COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES BENIN’S REPORTS ON SALE OF CHILDREN AND ON CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT

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26 September 2018

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Benin under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Introducing the report, Séverin-Maxime Quenum, Minister of Justice and Legislation of Benin, outlined the steps taken to strengthen the country’s legislative and policy framework, highlighting in particular the domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international instruments, the adoption of the Children’s Code in 2015 and the law on prevention and prevention of violence against women in 2012, and the adoption of the National Child Protection Policy and its Action Plan in 2014, which took into account the prevention and fight against the phenomena of prostitution and sexual exploitation of children.  The new Criminal Code, voted in 2018, provided for very severe sanctions for human trafficking, while the 2017 campaign on zero tolerance for child marriage, aimed to break the code of silence and encourage systematic reports of those cases.  The Office of the Tourism implemented awareness raising campaigns for those working in the tourism and hospitality industry, and ten focal cells had been installed in four departments of the country to collect data on all offenses committed against children.  In September 2017, Benin had taken stock of the living conditions of children in reception and child protection centers, which had led to the development of the national plan for quality improvement of the conditions for children in care.  There were 389 shelters for child victims that had provided care and support to 10,473 children.  The Minister concluded by stressing Benin’s true will and strong determination to uphold the rights of the child and to have a clean record in matters of child trafficking and sale, and child pornography and prostitution.

During the discussion on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Committee Experts emphasized the need to improve the definition of the sale of children in the law, and ensure that the law addressed the issues of extradition and criminal liability of legal entities for crims under the Optional Protocol.  Despite all the laws and policies in place, children’s rights under the protocol were not fully protected, they said, noting in particular children at risk of exploitation and abuse due to harmful traditional practices, such as vidomegon.  They also mentioned the albino children, the talibe children, and children accused of witchcraft.

As for the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, the Experts inquired about refugee children and asylum-seeking children who might have been involved in armed conflict in their countries of origin, and – considering that only 53 per cent of the children had been registered at birth – asked about age determination methods used during army recruitment to ensure that no children had joined the army ranks.  They inquired about complaint mechanisms available to children training in military schools, and the efforts to disseminate the provisions of the Optional Protocol among the army and the police.  Noting that Benin’s peacekeepers were under the United Nations’ investigation for sexual exploitation and abuse, Experts asked about the progress in raise awareness among its peacekeeping troops about children’s rights, particularly sexual exploitation and abuse.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Quenum said that the scope of children’s rights was being continually expanded because there the future and development of the country’s children depended on the protection of their rights.

Ann Skelton, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Benin, recognized that that Benin’s legal framework was quite advanced and it was encouraged by the Government’s commitment to look into laws again in the light of the Optional Protocol

The delegation of Benin included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Legislation, Central Office for the Protection of Minors, Directorate of the Penitentiary, Administration and Human Rights Protection, Directorate for Education Monitoring and Social Protection of Minors, and members of the Permanent Mission of Benin to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage, and the webcast of the Committee’s public meetings are available here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 28 September at 10 a.m., to hold a Day of General Discussion on “Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders”.

Report

The Committee has before it the initial reports of Benin under the two Optional Protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/BEN/1), and on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/BEN/1).

Presentation of the Report

SÉVERIN-MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation of Benin, in the introduction of the report said that it was the fruit of an inclusive process of national consultation with civil society organizations and Government agencies, under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice and Legislation and the United Nations Children’s Fund.  The supremacy of international instruments in the country’s legal framework was enshrined in the Constitution, therefore the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other treaties ratified by Benin, including on the protection of all persons against forced disappearances, on international adoptions, on the rights of persons with disabilities and others, had been domesticated in the national law.  Benin had also taken other steps to strengthen its legal framework, added the Minister, noting in particular the adoption of the 2017 law on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, the 2015 Code of the Child, and the 2012 law on prevention and prevention of violence against women.  A Cooperation Agreement with Gabon on combatting trans-border child trafficking was being prepared.

