Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Congratulate Kiribati for Raising the Age of Marriage to 18, Ask about Birth Registration and School Dropout Rates for Boys
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic report of Kiribati, with Committee Experts congratulating Kiribati for raising the age of marriage to 18, while raising questions about birth registration and school dropout rates for boys.
A Committee Expert congratulated Kiribati for raising the age of marriage to 18.
Another Committee Expert asked about birth registration in Kiribati. Why did so many children in Kiribati not have a birth certificate? What was being done to allow children who were born outside of hospitals to have full access to birth registration? What measures were being taken to promote birth registration and ensure that all children had birth certificates?
One Committee Expert addressed school dropouts, saying there was a high dropout rate, particularly from boys who left school to work in the agriculture sector to earn money for their families. What was being done to address this issue?
Responding to these questions, the delegation acknowledged the shortcomings of the current birth registration system in Kiribati, while maintaining that the State had come a long way. Challenges were faced in terms of geography, and a lack of printing equipment, which meant that birth certificates were sometimes not issued to children in rural communities. Steps had been taken to combat these matters, with five islands having been visited so far by the mobile birth registration programme. This programme targeted those living in marginalised or remote regions, providing them with registration access, and access to birth certificates.
Concerning the high dropout rates for boys, a primary issue was boys’ lower attention span in a classroom setting, the delegation said. Additional factors for dropout included embarrassment, shame, being older than the rest of the class, and appeal for economic opportunities. To combat this, the Ministry was developing courses, including programmes such as business studies, hospitality, plumbing and woodwork, among others, with the goal to increase school retention rates and create pathways to technical and vocational education.
Introducing the report, Tarakabu Tofinga, Minister of Justice of Kiribati, said Kiribati was classified as a least developed country and consisted of 33 small atolls, scattered across more than 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean. In Kiribati’s traditional culture, children did not have a voice in decision making and there were few opportunities for them to air their views. However, there was a growing acceptance for this culture to evolve, to give children a greater voice in the community. The child definition in the Convention had been included in the 2016 Education Act, the 2008 Police Powers and Duties Act, and the 2014 Family Peace Act, the benefits of which included the right to education; protection from early and customary marriage; protection from harmful work; and protection from abuse and domestic violence.
In his concluding remarks, Phillip Jaffe, Committee Vice Chair and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Kiribati, thanked the delegation for all the information provided. The Committee looked forward to more interactions with Kiribati in the future.
Daisy Korina, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Women, Youth, Sports and Social Affairs of Kiribati and head of the delegation, thanked the Chair and Committee Members for the insightful questions and respectful dialogue. The dialogue had been intensive regarding the rights of children in Kiribati. Kiribati looked forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations, and gave traditional blessings of peace, health, and prosperity.
Mikiko Otani, Committee Chair, hoped the Committee’s recommendations would assist in the implementation of the Convention and extended her best wishes to children in Kiribati.
The delegation of Kiribati consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Women, Youth, Sports and Social Affairs; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Health and Medical Services; the Ministry of Education; and the Office of the Attorney General.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Kiribati at the end of its ninetieth session on 3 June. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 19 May at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Croatia (CRC/C/HRV/5-6).
The Committee has before it the combined second to fourth periodic report of Kiribati (CRC/C/KIR/2-4) .
Presentation of Report
TARAKABU TOFINGA, Minister of Justice of Kiribati, said Kiribati was classified as a least developed country and consisted of 33 small atolls, scattered across more than 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean, roughly the size of the total land area of all the countries of the European Union. The country had more than 4,000 square kilometres of ocean for every square kilometre of land. This meant significant challenges were faced in the delivery of services to over 119,446 people. The rights of children were of particular importance to Kiribati as it had a young population. According to data from 2020 census, 44.5 per cent of the population was aged under 20 years.
