The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the initial report of the State of Palestine on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the dialogue, the Experts noted the peculiar and extremely challenging environment that the State of Palestine faced – occupation, settlement construction, blockade and violence. They also raised issues that, despite the challenging circumstances, could be improved: the legal and policy framework, the protection of children from violence, the situation of children with disabilities and the mental health of children, among others.
In the dialogue, the delegation of the State of Palestine said that the Middle East peace proposal that the President of the United States had launched yesterday was the “theft of our time”, not the “deal of our time”. The first theft was the last century when the Balfour promise created a State for the Jews in Palestine, and today came the second promise where they would give away the rest of Palestine to the occupying State Israel.
The delegation told the Committee that President Trump’s proposal flaunted international law and replaced it with United States’ policy. The peace proposal denied the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and ignored the two-State solution agreed to by the United Nations Security Council. The proposal would enter the region and the world in a new state of chaos. The State of Palestine was committed to international law and raised its children to believe in and respect international law and human rights.
Committee Experts noted the peculiar and extremely challenging environment that the State of Palestine faced – occupation, settlement construction, blockade and violence. They also raised issues that, despite the challenging circumstances, could be improved, including the legal and policy framework, the protection of children from violence, and the situation of children with disabilities and mental health of children, among others.
The Committee – alongside other human rights treaty bodies – understood how the many years of Israeli occupation hampered the stability, the provision of services to children, and the enjoyment of the right to a non-violent childhood, noted the Experts.
Given the restrictions on freedom of movement, population displacement, demolitions of homes, and excessive use of force by the Israeli security forces, settlers’ violence and the restrictions to access to services, Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee was well aware of how difficult it was to be a child in Palestine.
The Experts noted the accusations that the State of Palestine was inciting children to violence against the occupying forces and inquired about measures taken to protect children from participating in the armed conflict against Israel.
The delegation, led by Ahmed Majdalani, Minister of Social Development, said that the State of Palestine was committed to the principle of peaceful coexistence and a world based on justice in which the potential of the Palestinian people could be achieved. All Palestinian parties and factions had signed a code of conduct that prevented them from involving children in any demonstrations.
There was no need for the State of Palestine to provoke or incite Palestinian children to demonstrate or engage in acts of violence against the occupation – acts of violence by the occupying forces they witnessed on a daily basis were enough, said the delegation. They urged the Committee to call upon Israel to review its racist laws and policies that discriminated between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel.
The Experts discussed at length the country’s domestic legal order, the place of the Convention in it and the harmonization of laws with international standards. The legislation on child rights was fragmented and not always consistent with international law, while the lacunae in the national legal framework weakened the protection of the child from all forms of violence and abuse and hampered the effective access to justice for child victims. They urged Palestine to expedite the review and adoption of draft laws, especially on the protection of the family from violence and on the rights of persons with disabilities.
All laws were drafted in line with international obligations arising from the international treaties and instruments and with the Constitution of the State of Palestine, explained the delegation. A harmonization committee had been set up to bring the legislation in line with international standards; it was composed of jurists, magistrates, civil society organizations representatives and women. It had drafted the law on the protection of the family from violence, which contained a definition of the child that was fully in line with the Convention, and had raised the age of marriage to 18 for boys and girls.
At the end of the dialogue, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, said that the peculiar and extremely challenging environment that the State of Palestine faced would be adequately reflected in the Committee’s concluding observations.
Ahmed Majdalani, Minister of Social Development of the State of Palestine, concluded by informing the Committee that 2020 would be proclaimed the Year of the Palestinian Child – the whole of the Government, civil society organizations and international partners would dedicate efforts to defend and promote the rights of the child.
Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding remarks reiterated the Committee’s awareness of what it meant to strive to implement the Convention given the occupation and the blockade.
The members of the Committee’s task force for the examination of the report of the State of Palestine were Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Bragi Gudbrandsson and José Angel Rodríguez Reyes.
The delegation of the State of Palestine consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Public Prosecution, Sharia Judicial Council, Central Bureau of Statistics and the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs. Representatives of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva were also present.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of the State of Palestine at the end of the session on 7 February. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 30 January to review the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Austria (CRC/C/AUT/5-6).
The Committee has before it the initial report of the State of Palestine (CRC/C/PSE/1) under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its replies to the list of issues (CRC/C/PSE/RQ/1) and its annex.