Benin, the Minister continued, had made efforts to address child pornography and child prostitution, including through the development of an early warning system and the 2016 study on the phenomenon by the Family Observatory, while the Central Office for the Protection of Minors had developed a tool to identify and support victims.  The National Unit for the Assistance in Social Reinsertion of Children within the Ministry of Social Affairs was empowered to draft and facilitate the implementation of standards for identification, care giving and social reinsertion for children in difficult situation, and had assisted 213 children victims of trafficking who had been repatriated from Nigeria and Gabon.  Educational kits on human rights, aimed at the general public and specifically targeted audiences, had been developed by the Ministry of Justice and Legislation, and included the rights of the child and the rights protected by the two Optional Protocols.  There were also training programmes on specific child protection issues, as well as capacity building courses for the law enforcement officials.  A budget for the fight against child labour was allocated on a yearly basis to fund the activities by three Ministries: social affairs, public security, and justice.  Child protection coordination mechanisms existed on the national, departmental and local level.

The National Child Protection Policy and its Action Plan, adopted in 2014, took into account the prevention and fight against the phenomena of prostitution and sexual exploitation of children.  In November 2017, a national reflection had been organized on trafficking in persons.  On this occasion, a National Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons (2018-2025) had been developed.  The new Criminal Code, voted in 2018, provided for very severe sanctions for human trafficking, while the 2017 campaign on zero tolerance for child marriage, aimed to break the code of silence and encourage systematic reports of those cases.  The Office of the Tourism had implemented awareness raising campaigns for those working in the tourism and hospitality industry, with hotel inspection operations.  The Code of the Child punished child pornography, paedophilia, and the sale of children in any situation, including the practice of vidomegon, he said, adding that ten focal cells had been installed in four departments of the country to collect data on all offenses committed against children.  In September 2017, Benin had taken stock of the living conditions of children in reception and child protection centers, which had led to the development of the national plan for quality improvement of the conditions for children in care.  There were 389 shelters for child victims that had provided care and support to 10,473 children.

Reiterating Benin’s strong commitment to the protection of children and the promotion of their physical and moral balance, the Minister concluded by stressing Benin’s true will and strong determination to uphold the rights of the child and to have a clean record in matters of child trafficking and sale, and child pornography and prostitution.

Consideration of the Report under the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

Questions by the Committee Experts

HATEM KOTRANE, Committee Rapporteur and Coordinator of the Task Force on Benin, commended Benin for the number of measures and action plans adopted in 2016 in the areas that were very important for the implementation of the Optional Protocol, and welcomed in particular the adoption of the Children’s Code.

The Rapporteur noted that there was not a desegregated system of data collection for the domains of the Optional Protocol, for example on the number and type of the crimes, prosecutions and convictions.  Noting that no cases of sale of children had been recorded in 2015 and 2016, and that there had been only one case of attempted sale of a Togolese girl in 2017, the Rapporteur wondered whether the definition of the sale of the child in the law was not appropriate. 

Mr. Kotrane acknowledged that the new Criminal Code was yet to be adopted and that there was poor implementation of the existing legislation, which confronted with societal norms and traditions, allowed for the different forms of exploitation of children.  Was child labour considered the sale of the child under the Children’s Code and adequately criminalized?  Was facilitating adoption of a child treated as a criminal offence of the sale of the child?

What could be done overcome the inertia and impunity and bring perpetrators to justice, he asked, noting that criminal liability of legal entities for prohibited acts under the Optional Protocol was not covered by the legislation.  Would this be changed?

The Rapporteur asked whether there had been any cases of extradition, if it was regulated by the law, and whether the Optional Protocol could be used as a basis for extradition of its nationals from a country Benin did not have an extradition agreement with?  

Other Experts noted that Benin had passed a number of laws and policies that were relevant to the Optional Protocol, in particular Children’s Act from 2015, but were concerned that despite all the laws and policies in place, children’s rights under the Optional Protocol were not fully protected.  In addition, Benin should have set up coordination entities at the central, regional and community levels, but the information shown that it had not been done.  Was the Optional Protocol properly disseminated to justice officials and what were the plans to ensure its wide dissemination, not only to criminal justice officials, but to other government departments, non-governmental organizations, and to children themselves?

