects.  The small budget today was “laughable”, but it was also worrying, as more than half of Honduras’ 10 million inhabitants were women.  Awareness of the Institute was needed and she had been trying to forge alliances with the Supreme Court and other bodies.

The question today was how to turn the Institute into a secretariat of State, she explained, adding that, as executive president of the Institute, she was also a Government minister.  However, her institution did not have the same status as other ministries.  Gender matters required the full support of other ministries, as decreed by the President.  Thus, she was fighting for the Institute to become a fully-fledged ministry.

Regarding work with other organizations, she said there were 50 offices in the 295 municipalities and the Institute was planning for more.  Some ministries were helping with funding to establish those offices.  Support was also needed from women’s organizations to open new areas of work.  She also discussed a law outlining how “women’s offices” could at once become part of municipalities’ work and broader efforts to achieve decentralization; meaning, for instance, that a newly elected mayor would commit to working with women.  The Institute had achieved support from mayors, in that regard.

She explained that the Institute could not do all the training it would like, but was allocating part of its budget for communicating with the media.  The Institute was transparent in its use of funds, and had provided scholarships to journalists who had not been aware of the gender perspective.

The Institute maintained a staff of 50, she added, noting that there was not enough staff to undertake all its work.  Some 6 million Swedish kronor -- about $1 million -- from Sweden had been used for institution-building.

The Institute was located in the Cabinet and requested State institutions to create a “focal point” for women’s work, she continued.  With the support of Sweden and the United Nations, Honduras had introduced a gender dimension to its poverty reduction strategy and was gathering statistics on how women spent their time.  Regarding asset ownership in marriage, she said that under the Family Code of 1984, in a civil marriage, virtually no married women had any control of their husband’s assets.  So, if a problem developed in the marriage, the women were left with nothing.  Documents would be submitted to Congress on “communal assets”.  She said a decree would be issued in early August for the promotion of the family, as 38 per cent of women were heads of household and must be protected.  The Institute was working with mayors and notaries to ensure women could communicate that they wished to be married with “shared assets”.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked about the internal oversight office.  Did women know they could call that office in cases of improper police response to their complaints?  Within the police, a women’s unit or one that dealt with rape was usually not respected.  What was Honduras’ experience? Also, within the Supreme Court, there was a specialized court -- was it staffed with specialized judges?

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about the consent of victims on the collection of forensic evidence.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said that the law on elections introduced a minimum quota of 30 per cent for women’s participation in politics.  However, that only required political parties to adopt policies on gender equity six months before convening general elections.  Had that period for the provision to enter into force already occurred?  Was there an assessment of how parties had complied with that provision?

Parties were important pools of recruitment for men and women to hold high-level positions, she stressed, noting a drop in the number of female heads of ministries.  The same negative trend had been seen in the diplomatic personnel serving abroad and in consulates.  In 2002, 29 per cent of diplomatic personnel serving abroad had been women; in 2005 it had been less than 10 per cent.  What measures were envisaged to promote women in public offices?  Could the Government provide, in its next report, more accurate data on participation in consultative bodies, for better insight on women’s participation in State administration?

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked whether the rise in the number of women elected had taken place under the 2004 law requiring a 30 per cent minimum quota for women.  That quota had not been met for deputies.  Had there been proper implementation of the law?  Did sanctions exist for political parties that did not meet the quota?  Noting that the quota would also be applied during the next municipal elections, she said many countries had adopted laws establishing quotas for candidates, which had led to an increase in the number of women elected to Parliament.  It also was noticed, however, that virtually everywhere the quota had been achieved, it began to act as a ceiling.  Honduras should take that into account.  Also, she asked for an explanation on the 2004 law as it applied to the military hierarchy.

Delegation’s Response

On trafficking and sexual exploitation, a member of the delegation said a 2004 study conducted by Casa Allianza showed that 10,000 children had been the subject of sexual exploitation and trafficking.  It was difficult to quantify the phenomenon, as it often did not come to light, but an inter-institutional commission had been established in 2004 to coordinate work.  In 2005, night club inspections had been carried out.