Mr. Tofinga said that Kiribati had a strong traditional culture that revolved around relationships within and between groups, with well-defined traditional structures and systems, which upheld many of the principles at the core of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The basic social and economic unit was the extended family, which provided social security to a child. This collective responsibility was extended to the village and the local community through which a child was taught their role and position in each of these groups. In Kiribati’s traditional culture, children did not have a voice in decision making and there were few opportunities for them to air their views. However, there was a growing acceptance for this culture to evolve, to give children a greater voice in the community
Mr. Tofinga said that recent measures related to the Convention included the amendment of the child’s rights bill on juvenile justice, which harmonised the rights of children with the Convention. The comprehensive National Foreign Policy ensured the rights of children stationed overseas, as their rights of citizenship was legally binding under the Citizens Act. It was also the policy of the Government to provide free milk to support children from ages 0 to 5 years old. The child definition in the Convention had been included in the 2016 Education Act, the 2008 Police Powers and Duties Act, and the 2014 Family Peace Act, the benefits of which included the right to education; protection from early and customary marriage; protection from harmful work either physically, psychologically or economically; and protection from abuse and domestic violence. In addition, reviews were being conducted to amend legal provisions that prevented equal rights between women and men to confer their nationality to their children and spouses.
Corporal punishment had been revoked under the Education Act, and children were protected from child pornography engagement under the 2016 Communication Act. Child labour was also protected under the 2015 Employment Industrial Relation Code. A programme was being run on sexual and reproductive health rights, to prevent and protect young girls from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Hotlines for the protection of children’s rights were run 24/7, with services provided by the Kiribati Police Service, the Ministry of Women Youth and Social Affairs, and the Kiribati Women and Children Support Centre. Mr. Tofinga concluded, by making special mention of funding assistance provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund, and said he looked forward to the deliberations ahead.
Questions by Committee Experts
PHILLIP JAFFE, Committee Vice Chair and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Kiribati, said the Committee appreciated all the efforts carried out by Kiribati to share a strong periodic report. An issue he wanted to flag was climate change and its effect on Kiribati, which had not been mentioned. The Committee would come back to this later. Over the years, a flurry of legislative reforms had been carried out, however, the State was yet to adopt an overarching national action plan or strategy concerning climate change. Could the delegation update the Committee on whether such a plan was in the works, and if not, what was holding it back? There were three key players involved in the implementation of the Convection in Kiribati. Could the delegation educate the Committee as to who did what? What were the resources for each of the entities? Was there a comprehensive effort to collect data on harmful practices and violence against children?
Mr. Jaffe asked about progress concerning the national human rights institution and what obstacles had been encountered? Was there a strategy regarding dissemination and awareness raising? Did the Government and civil society provide child-friendly versions of the Convention and other material? Could the delegation provide more information about the child protective advocates? How many were in the community? Had follow-up been conducted to determine the effectiveness of training provided to them? There was a clear trend towards harmonisation of the age of marriage at 18. However, the legal marriage age was set at 21, or at 18 with parental consent. Could the delegation provide clarity around this?
Mr. Jaffe said that the children of Kiribati were at a high risk of domestic violence, using an example from the report which said that boys and girls suffered from violent discipline, in the form of physical punishment. Some 77 per cent of girls in Kiribati said it was fine to be beaten if they did not respect their gender roles; this was noted as a significant problem. What was being done to address the root causes of violence against children? Would this issue be one of the top priorities of the Government? Could more information about the developments around corporal punishment be provided?
Could information be provided on law enforcement, judicial investigations, and convictions? Were there any special teams which operated to reach out to victims, to receive their complaints, and act on them? Could the Committee be provided with consolidated numbers of children under the ages of 15 and even 13 being married under traditional practices? Were these events tolerated? What was done if such circumstances were discovered?