Presentation of the Report
AHMED MAJDALANI, Minister of Social Development of the State of Palestine, said that the State of Palestine was committed to the principle of peaceful coexistence and it would work and cooperate with all countries and peoples in order to achieve a just and lasting peace based on justice and the respect of rights in which the potential of all could be achieved. One of the principles of the State was the belief in the equal rights of all Palestinians without discrimination, including on the ground of race, religion, colour, gender, political opinion or disability.
The State of Palestine was fully committed to respecting the rights of the child even before it had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2014. The 2004 Child Act that was amended in 2012 was evidence that the Government looked to its children to build the State of Palestine despite all challenges and impediments.
A Supreme Committee had been set up to supervise the accession to international treaties and the National Strategy for Human Rights had been aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Civil society organizations worked alongside the Government in the advancement of human rights and the implementation of policies. The Children’s Council had been set up in 2016 as an advisory body.
In January 2020, the President had been entrusted to take measures to publish the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the official Gazette. Guidelines and procedural bylaws for the implementation of the amended Child Act 2012 had been developed and the Juvenile Protection Act had been adopted in 2016. Training and capacity building had been provided to the members of the commission who were in charge of harmonizing national laws with international treaties and instruments.
Amendments to the Labour Act tackled the issue of child labour and recommended that the minimum age for work be raised to 16, in line with the age of compulsory education. A body had been set up to revise the Penal Code to strengthen the legal framework protecting children from abuse and to introduce stricter sanctions for the perpetrators of crimes against children, especially children with disabilities. Work was ongoing to draft a law on human trafficking, while the law on the rights of persons with disabilities and the law on the protection of family from violence had been drafted with the support of civil society organizations.
The National Children’s Council had been set up to prepare policies and programmes related to children’s issues. The Government had appointed 261 teachers in schools in Gaza and set up 270 kindergartens. It was working with the United Nations Children Fund on the early identification of disabilities, said the Minister.
A complaint procedure in the Office of the Public Prosecutor and a complaint system in schools had been set up. An electronic mediation system was being set up as an alternative to detention for juveniles, while a Memorandum of Understanding between the police and the Ministry of Social Development prohibited the handcuffing of children.
The Government had furthermore instituted programmes in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, prevention of disability and prevention of drug use. About 80 per cent of all children under the age of 16 had government health insurance and all children enjoyed free mental health services and free access to immunization. Marriage age had been set at 18 and the Grand Khadi had been authorized to make exceptions only when that was in the best interest of the child.
Legal aid was provided for children and adolescents detained by the Israeli occupying force. According to the latest statistics, 745 children and adolescents had been detained. Since 2000, more than 3,000 children had been killed by the Israeli occupying force.
Due to the Israeli occupation, Palestinian citizens and the Government were denied access to resources for development, the Minister said. Jerusalem and Gaza were not under the control of the State of Palestine, which had been denied access to those areas to organize elections. Israel continued to exercise its racist and discriminatory policies in the occupied territories and Mr. Majdalani urged the Committee to heed the call of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and called upon Israel to review its racist laws and policies that discriminated between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel.
Questions by the Committee Experts
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, commended the State of Palestine for its quick ratification, without any reservations, of the Convention and its Optional Protocols, including the Optional Protocol on communications. This, she said, was a very courageous move. The Committee, alongside other human rights treaty bodies, was very well aware of the difficulties caused by the many years of occupation, including in providing stability and services in the State territory.
The State of Palestine had ratified many international treaties in a very short period of time and had set up a committee for the harmonization of national laws with its international obligations. What was the composition of that commission and what were they working on? What was the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the domestic legal order? When would the State of Palestine enact the law on family protection and the bill on persons with disabilities?
The delegation was asked how the national strategy for the promotion of the rights of the child and sectoral strategies, which also referred to the rights of the child, were resourced, coordinated and monitored. What was the composition and role of the National Children Committee?
The Central Bureau of Statistics collected data for two age groups, the 0 to 14 and over 15, which made it very difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation of children who comprised all those aged 0 to 18.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had lost $ 300 million in funding, also due to the suspension of funding by the United States. This had caused delays or interruption in direct transfers to the population in need, which further aggravated poverty among children, especially in the Gaza Strip. What was the share of social expenditure in the State budget and what measures were in place to improve targeted budgeting for the rights of the child?
Ms. Idrissi asked about the Government’s support for the functioning of the independent Human Rights Commission, including to enable it to address complaints it received. What impact did the Commission have on the situation of human rights and on children rights in State of Palestine?