Was it a taboo to discuss sexual matters with teenagers, if so, what had been done to address that?  Was the law sufficiently flexible to differentiate between adults who took photos of children as child pornography, from adolescents who took pictures of themselves, Experts asked, emphasizing that those adolescents should not be punished but rather educated.

The delegation was asked to inform the Committee whether cooperation agreements on matters under the Optional Protocol were effective, how their impact was measured, and how the follow-up was provided; any changes on the ground that had been implemented after the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography 2013; how the budgetary allocations for prevention of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography could be increased; and provide the most recent figures of missing children, and speak to the trends.

Benin had high rates of teenage pregnancies, Experts said, noting that some resulted from teachers having relationships with schoolgirls, sometimes with a promise of a higher grade.  Had these reports been corroborated and what prevention strategies had been put in place?

The Experts were concerned about the persistence of harmful traditional practices, in particular vidomegon, which was closely linked to the sale of children or child trafficking, since children – especially girls – were often forced to work as domestic workers or sexually exploited.  Also of concern was the situation of talibe boys, often exploited ty their marabout teachers – did Benin recognize that as a form of exploitation and what steps were taken to deal with it?  The Experts also raised concern about the so-called witch children, which they said must be one of the State’s priorities in protecting its children, and noted that albino children indeed suffered violence and discrimination.

How many school cafeterias there were and did they cover all the areas of the country?

With regards to the rights of victims, Experts asked whether criminal justice officials were familiar with the United Nations Guidelines on Justice in matters involving Child Victims and Witness of Crime, and also inquired about the two child friendly courts and how those services could be rolled out.

The Committee was informed that the transit centre for victims of trafficking was not fully functional and did not have well trained staff, while most of the recovery and reintegration work for children victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child prostitution was done by non-governmental organizations – how did the Government support this work?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding, the delegation said that steps were being taken to address the lack of disaggregated data, and explained that the new Criminal Code had brought together all criminal law texts and had included all the crimes related to the rights of the child that did not exist previously.  Its article 310 was quite broad since it covered all acts and went beyond just the sale of children.  At the same time, the criminal liability of companies was added.

The law did not contain specific provisions for extraditions for crimes against children, the delegate continued, explaining that such cases were covered by the general provisions on extradition.

Measures had been taken to coordinate the activities of all stakeholders on the matters in the rights of the child at the national, as well as departmental and local level.  When it came to dissemination, judges and the police received trainings on the implementation of the Optional Protocol, and there were related training modules in school curricula, too.

Sending and receiving the explicit images of minors was criminalized.

There was zero tolerance to teenage pregnancy resulting from sexual relations with a teacher.  Sexual relations with a student was a crime and offenders were removed from the educational system.

Vidomegon was today a rather rare practice, since the economic situation of families, a determining factor in sending the children to wealthier families, had improved, also thanks to free schooling and free school lunches.  The children that were still sent were treated by the new families as their own children and sent to school regularly.  On the other hand, the return of those children to the original families depended on their economic situation and the best interest of the children.  The decrease in the prevalence of this phenomenon, the delegate continued, was the result of the serious efforts, which involved, first and foremost, raising awareness of the population, and addressing all cases of abuse and exploitation in accordance with the law.  If the practice had not been eradicated, it was not at least practiced in the least harmful manner.

Albino and talibe children were not a serious problem in Benin, said the delegation, adding that there was an association of persons with albinism which was demanding an end to discrimination they suffered.  The delegation was not aware of the cases where albino’s body parts were used as a talisman.  The problem of witch children was a cultural issue and existed in only one region of the country.  A non-governmental organization had set up a programme to support children victims – or accused of – witchcraft.