A Committee Expert recognised the progress made by Kiribati in the sphere of education, asking about the implementation of all of the provisions? Was there a monitoring mechanism regarding implementation? Under the Kiribati citizenship law, the mother of a child who was born abroad did not have the right to give her nationality to her child, however a father did. What legislative measures were being undertaken to combat this discrimination against women, and prevent children from being rendered stateless? Why did so many children in Kiribati not have a birth certificate? What was being done to allow children who were born outside of hospitals to have full access to birth registration? Were there legislative measures to provide a framework for adoption, as it was noted these children had trouble registering their civil status?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that there was an umbrella of three groups which focused on the implementation of the Convention, each with its set budget. The National Human Rights Taskforce was established in 2014 and its main duty was to coordinate all reports to the treaty bodies under the four conventions that Kiribati had ratified. It also coordinated on reporting on any human rights and social development issues. Regarding the national human rights institution, the Taskforce had passed it and it was awaiting cabinet approval.
Kiribati was conducting training on the Principal Act, in conjunction with civil society. The Government provided police protection 24/7 for children who were abused, and police and social workers were responsible for the protection of these children. Kiribati was made up of three groups of islands, and social welfare offices were posted to all islands, to protect children from violence and abuse.
According to Kiribati’s legislation, the definition of the child meant any person under the age of 18 years old. As per the Marriage Amendment Act, the legal age of marriage was 21 years old, with any marriage under the age of 18 void under the law. Sexual intercourse under the age of 15 years was considered unlawful, and un-consensual. Any marriage solemnised between the ages of 12-15 years was void under the law.
Citizenship was an important issue, and one that the Government had yet to comprehensively address. Reviews were ongoing to amend legal provisions to allow Kiribati women to confer nationality to their children and spouses. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration was currently overseeing the process of citizenship.
The delegation acknowledged the shortcomings of the current birth registration system in Kiribati, while maintaining that the State had come a long way. Challenges were faced in terms of geography, and a lack of printing equipment, which meant that birth certificates were sometimes not issued to children in rural communities. There was only one registration centre on the outer island, and there were sometimes not enough paper forms for mothers to complete birth registrations, which sometimes resulted in births not being registered. There were additional challenges for those who gave birth at home to complete the registration, including transportation to the welfare offices. Steps had been taken to combat these matters, with five islands having been visited so far by the mobile birth registration programme. This programme targeted those living in marginalised or remote regions, providing them with registration access, and access to birth certificates. The programme was funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund, with more islands to be visited to close the gaps in registration.
Concerning adoption, there was no specific law which dealt with this issue. Adoption was recognised as part of Kiribati custom, and there were certain criteria which would be taken when a family adopted a child. Regarding the question on international adoption, this was considered an issue which the delegation was keen to investigate, as there was no specific law relating to this.
On the root causes of violence against children, the Government acknowledged that this was a serious concern. The root causes included poor parenting and domestic violence. To address this issue, the Government had taken several steps, including developing the Child Protection Referral Programme. Other programmes had also been developed, including parenting programmes. Corporal punishment was a major issue and still a concern. The Education Act had abolished the use of corporal punishment in school settings. However, it was still practiced in communities and families, and was considered socially acceptable. This was challenging, as changing the behaviours of the people took time. The Government was still working to find ways to eradicate and address the issue, with the hope of minimising the corporal punishment practice. Cases had been tried in court and parents had been imprisoned for this crime, however, exact figures needed to be determined.
Special support was provided to children with disabilities and young girls attending school. The Inclusive Education Programme had incorporated children with disabilities into mainstream schools. These children were provided with reasonable accommodation, assistance, and support to maximise their academic success. However, the delegation noted that sufficient resources were lacking, and there was a need to investigate the matter of inclusive education in preschool facilities. There was a need to ensure early education access for all children, particularly those with disabilities, and in rural areas.
Regarding the question on child protection advocates, the delegation said there were 23 advocates who had been trained to provide social welfare services on the islands. These advocates had been trained properly on child protection, as well as changing practices in communities. The Government had not yet evaluated the outcomes of this training, but a follow-up was planned, and an evaluation would be completed.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked whether there were national plans for education and support for children with disabilities, which would be effective from this year and onwards? What were the timelines for these plans? Were they based on a human rights model? Were children with disabilities consulted when drawing up these plans? What support was provided to parents, families and those who worked with children with disabilities? What measures were being taken to improve access for children with disabilities to mainstream schools?