The Committee was concerned about early marriages, as under Sharia, girls as young as 12 could marry.
While non-discrimination was one of the legal principles, there was still de iure and de facto discrimination against girls, children with disabilities and Bedouin children, including in accessing basic social services or the age of marriage.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, inquired about birth registration after 11 days and whether the associated fees facilitated or hindered birth registration. What was being done to clear the backlog of children who had not been registered at birth and to enable parents living outside of the State of Palestine to efficiently register the birth of their child?
Nationality was governed by a complex set of laws, including the Civil Status Law 1999 and the Jordanian Citizenship Law, among others. Mr. Mezmur asked about the nationality of children of unknown parentage and children born to Palestinian parents who did not have identity cards.
The Law on Cybercrime 2017 had reportedly placed restrictions on the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly. As for the right to privacy, the names and images of children were published in the media without explicit authorization. On the right to freedom of religion, the regulations allowed children to address the court if their parents did not agree with their decision to change their religion from the religion of their fathers – were there any such court cases.
BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, said that the occupation and the construction of settlements seriously hampered the enjoyment of the right to non-violent childhood. This environment required critical examination, he said, noting accusations that the State of Palestine engaged in rampant incitement of children to violence against the occupying force. Had all measures been taken to protect children from participating in armed conflict against Israel, he asked?
Mr. Gudbrandsson commended the efforts to prevent sexual violence in schools and other settings but was concerned about the evidence that suggested that the sexual abuse of children was not openly discussed. Child victims were often blamed and seen as instigators of violence, while statistics on the prevalence of sexual violence against children was very limited. What plans were there to strengthen the child protection system in line with child friendly and multidisciplinary principles? What child-friendly services and processes were currently available to support children victims of violence and abuse?
Between 15 and 20 per cent of married women had been under 18 years of age when they had entered the marriage. The raising of the age of marriage to 18 in 2018 was therefore very commendable. However, the courts could still authorize a marriage of an underage child if it was in her or his best interest. Furthermore, the concept of the best interest was subject to judicial interpretation and courts therefore allowed young girls to marry much older men who had means. What measures were in place to preclude those practices of the court?
JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, noted that the State of Palestine was currently reviewing the law on the protection of family from violence and asked whether the legislators were considering a ban on all forms of corporal punishment in all settings.
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions raised on the domestic legal order, the delegation said that international law superseded national law, with the exception of the Independence Act and the Constitutional Act. All laws were brought in line with the State of Palestine’s international obligations. The Family Protection Act was perfectly aligned with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and with the religious and moral values of the society. The commission for the harmonization of the laws was composed of magistrates and other stakeholders. The Sharia Execution Law and the Justice Enforcement Law had already been amended.
All Palestinian parties and factions had signed a code of conduct that prevented them from involving children in any demonstrations. They continued to maintain a strong commitment to this instrument. There was no need for the State of Palestine to provoke or incite the children to demonstrate or engage in acts of violence against the occupation. The acts of violence by the occupying forces that they witnessed on a daily basis were enough. In the 2008 operation Hot Winter, Israeli forces had killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children in the Gaza Strip. The killing and injuring of the Palestinian children had not stopped there.
The State of Palestine always acted in the best interest of the child; it worked to harmonize its legislation with international human rights instruments and to provide services to all suffering people. The department for detainees and former detainees worked to collect information on those detained by the occupying force, including children, and to provide them with services after their detention.
The age of marriage had never been nine years in the State of Palestine, the delegation stated categorically. In 2018, the age of marriage had been raised to 18 and the only exception was the protection of the child, for example to avoid that a child was born out of wedlock or to protect the mental health of the child. There was no interest in marring a young girl to an older man only because he had money and no Palestinian parent would sell their child so.
The act on the constitution of civil society organizations did not have a negative impact on their freedom and did not set an age limit for citizens to set up a civil society organization. It was thus possible for a child to establish a non-governmental organization.
Recently, the Government had adopted a concept of multidimensional poverty, which took into account elements such as education, health, mobility, social assistance and others. According to data, 29 per cent of the people lived below the poverty line. Because of the Israeli blockade, poverty was concentrated in the Gaza Strip, where 79 per cent of the people were poor. The Government provided free of charge health and education services; supported 100,000 families, including 40,000 female-headed households; and 327,000 children benefitted from direct financial assistance.