Discussing commercial sexual activity, she explained that if no complaints were made, exploiters could move very rapidly from one place to another.  Some arrests made in night clubs and had gone to court, while others remained at the appeal stage.  Government tracking of activities along the border with Nicaragua had yielded only one case of child exploitation and the case had been sent to court.  Sexual exploitation did exist, but perpetrators changed their operations quickly and officials had to adapt.  Child exploiters were now in massage parlours and disguised as beauty salons.  The causes of such activity ranged from intra-family violence to poverty, she said, noting that the criminal system needed to be “retuned” so that it did not “re-victimize victims”.

Another difficult task involved penal reform to appropriately combat commercial sexual exploitation, she added.  Non-governmental organizations, including Casa Allianza, had been very helpful, and the training of judges, police, civil society and in schools was ongoing.  Further, a media campaign making use of the radio and posters focused on exploiters, who could face 10 years imprisonment for their offences.  She stressed that more police were needed, as officers today could be involved in cases for months at a time.

Turning to the question about whether rape was a crime or a courtesy, a delegate said that “really make us think”.  The case of the young man of 26 found not guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl was included in the training files as a bad example.  Attitudes had to be changed, and work was under way, including with civil society, which was playing a great part in reforming legislation and directly affecting, not only attitudes, but updating the “technical side”.

She said, for example, that instruments would soon be standardized for the judicial staff, including judges and police, regarding the assessment of evidence.  Standardizing how evidence was used throughout a proceeding would make the process more transparent.  When Honduras submitted its next report, it should be possible to better assess statistics and outcomes, in order to really see to what extent commitments were being realized.

Yes, she said, in response to further questions, convictions had been obtained against the perpetrators who engaged in trafficking and prostitution; the responsibility had been placed squarely on the men who had “caused” such situations.  In August, the Supreme Court of Justice would submit to the National Congress at its own initiative a new Criminal Code, which sought to improve the provisions covering such matters.

Another delegate said she had heard about women who had suffered abuse by police, adding that there was a hotline for women or their neighbours to call for assistance.  However, it existed in only one administrative area of the country.  It was housed in the Health Ministry and employed some trained personnel.  So, the response was not only to send police to provide protection, but also some kind of emotional support.  The Institute had been in contact with the Health Minister to ensure that the hotline was 100 per cent effective.

As for the commitments made by presidential candidates to non-governmental organizations, she said there had been a lot of promises in the platforms.  The candidates “promise heaven and earth”, but it was up to the women’s organizations to see them through.  Where candidates did not comply with their promises, “we need to come out very strongly and say so”. 

She added that, when the 30 per cent quota had been introduced in the electoral law, everyone had been delighted; but, in 2002, it had not been enforced, largely because enabling legislation had never been issued.  Where women did appear on the electoral lists, they were usually near the bottom.  Even an electoral tribunal failed to require compliance.  Pressure was brought to bear and they hade been made aware of the problem.  She would personally work very closely with the political parties.  The so-called gender agenda must be submitted six months in advance, and it had been, but it was not implemented.  Women were encouraged to join the ranks of political parties, but a lot remained to be done on that front.

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, focused on the absence of information on women who worked in the informal sector, asking if the Government was addressing the particular vulnerabilities of different categories of female informal workers.  It was important for Government policy-makers to recognize the informal work force and to ensure that appropriate policies and services were put in place.  Large numbers of women in Honduras were employed as domestic workers, and she urged the Government to address that informal sector and take steps to improve conditions of those workers.  It was very difficult to understand labour market behaviour if a major segment of the work force remained invisible, unacknowledged and excluded from the benefits of those who engaged in formal employment.

Turning to women in the maquiladores, she said she had reports of some very disturbing practices.  Women were reportedly subjected to pregnancy tests, the working conditions were terrible, the hours were long and the pay was as low as $6 per day, sometimes to produce as many as 5,400 pieces daily.  There were arbitrary dismissals when women refused to work over the weekends, and closures of the companies without respect for the labour rights of women, such as severance pay.  What was the Government doing to safeguard the rights of those women?  Was the Government seriously considering amending section 44 of its equal opportunities act, in order to reflect the broad meaning of the relevant portion of the International Labour Organization act? she asked.

Ms. MAIOLO, expert from Italy, expressed concern about the situation of children.  The morning discussion had revolved about sexual exploitation, but there was also the problem of exploitation in the labour force.  An 8-year-old child should not be allowed to work, but should be in school.  She had seen the declaration on the gradual elimination of child labour, but she had not understood the specific actions undertaken by the Government in that regard.

Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said the description in the report on women’s health was “really depressing”.  There was a high percentage of adolescent pregnancy, which really deterred women’s development, and the abortion and AIDS issues were also serious.  Those three issues were priority health concerns, and she wondered why no one from the Health Ministry was part of the delegation.  Girls and women were dying in Honduras because of unsafe abortions and the AIDS pandemic, as well as early pregnancies.  The Government must find a solution such obstacles to women’s development.

She said she had read that there was some ongoing sex education in the schools, but she also had information that teachers were prohibited from using sex education guides.  She knew that the influence of the Catholic Church in Latin American countries was great, just as it was in her country, but there must be someone in the Catholic Church in Honduras who thought differently.  When a law prohibited abortion altogether, even in the case of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy endangered the mother’s life, then it was a crime to allow the woman to die.  That kind of crime must be challenged.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she was also very concerned about the difficulty encountered in introducing sex education in State schools.  Was something preventing that from being taught in all schools, or just in some schools?  The Minister had acknowledged the existence of some religious difficulties, but to what extent were those difficulties “standing in the way” of adherence to the Constitution, which provided that education should be of a secular nature and based on the central principles of democracy -- according to article 151 of the Constitution?

Returning to the issue of trafficking, Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked whether the reform of the law on commercial sexual exploitation in 2006 had dealt directly or comprehensively with human trafficking.  She also asked whether a new law would be put in place that dealt solely with human trafficking, as that was a big area in itself.  Had the country ratified the Palermo Protocol on human trafficking?  If not, she strongly recommended that it do so.  In dealing with human trafficking, she recommended consulting the relevant work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and that it conduct some research of its own, as a basis for further action in that regard.

Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, spoke about article 14, saying that the report showed 45,000 rural women engaging in farm work.  She wondered whether they were treated equally in terms of wages, profits, access to land and credit facilities, and agricultural inputs.  Also, was there a gender-responsive programme that covered health opportunities for rural women?  She also asked about a time-bound targeted programme under which young rural women could flourish in the informal sector.  Did micro-credit programmes exist to help women become economically independent? 

Further, were there marketing facilities at rural and national levels to ensure proper profit-sharing for primary producers?  Finally, she wondered about financial support services for rural women and any plans that provided for the well-being of indigenous women.

Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said it was obvious that many women had broken through the glass ceiling.  However, there was a tragedy occurring. Education inequality in Honduras was extreme and illiteracy high.  Thirty per cent of children living in indigenous and black communities did not attend school.  Would the Government right the historical wrongs and make education compulsory in those communities?  She stressed the importance of examining the intersection of sexism and racism and urged that temporary special measures be used to cover those populations.  Otherwise, there would be no peace.

Turning to rural women, she wondered whether they had been integrated into the forestry industry, which paid more than the subsistence agricultural industry.  When foreign companies appeared, she was concerned that rural women attain a “fair share” of the benefits.  She knew they were discriminated against in maquiladores, a problem which was not unique to Honduras.  However, the Government had a responsibility to its citizens, including its indigenous and black populations.

Delegation’s Response

Regarding the informal economy, a delegation member agreed that women’s large contribution to the informal economy was not being suitably recognized.  She touched on various initiatives, including one that brought together women engaged in domestic work in private homes to register for and receive social security.  Also, through the Ministry of Labour, a “dignified jobs initiative” was being put forward, which focused particularly on women in the informal sector.  She described regional initiatives that reviewed micro-credit policies and criteria for accessing it.

The Institute had also focused on women as “important and decisive stakeholders” in the economy, she said.  The President had launched a decree for couples that ensured access to housing for women in rural areas.  For 16 years, she had been the head of an organization that had provided loans to 17,000 women to foster entrepreneurship.  Once women completed their training, they were given a loan.  She described how women often banded together to buy a van to bring their products to market, rather than pay for an intermediary to do so.  Women did not want to be categorized as vulnerable, she explained.

Training in restoring land quality was also available, she said, and the Institute was receiving support from certain ministries for that purpose.  On the issue of access to land, she described the Institute’s work with the gender unit of the World Bank, which had devoted funding to the question of land tenure in Honduras.  She hoped to put forward a bill that would allow women to hold land deeds.  Also, she said, there was often a discrepancy of 15 to 25 units of national currency between pay for men and women.  A man, however, often did not contribute more than, say, 45 per cent of what he earned to the household, whereas a woman would put 95 per cent towards the household.