The Expert asked about the measures being taken to improve access to healthcare services for all children? Did the State intend to establish mobile clinics? What measures were being taken to reduce the infant and child mortality rates? What was being done to increase immunisation? Was the State compiling data on chronic malnutrition, stunting and obesity? Were there any policies or action plans for the mental health of children and adolescents?
Were there plans for education programmes on comprehensive sexual health in schools? Was information on contraception being provided? What measures were being taken to prevent early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases? Was Kiribati bolstering the United Nations Children’s Fund Initiative of baby-friendly hospitals?
Kiribati was deeply affected by climate change, said the Expert, asking whether the joint action plan on climate change was being implemented? Did children take part in public debates on climate change? Was appropriate access to information on this issue guaranteed? Were climate change issues included in the school curriculum?
Another Committee Expert noted that a lot of good policies had been developed, however, it was not clear how far these policies had been adopted and implemented in schools. Could clarification on this be provided? When would these policies and guidelines be introduced in schools? The Expert noted that Kiribati needed new schools and asked what the Government was doing in this regard. There was a high dropout rate, particularly from boys who left school to work in the agriculture sector to earn money for their families. What was being done to address this issue? How were pregnant teenagers being kept in schools?
The Expert asked about special protection measures, noting that people would eventually migrate away from the islands because of climate change. Had any consideration been given to children who would be relocated, and how they would take their culture and history with them? Children in street situations were an issue in Kiribati. A study needed to be carried out to address this problem before it got worse. Regarding the sexual exploitation of girls on fishing vessels, was compliance with rules prohibiting this being policed? What happened when vessels or companies breached the conditions? Child offenders were sometimes housed with adults, said the Expert. An alternative needed to be found and this issue needed to be fixed. Experts were needed to develop the child justice system and provide training to personnel.
How did young children provide evidence in court? Were there any special procedures for these cases? What programmes were available to child offenders who had appeared before the courts, in terms of counselling and rehabilitation? What programmes were in place and where was assistance needed? The Committee Expert reminded Kiribati that its reports on the two Optional Protocols were overdue.
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to walk the Committee through the perspective of a child living on an outer island, who may be abused. Who did the child turn to or complain to? What would be done with this complaint, and what were the chances that this complaint would be carried through to an investigation?
One Committee Expert asked about late birth registrations, requesting information on the costs for late registration, and whether this may deter parents? What measures were being taken to encourage women to give birth in healthcare establishments? In hospitals, were mothers informed about all issues relating to birth? What was done when people did not have sufficient funds to pay to give birth in a hospital? What measures were being taken to promote birth registration and ensure all children had birth certificates? Had there been a study into the abuse of children on fishing boats? How were the victims of that prostitution assisted?
A Committee Expert asked what the Government intended to do to keep pregnant girls and young mothers in schools? What measures were being taken to ensure children could give their opinion, and ensure their views were considered? Were there frameworks for ensuring consultation with children at the national level, and on different islands? When parents were unable to care for their children, were these children then taken in by relatives? Were there alternative measures for those deprived of parental care, who could not be placed in foster families?
Responses by the Delegation
The implementation of the child safety in school policy was still in progress, with the first awareness raising campaign conducted in 2019 and carried out on four islands. Regarding the school disciplinary policy, an awareness raising campaign had been conducted. As for access to school for children with disabilities, the Ministry had developed a model for inclusive schools, including four primary schools, two junior secondary schools and three senior secondary schools. Two students with disabilities had been awarded overseas scholarships this year and planned to complete their education abroad. The Ministry of Education was working on the provision of daily school meals, from primary schools to senior secondary schools. Early childhood education was an area of high importance to the Government, which had growing momentum.