An independent national human rights institution operated a complaint hotline for children. A guide that described the procedure from filing a complaint to the prosecution had been prepared with the involvement of children and the Child Defence Fund. All complaints were confidential and private, and no one could punish a child for filing a complaint. Twenty-six complaints had been recorded in 2019 and measures had been taken against the perpetrators.
In rural areas, complaints could also be filed with the police, which had officers – both male and female – trained in dealing with victims of violence. In 2019, the police had received complaints from 362 child victims, including 12 children with disabilities and over 200 girls.
Schools were part and parcel of the society and reflected what happened in the society itself. Violence in schools stemmed from the Israeli occupation. A strategy to eliminate such violence had been set up to understand the forms and causes of violence and to prevent it from occurring. Several hundred councillors worked to raise awareness and instil a culture of non-violence among students in public and UNRWA-run schools. In addition to the curriculum, the Government had installed programmes to address the issue, such as the peaceful interaction between pupils programme and the human rights programme. Student Parliaments existed in schools and were open for membership to all students.
Questions by Committee Experts
In the next round of questions, BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, took positive note of important programmes to support families, especially the multidimensional strategy to reduce poverty. The State of Palestine should consider the adoption of a comprehensive family policy and a plan of action to strengthen support to families with children.
The legislation on child rights was fragmented and not always consistent with international law; it often considered the child not as an independent entity but as the property of the family. For example, the Personal Status Law did not allow the child to express his or her views in custody matters. Additionally, it seemed that a child could be removed from the family without a judicial review. Mr. Gudbrandsson urged the State of Palestine to review this legal framework and bring it in line with international laws and regulations.
Children of imprisoned mothers could be detained with the mother until the age of two. How many children were in such a situation and was the State of Palestine considering alternatives to the detention of mothers to avoid the imprisonment of children? The age of criminal responsibility was 12 and it was reported that in the Gaza Strip it was nine. This was below the internationally accepted standard of 14 years so the Committee urged the Palestinian authorities to revise the age of criminal responsibility.
JOSÉ ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ REYES, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, took note of the pending law on persons with disabilities, which would bring the country in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The national strategy for persons with disabilities needed updating, as did the strategy for inclusive education. It was important to create a database of persons with disabilities that would contain data on the type of disability, and to roll out an awareness campaign to combat stigmatization and discrimination against children with disabilities. When would those changes take place?
The Committee was well aware of the devastating effects of the Israeli occupation and blockade on the situation in the Gaza Strip, especially access to health, said Mr. Rodríguez Reyes, and asked about the resources and activities to provide access to quality health care, especially to pregnant women and infants.
Could the delegation comment on health inequalities between the Palestinian people, especially the Bedouins and others? Had abortion been decriminalized? What measures were in place to ensure access to mental health services for children and prevent suicide?
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, asked about the enforcement of the law that proclaimed the first year of pre-school education free of charge. The Basic Law, the Children Code and the Personal Status Code were not clear in that primary education was genuinely free and compulsory. What were the consequences for students who were not able to make the required financial contribution? There was a disparity in school enrolment between girls and boys, with more girls in school than boys, in difference to many other countries in the world. Was this difference explained by the occupation?
Replies by the Delegation
With regard to the Middle East peace proposal that the President of the United States had unveiled on 28 January, the delegation of the State of Palestine said that this was the “theft of our time” not the “deal of our time”. The first theft was the last century when the Balfour promise created a State for the Jews in Palestine, and today came the second promise where they would give away the rest of Palestine to the occupying State Israel. The promise flaunted international law and replaced it with United States’ policy. The proposal denied the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and ignored the two-State solution agreed to by the United Nations Security Council. The proposal would enter the region and the world into a new state of chaos. The State of Palestine was committed to international law and raised its children to believe in and respect international law and human rights.
Despite the difficult political situation in the Gaza Strip, the Government was working with Hamas to implement the laws approved by the legislators of the State of Palestine. All the laws were respected to a large degree in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past 18 months, the Government had been developing a draft law on the rights of persons with disabilities, in cooperation with academia, civil society and persons with disabilities themselves. It had been presented to the Council of Ministers with a view to its adoption. The Council for Persons with Disabilities was mandated with the implementation of disability policies, while a specialized disability fund existed in the Ministry for Social Development.