The phenomenon of missing children had been stopped in its tracks due to firm repressive measures undertaken by the Government.  The number of children in transit centres for victims of trafficking was on decrease; people working with children victims were efficient and had been trained specifically for the task.

The general coverage of Criminal Code was a complex matter to be resolved, the delegation said, as it prevented the judges from implementing the specific provisions of the Optional Protocol.  But, the delegate continued, the judges were capable of finding the way to protect the rights of the child under the existing definitions in the Criminal Code.

The school cafeteria programme was focused more on rural areas, the delegation said, adding that the quality and quantity of food served were regularly inspected. 

Experts’ Questions under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

In the dialogue on the implementation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Experts raised the lack of disaggregated data and asked about the role of children and civil society organizations in the preparation of the report.  Who were the stakeholders that, according to the report, participated in its drafting, and how were they coordinated?

Was the Optional Protocol being disseminated to all the children in the country, both to those in school and those not in school, they asked, even though there were no children in armed conflict at the moment.
 
The report did not provide any data on migrant and refugee children at risk of recruitment in armed conflict in other countries, which, Experts recognized, required specific training in order to identify such children – did the staff receive such trainings?

In the light of inadequate birth registration rates, how could the State party be sure that children under the age of 18 had not joined the armed forces.  What age determination methods were being used in the absence of birth certificate during army recruitment?  Taking note of the birth registration improvement programme, the Experts asked about its duration, the involvement of children, and its geographical coverage.  Would it be free of charge and were the staff conducting birth registration sufficiently trained?  An Expert noted that almost 53 percent of children did not have birth certificates.  How could that be explained?

Were children under the age of 18 trained in military schools, and if so, was there a complaint mechanism they could use to report violations?  Could the national human rights institution receive complaints and make unannounced visits to military schools?  Experts remarked that out of six allegations of violations of children’s rights, three were against military officers and three against police officers.  Were the members of the armed forces given training in the area of children’s rights and the Optional Protocol?

Experts furthermore stated that the assessment of trainings of the military forces showed that one of the weak points was that those trainings were not specific enough about the Optional Protocol provisions.  Did Benin receive support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or other similar entities in preparing those training modules?

The Experts inquired whether the Children’s Code fully covered all acts prohibited under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, in particular, did it prohibit the involuntary recruitment of children in armed forces; the use of children to participate in hostilities; and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts by non-State armed groups.  Were the sanctions commensurate to the gravity of the crime?

Turning to issue of impunity, the Experts noted that the absence of convictions for forced recruitment and the use of children in hostilities, asking whether cases had been reported but had not been prosecuted and convicted.

As for the extraterritorial jurisdiction, the delegation was asked whether the national courts could exercise jurisdiction over the crimes that were committed in foreign countries by non-Beninese nationals? 

Were there any special provisions with regard to protection measures for child victims in the Children’s Code, and what treatment and support was available to support the recovery and reintegration of children recruited and used in armed conflicts? 

Was transfer of small arms and light weapons prohibited by the national law, which was Benin’s obligation under the Economic Community of West African States Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and Other Related Materials.

Experts noted that Benin ranked 11 out of 42 countries under investigation of the United Nations for sexual exploitation and abuse.  What progress had been made to raise awareness among the peacekeeping forces aware about children’s rights, particularly sexual exploitation and abuse?

Response by the Delegation

Responding to the questions raised on the process of drafting the report, the delegation said that civil society organizations had contributed to the process, as had the children. 

The delegate added that, despite the efforts to disseminate the provisions of the Optional Protocol, it was still not well known in the country.  Military schools that educated military elite also enrolled students in the secondary school, and the Optional Protocol was introduced at the end of secondary schools.  It was indeed a challenge to promote the Optional Protocol among the out-of-school children, and children in detention centres and in hospitals.  The Government was taking steps to reach the children in detention centres and was developing training modules which would include the provisions of the Optional Protocol.  The Government was conscious of the need to do the same for children in hospitals.