The delegation said that with regard to the high drop-out rates for boys, a primary issue was boys’ lower attention span in classroom settings. Additional factors for drop-out included embarrassment, shame, being older than the rest of the class, and the appeal for economic opportunities. To combat this, the Ministry was developing courses for year 10 and 11 which would be implemented in 2023. These included programmes such as business studies, hospitality, plumbing and woodwork, among others. All senior teachers in secondary schools would be trained in these programmes, with the goal to increase school retention rates and create pathways to technical and vocational education. Pregnant young women were encouraged to enrol or re-enrol in school and were given the opportunity to attend in-person, or home-based schooling, with support provided by teachers. The delegation said that the facility management units had been working towards achieving inclusive infrastructure, resulting in 25 primary schools with inclusive buildings.
The disability policy was in the early stages of its end of term review as the 2018-2021 version had elapsed. This would ensure that the rights of children with disabilities were addressed. A fund was provided for unemployed persons with disabilities and for parents of children with disabilities. Representatives of persons with disabilities were consulted during the planning of the disability policy.
Concerning healthcare in Kiribati, it was provided free of charge and there were no economic barriers when it came to access to health services. There were shortcomings, including geography and the remoteness of some of the islands. Also, the culture and lifestyles implemented within the islands sometimes hindered the programmes which had been put in place.
Regarding mobile clinics, the delegation said there were ongoing programmes taking place, including outreach to everyone across Kiribati. Within the Ministry of Health, there were child-based programmes, including reproductive, maternal and neo-natal programmes focused on the first 1,000 days - from the child’s birth until they were around two years old. In addressing child mortality rates, outreach was being completed by the obstetrics and gynaecology division that was reaching out to all clinics, helping to educate families on this topic. Regarding access to contraception, this was free to everyone, ensuring no one was left behind, with a particular focus on teenagers between the ages of 13 to 19. Abortion was not encouraged in the country, unless there was an issue with the woman’s health, or was due to medical reasons. For this reason, abortion would never be included in any law.
In response to questions on child labour, the delegation said that a child labour taskforce had been developed, with the aim to work with existing bodies and relevant authorities to address the issue. After the first child labour inspection, the officers were notified of the shortcomings in dealing with children who had been victims of these activities. The taskforce had a list of issues which they planned to address. In 2022, the national judicial conference would continue, across the three districts across Kiribati. The training would be conducted by Kiribati locals and would focus on brushing up on old laws and learning new ones.
There was no specific research in Kiribati on climate change, but instead a broad scope focused on assessing children’s vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. Impact vulnerability assessments were carried out. This ensured that no vulnerable groups would be left behind when it came to climate change, particularly children.
On arrangements for child witnesses, the delegation said that the courts had special procedures to ensure children could provide evidence in court without intimidation. Parents or guardians were permitted to sit in court with the children, and children could also face the counsel, rather than the accused. The judge would also be sympathetic to children when it came to asking certain questions. The judge could also request that the room be cleared when it was time for children to speak in court.
Concerning the abuse of children on fishing vessels, the delegation said that at the outset, there had been no studies carried out on this issue, with no cases reported upon or prosecuted. This was because most of the incidents on the vessels had not been reported formally. However, several measures had been implemented to protect children, including a 24-hour patrol on vessels to restrict movement to and from the vessels. There was also a strict license compliance rule, prohibiting anyone from boarding the vessel who was not authorised to be there. Failure to comply with this would result in the license of the vessel being revoked.
Awareness raising had been conducted in schools, educating children on their safety and where to report if they were abused. Avenues to report abuse included police, religious leaders, parents and gatekeepers. Three helplines run by support centres had been made available and children were aware of their existence. Follow up steps were taken to ensure cases were brought to court, and perpetrators were tried, with the safety of the child being the top priority. The delegation recognised that concrete steps had not yet been taken to address the issue of the Optional Protocols, however, the establishment of the taskforce had ensured that all reporting was up to date. The next directive of the taskforce would be to focus on the Optional Protocols.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert congratulated Kiribati for raising the age of marriage to 18. However, if marriages under the age of 15 had already taken place, with children being born, what did this mean for the nullification, in terms of child support? What was being done to put in place shared parental responsibility?