In practice, she said that, of 140,000 rural women who had obtained loans almost 75 per cent repaid them, with many preferring to go hungry than not repay.  Men, on the other hand, preferred to smoke and drink, rather than repay.

Further, she added, the Institute was working with a forestry organization that oversaw logging activities to ensure a gender dimension was included in its operations.   A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was working with another forestry organization, and a $15 million project was being undertaken by FAO.  Indicators were needed to measure the impact.  Also, she hoped to work with the office of women to understand how women could become engaged in forestry protection, and the growing and selling of plants. 

A delegate from the Association of Honduran Maquiladores, said there were 130,000 employees in the sector, 69 per cent of whom were women.  That majority had occurred because women frequently were the heads of households and had to support their children.  For years, companies had been aware of their social responsibility, and Honduras maintained the most modern facilities in Latin America, outfitted with amenities such as air conditioning, lighting that met standards issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, modern cafeterias and medical clinics that were supervised by the Social Security Institute.

Further, the per capita income of a worker in a Honduran maquiladora was about $4,129 per year, compared with about $900 in other sectors, he explained, adding that the country boasted the highest wages in Central America after Costa Rica.  The industry offered workers free transport and cooperated closely with international trade unions that inspected premises to ensure that standards were being met.

The industry supported inspecting agencies and understood that its greatest assets were its workers, he said, explaining that companies could not prosper with unhappy workers working in poor conditions.

To criticism that the industry encouraged workers to resign, he said that was totally contrary to its philosophy, as such a reputation would restrict progress.  The sector was in fourth place in exports to other countries, including the United States, which would not have been possible without good standards.  His association would work with the Institute to further improve the situation of women workers.

On trafficking, another delegate said the reformed Penal Code would contain penalties for commercial sexual exploitation, but trafficking for other purposes, such as organ removal or forced labour, still needed to be investigated and penalized.  Work was ongoing within the different areas of the Criminal Code on those aspects.  When a person was trafficked for any purpose, a penalty could be imposed, but trafficking for other purposes had to be dealt with individually, in keeping with the provisions of the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.  The new draft Criminal Code defined those types of defences under “trafficking for other purposes”.  The Supreme Court was also involved in ensuring that it was carried out correctly. 

To the question about the Palermo Protocol, Honduras had ratified the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and it was now being implemented, she continued.  It had acceded to the Protocol, but not yet ratified it, although domestic regulations already incorporated the provisions of the Protocol.  Honduras was also aware of the guidelines that had been issued on trafficking.  Perhaps the Committee could recommend how additional research on trafficking could be carried out more fully.

Another delegate admitted that the country was living daily with the problem of “very early pregnancy”.  The religious dimension was very important in Honduras and the rest of Latin America.  Article 151 of the Constitution spoke of a secular State.  Honduras was not a religious State; there had been a separation of Church and State.  But, a very religious member of parliament had been elected, and when the study of the sexual guides for use by teachers had begun, the matter became very controversial.  The Catholic Church spoke out against the guides, saying it was not against sex education, but against the manuals because they discussed sex.  They only contained diagrams of a naked boy and a naked girl for use by teachers.  Teachers could correctly deal with it, but they had to be trained appropriately, and that had been agreed.  There had been an emergency meeting on the subject.

Follow-Up

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said that the international organization for gays and lesbians said there was arbitrary violence against homosexuals in Honduras.  Was the Institute working to protect the rights of gays and lesbians?

Also, children under the age of 14 were apparently employed.  What was the Institute doing to counter that practice? She had been delighted to hear from the delegation that maquiladores were “heaven on earth”, but she wondered why they would be so different in Honduras from elsewhere.

Concerning abortion, a delegation member said that was approached from the angle of prevention, but there were situations where prevention was not enough.  If it was not possible to interrupt the pregnancy, the woman might die.  Women had their reasons to seek an abortion, which should be respected.  Those did not always concern a threat to the mother’s life. In Brazil, for example, there had been a case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped and made pregnant by her father.  She could not understand a situation when the interests of the fetus outweighed those of the mother.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said the delegation had been silent when statistical information was requested.  The Government had been asked what efforts were being made to pursue gender equality in the area of education.  Access to education and gender equality in education was not only a human right, but an instrument for achieving gender equality in all areas covered by the Convention.  What steps were being taken to include the gender equality perspective in a human rights framework in the training and retraining of teachers and educators?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, drawing attention to the fact that the equal opportunities act did not include the words “equal value”, asked whether the relevant ministry was considering recommending an amendment to the law to include those words.  Turning to the working conditions in the maquiladores, she, too, was glad to hear there were “five-star” maquiladores in Honduras, but the fact was that profits were being made “on the backs of these women”.  On one side of the coin, there was an increase in women’s employment; on the other side, these women, given the extreme poverty in which they lived, endured terrible working conditions and did not enjoy their labour rights.  She deplored that her questions concerning the labour inspectorate had not really been addressed.