The delegation noted that all available resources, human and financial, were being deployed, to meet the requirements and improve the transfer of knowledge on the issues related to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Benin was aware of the possible dangers coming from the conflicts in the neighbouring countries, but there had been no cases of refugee and asylum-seeking children who might have been involved in armed conflict in their countries of origin.

Army recruitment was very ell regulated and each applicant had an obligation to present a birth registration certificate.

All children in military school would stay there until they completed their training.  In cases they left school and joined the labour market, the State followed up on them to ensure that they did not to fall victims to recruitment by any kind of armed groups.  Furthermore, Benin had closed its borders to all armed groups leaders and kept a close eye on any attempt of entry by members of armed groups.

Answering Experts’ question whether the Children’s Code covered the recruitment by the non-State armed groups outside the country, the delegation could not say whether there had been such cases.  The national law had a jurisdiction over them and would treat such cases as unlawful recruitment.  If the perpetrators could not be extradited, Benin would make sure they were prosecuted in their own countries.

The National Commission for Human Rights was renewed.  However, it was not a Government entity, but rather an advisory body for the Government. 

When it came to receiving children’s complaints, the authorities were working in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund to enable all relevant stakeholders to visit any school and check the status of all children’s rights in them.  The Constitutional Court also received complaints of children, without them having to reveal their identity.  In addition, children did not need to give statements in the presence of their parents.

Independent monitoring visits to military schools were possible.  Furthermore, children spent some weekends at home, and they communicated with their parents during their time in schools so they could address any issues that bothered them.

The delegation stated that according to military officials, the reason for dropouts from military schools was the fact that those children could not handle their responsibilities there.  The desire of parents that their children attend military schools was not matched by the wishes of their children.  In addition, there were various medical reasons for leaving military schools.

Birth certificates issued right after the birth were free of charge, while those issued later carried a fee.  The low birth registration rate was primarily due to parents’ neglect.  The rate of birth registration had increased in previous years and birth certification was made mandatory by law.

The delegation said that there were inquiries into six cases of violations of children’s rights.  If violations were confirmed, the perpetrators would be severely sanctioned.

Turning to training, the delegation clarified that as part of their basic training, the police received training on human rights and children’s rights, as well as on Optional Protocols.
The delegation agreed that there should be continuous training on those instruments and legal provisions for protection and prosecution.  Training modules were designed in accordance with international standards.  National trainers received mandates from the United Nations, which was a guarantee that they were competent.

In response to the Committee’s earlier questions, he delegation explained that 1,500 school canteens had opened in the first stage of the programme, covering 51 per cent of children.  In the second stage, another 1,600 schools would be covered by the programme.  The delegation emphasized that 20 billion CAF had been allocated to the school feeding programme, with the help from international partners.

The National Commission for the Rights of the Child was the central body for dealing with children’s issues, and it was also an advisory council for all the entities to which the State had made commitments.  There was a shortfall in addressing all the areas that concerned children, which was why Benin was seeking aid from international partners.

Concluding Remarks

SÉVERIN-MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation of Benin, thanked the Committee for close attention and valuable help in preparing the country report, and for the constructive spirit of the dialogue.  Benin attached great importance to human rights and children’s rights in particular.  It continually extended the scope of those rights.  There was no future for Benin if children were not treasured, if their rights were not respected, and if their development was not fostered.  In that vein, the authorities were reviewing the working hours of parents in order to allow them to spend more time with their children.  The authorities had also opened school canteens and improved the quality of schooling, all in an attempt to foster children’s wellbeing.  Finally, Mr. Quenum expressed hope that the Committee’s assistance would continue in order to make Benin a country that promoted the human rights and he called upon the United Nations to always stand by Benin in every way.

ANN MARIE SKELTON, Committee Expert and Member of the Task Force for Benin, said that the Committee had carefully listened to the delegation’s answers and she praised the amount of provided details.  The Committee recognized that Benin’s legal framework was quite advanced and it was encouraged by the Government’s commitment to look into laws again in the light of the Optional Protocol, Ms. Skelton concluded.

For use of the information media; not an official record 

CRC18.027E