State of Palestine, like other countries, hosted refugees as it was mindful of its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Refugees were hosted in several areas – Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank; they were Palestinians who had a right to return to their homes. The Government and international organizations provided humanitarian support and social services.
The Central Bureau of Statistics collected and published data that was necessary for policy-making, including statistics related to the rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals. Data on the rights of the child had been collected since 1999 and the indicators on the rights of the child, which drew on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, had been developed in 2012. Data on children referred to all children under the age of 18 and was accessible through an interactive website.
As far as budgetary allocations were concerned, the delegation stressed that the financial crisis that the State of Palestine had been facing since 2017, when the United States had undertaken a series of punitive measures against the Palestinian people, including the cutting off of all assistance to the tune of over $ 840 million.
The United States had also cut its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East by $ 300 million. This had caused a reduction in services provided to the Palestinian people, including to more than 600,000 schoolchildren. Since 2019, international assistance to the Palestinian people had dropped by 40 per cent compared to 2010; in 2018/2019, it had amounted to $ 450 million.
The financial crisis affecting the State of Palestine was still ongoing. In 2018, the budget shortfall was $ 1.23 billion; in 2019, it had reached $ 1.5 million, and it was expected that the gap would continue in 2020. Nevertheless, the State of Palestine continued to allocate a significant proportion of its budget for social purposes, especially to education, health, social care and culture.
Turning to the cost of education, the delegation explained that students needed to pay school fees of $ 14 per year for their textbooks. The Ministry of Social Development financed the studies for 45,000 students and 10 per cent of all students were exempted from payment for humanitarian reasons. Thousands of children in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere were unable to pay school fees, but no child was turned away from school, reassured the delegation.
More than 90 per cent of schools had emergency units trained in public safety and security; students also received emergency training. The use of schools for any extracurricular purpose was prohibited, especially for military purposes. This, however, had not stopped the Israeli forces from bombing the UNRWA schools during the war in Gaza, although those schools were flying the United Nations flag.
An Expert inquired about the content of education and how textbooks promoted the concept of peace and tolerance; she also asked about measures to prevent children from going to school with guns and knives.
Responding, the delegation said that the school curricula from grade 1 to grade 6 had been reviewed the previous year and all content not in line with the rights of the child had been removed. As for the glorification of martyrs, the delegation said that, like any other State and nation, Palestine also celebrated its heroes. Carrying weapons of any kind in school was prohibited and any student who violated the rules faced disciplinary proceedings. Despite the ongoing financial crisis, the State of Palestine maintained the funding levels for the Ministry of Culture, which enabled it to continue to promote a culture of peace and tolerance.
Reproductive health was included in the curriculum and was adapted to the age of the child; it included teaching on sex education. Relations among adolescents in Palestine were similar to relations between young people elsewhere. However, given the moral values in the society, sex between adolescents was rare. Condoms and contraceptives were not distributed in school.
In 2014, the State of Palestine had adopted a policy on inclusive education. There were 250 centres for the integration of children with disabilities and more than 5,000 specialists received regular training. Currently, there were 540 children with hearing disabilities and 500 children with visual disabilities.
Mental health services were provided through public centres, which were supported by the Government. The Government also purchased mental health services from private centres, to enable access for children and adults. Two residential institutions, both public, catered to children with mental health issues: the El Hallil centre that had 140 resident children and the Jasmine centre in Ramallah with 80 children. Psychological specialists and psychiatric nurses were available in every directorate to support children victims of violence and trauma.
A committee would be set up to combat suicide and suicidal thoughts, in cooperation with the psychological unit of the Ministry of Health and mental health centres.
The delegation confirmed that maternal, infant and under five mortality rates had indeed increased: for infants, it stood at 11.7 per 1,000 live births; for children under the age of five it was 13.4 per 1,000 live births; while the maternal mortality rate stood at 24.7 per 100,000 live births.
Female genital mutilation was prohibited, as was abortion except when the life of the mother was at risk. There were 170 people living with HIV/AIDS of which only one was a child, who had contracted the virus from the parents. There was no transmission of HIV through sex among adolescents. School health programmes covered all children from the age of three, which, among other issues, aimed to detect disabilities or depression early.
Palestine had introduced the concept of multidimensional poverty; it would review all its social policies through this lens.
Corporal punishment was prohibited in educational settings and in the family. A Working Group headed by the Ministry of Justice was reviewing the Penal Code. The new Penal Code would contain two new chapters, on violence against children and on violence against children within the family, including corporal punishment.