On family relations, she asked if the family courts were already in place and whether women had easy access to those courts.  Was legal aid was provided, and to what extent were those courts family-friendly?  She also wanted to know if the best interest of the child was at the centre of the process.  Was comprehensive legislation envisaged to address family and marriage relations? she asked.

Delegation’s Response

Regarding indigenous minorities of African origin, a delegation memebr said that support for such communities and groups was provided in the ministry that dealt primarily with education and health.  Approximately two months ago, the cabinet had issued a decree specifically regarding the indigenous people of African origin on the Atlantic coast, comprising some 14 to 15 groups.  In that decree, the Government committed all State secretaries to identify how each ministry would assist those people, through their work plans.  So, that was a formal and official commitment, to which follow-up was also ensured.

On child labour, another delegate explained that the ministry was part of a technical group for the elimination of child labour, which had been convened by the Labour Ministry in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO).  The group was reviewing all legal aspects governing child labour.  Everyone was well aware that child labour must be eliminated, but given the sometimes abject poverty, a child sometimes went to work.  The Labour Code, however, set down the minimum age for work, the length of time that could be spent at work and the conditions under which a child could work.  It also dealt with economic exploitation.

She reiterated that the objective was the elimination of child labour.  The group was also coming up with a detailed list of all types of dangerous work, which would allow the inclusion of some conditions that, up to now, had not been incorporated into the draft code on child labour.  That would then be submitted to Parliament.

Often, sexual exploitation occurred behind closed doors and in secret, so young people employed in house work were being trained in study programmes on weekends, she noted.  Much progress had been made in the context of a plan of action for the protection of children, and efforts would be redoubled to combat child labour.  The situation was alarming, as more than 350,000 children were working, according to the latest ILO studies.  Honduras would make sure that employers of children were punished, she added. 

She said there were 26 clinics to address adolescent pregnancies and that several cases of child sexual abuse had been convicted in the courts.  The clinics also focused on prenatal care and provided girls with family planning information and child care.  However, the clinics must be strengthened at the national level, as support was often provided to urban rather than rural areas.

Another delegate took up the issue of abortion, conceding that it was still practiced -- particularly in hospitals -- despite a law that forbade it.  Under article 67 of the Constitution, which focused on individual rights, the fetus was considered a living being.  Commissions on human rights had made recommendations to the Government on termination of pregnancy, she added.

Turning to statistics, she conceded there were no statistics on education, but noted that the Institute was receiving support from international organizations in that area.

On the question of parity and gender equality, she said those issues posed totally new challenges for universities.  The Institute had partnered with universities to change the negative stereotyping.  It was drawing on the experiences of universities, including the National Pedagogical University, to raise awareness of sexist content within curricula.  In teaching the natural sciences, for example, the human body was discussed “down to the waist”, and the Institute was trying to change that.  The Institute was also training nursing, medical, economic and legal faculty to include gender sensitivity in their teaching.  More research was needed, however, on access to schooling among girls and boys.

Regarding equal opportunity and its bearing on the Family Code, another delegate said the Law on the Equality of Opportunity was a complement to, rather than a replacement of, the Family Code.  Achievements made in increased access to judges would be reflected in the next report, she said, adding that there was a need to boost the number of specialized courts in the country, as main cities handled more than 80 per cent of cases.

On the maquiladores, she said the State needed to improve its inspection capabilities and work closely with the International Labour Organization.

The head of the delegation, Ms. Estrada, then concluded by saying that Honduras had recently undertaken work with its 200,000 persons with disabilities, and had a minister who handled those matters.  She thanked the Committee experts for all their questions.  Her delegation had come with a spirit of absolute truth and looked forward to the Committee’s conclusions.  She had taken on board the matter of inadequate statistics and hoped to report to the Committee next year that the delegation had successfully implemented all its suggestions.

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