One Committee Expert asked about the construction of new schools. Could there be some feedback from the Government on this? There were clearly a lot of primary schools, but did the Government propose to address secondary schools, either alone or with the assistance of partners? Was sex education available in schools, as part of the curriculum? Regarding the separation of child offenders from adult offenders, this was a serious issue and the delegation had not yet responded to question on this.
A Committee Expert warmly thanked the delegation for their responses. Was there a policy to prevent the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs by children and teenagers? Did children in Kiribati participate in public debates on climate change? Were people being trained to use contraceptive methods? Were there policies on mental health amongst children?
PHILLIP JAFFE, Committee Vice Chair and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Kiribati, asked if there were specialist child psychologists and psychiatrists in Kiribati? Mr. Jaffe said he was pleased to hear that climate change was being included in the school curriculum, asking if eco-anxiety was being observed within Kiribati? What was being done to prevent discrimination against children and adolescents who struggled with gender identity? How was change within society being promoted to ensure that girls and women could have a fuller and more meaningful place? Were there any celebrations planned for the Day of the Girl in October?
A Committee Expert asked whether there was quality standard control for all alternative care methods? Were children consulted and their opinion considered regarding decisions made around alternative care? Were there monitoring mechanisms for all forms of alternative care?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that regarding the marriage of children under the age of 15, in the laws, there was no discrimination between a child being born to underage parents or being born to parents older than 15. The Government did not discriminate against individuals with non-binary identity, and bullying was not tolerated in schools. There was a very active lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, queer, transgender and intersex community in Kiribati, emphasising how social norms were changing over time. The delegation agreed that this was an area which they could, and should do more to ensure that no child was discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.
Birth certificates did not take three months to issue; this was the reporting period. All reporting of birth registration from outer islands would now be done within an online system, with the birth certificate issued as soon as the registration was completed, with the first certificate free of charge. A cost was only incurred when the birth certificate needed to be reprinted. The delegation took note that the fee may be an obstacle to registration for some families. Those who had the opportunity to register through mobile birth registration were not charged the late fee for registration. All children needed to be registered at birth, even if their fathers’ details were unknown. It was understood that home births may pose risks to the mothers and babies, however, home births attended by midwives could be successful in many situations. The delegation was pleased to convey to the Committee that the birth, deaths and marriage act was under review, with existing gaps identified, to ensure that no child was left out of the birth registration process, regardless of their background.
It was not presently possible to separate children and adults at police stations, due to the absence of juvenile detention centres in Kiribati. Due to the lack of specific facilities for juvenile offenders, they ended up being detained with adult offenders and often ended up in court. The State party planned to establish a juvenile detention centre, which was reflected in the new youth justice bill.
The topics of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases had been integrated into the school curriculum. The Ministry of Education had already constructed new classrooms and schools, however, this was only at the primary school level. New secondary schools would be considered in the near future. The delegation said there were currently no psychologists in Kiribati, but this was being considered.
PHILLIP JAFFE, Committee Vice Chair and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Kiribati , thanked the delegation for all the information provided. The Committee looked forward to more interactions with Kiribati in the future.
DAISY KORINA, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Women, Youth, Sports and Social Affairs and head of the delegation , thanked the Chair and Committee Members for their insightful questions and respectful dialogue. The dialogue had been intensive regarding the rights of children in Kiribati. Kiribati looked forward to receiving the Committee’s concluding observations, and gave traditional blessings of peace, health, and prosperity.
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chair, hoped the Committee’s recommendations would assist in the implementation of the Convention in Kiribati, and extended her best wishes to children in Kiribati.
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