The Disabilities Act 1999 had been revised and in its article 9 it had defined the responsibility of the State to protect persons with disabilities. Criminal sanctions for violence against a person with disabilities were harsher if the victim was a child. Complaints of violence could be filed with the police or the Ministry for Social Development. A campaign to raise awareness of the society and institutions about disability issues had been undertaken, while broadcasters reserved space for programmes on disabilities to do away with stigma.
There were 657 children in alternative care institutions. A guide on positive parenting had been developed and workshops to educate parents on the topic were being undertaken. The Sharia Court had set up a plan to provide premarital sex education.
In 2015, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Government had reviewed the child protection system. In 2019, the system had been assessed again, with the support of Save the Children. There were 29 protection councillors and the Government was working on doubling this number to cover all governorates. With the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Government was drafting the national strategy on violence against children.
In 2019, the Government had decided to reactivate the National Council for Children, including to review its financial independence, legal personality and expand the participants to include children. The President of the Council had recently received the final draft proposal, prepared with the input from all partners and civil society.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts and Responses by the Delegation
In follow-up questions, BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, pointed to the lacunae in the national legal framework, which weakened the protection of the child from all forms of violence and abuse and hampered their effective access to justice. For example, the draft law on the protection of the family from violence did not include the prohibition of incest. In addition, girl victims of sexual violence and abuse were required to marry the perpetrators. Including the minimum age for sexual consent in legal provisions was extremely important to ensure the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation, he stressed.
Responding, the delegation said that the State of Palestine was a signatory to the Safe Schools Initiative and had instituted a programme to protect schools and education from attacks.
The draft law on the protection of the family from violence tackled incest and rape in the family at length. This abhorrent behaviour must be eradicated. Assistance and support were available to children victims of such acts. Children involved in sex work were victims, not criminals, stressed the delegation. The age of sexual consent was 18 and the age of marriage was the age above which both women and men could give consent.
All legal bills were drafted in line with international obligations arising from the international treaties and instruments and with the Constitution of the State of Palestine. Legal experts, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and the public were involved in the drafting process. The harmonization committee that brought the legislation in line with international standards was composed of jurists, magistrates, civil society organizations representatives and women. The Legislative Council had been abolished.
One of the harmonization committee’s important achievements was the drafting of the law on the protection of the family from violence, which contained a definition of the child that was fully in line with the Convention. It was also drafting the law on human trafficking in cooperation with civil society organizations and national human rights institutions. Other successes included the harmonization of the Labour Law and the setting of the minimum age of work at 16, as well as the raising of the age of marriage to 18 for boys and girls.
The State of Palestine had extended a standing invitation to several United Nations special procedures.
The Israeli occupation, which controlled the borders, had slowed down the drafting and the adoption of the citizenship law. A fine for late birth registration was very symbolic and was meant to encourage parents to register their children and avoid that the Israeli occupying authorities denied them an identity document. Occupation authorities also denied identity documents to children whose parents did not have identity cards.
Every Palestinian holding Palestinian identity documents was entitled to a Palestinian passport. The passport was also issued to Palestinian refugees who did not have any other passport to facilitate their freedom of movement. The passport was recognized by every nation except the occupying power.
BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the State of Palestine, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the very constructive conversation. The questions raised did not disregard the peculiar and extremely challenging environment that the State of Palestine faced and this would be adequately reflected in the Committee’s concluding observations.
The dialogue also focused on issues that, despite the challenging circumstances, could be improved. Those included the legislation, the legal status of the Convention and the need to expedite the review, and the adoption of draft laws. Violence against children, the mental health of children, and children with disabilities were among other issues that required more attention by the Government.
AHMED MAJDALANI, Minister of Social Development of the State of Palestine, in his concluding remarks, said that the people and State of Palestine had only one need: to put an end to the Israeli occupation and enjoy full sovereignty over its territories. 2020 would be proclaimed the Year of the Palestinian Child, the Minister said. This year, the whole of the Government, civil society organizations and international partners would dedicate efforts to defend and promote the rights of the child.
Palestine called upon the Committee to defend multilateralism and international law, which also contained the rights of the child. The Committee should also call for the resumption of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East so that Palestinian children could access basic services, including health and education.
LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, concluded by reiterating the Committee’s awareness of what it meant to strive to implement the Convention given the occupation and the blockade. The Committee was well aware of how difficult it was to be a child in Palestine, he said.
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