COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD REVIEWS INITIAL REPORT OF NIUE VIA TELECONFERENCE
22 January 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the initial report of Niue on how that country implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee for the first time used teleconferencing technology to examine the report of this remote small island state with a population of 1,700.
O’Love T. Jacobsen, High Commissioner of Niue to New Zealand, said that Niue was an isolated, remote island, the largest coral atoll in the world with a population of 1,700 living in 13 villages on the peripheries of the island. It was a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, with predominantly oral culture and the laws which were in most cases aligned to those of New Zealand. Children under the age of 18 made up 25 to 30 per cent of the population; they lived with families and the principal responsibility of looking after them belonged to the parents. The country often lacked resources to implement the provisions of the Convention and other international instruments it had ratified.
The Committee Experts noted that the legislation on the rights of the child was scattered in multiple sources of civil, penal and customary law and inquired about steps taken to harmonize the law and to set up a comprehensive data collection system for the purposes of the Convention. Experts asked about measures to eliminate discrimination on all grounds, particularly against children with disabilities and against girls; prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings; the complaint mechanism available to children to report cases of abuse and violence; and the intentions to revise the law on the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which at the moment was 10 and as such was much lower than international standards.
In concluding remarks, Kamla Varmah, Committee Expert acting as the Rapporteur for Niue, said that many challenges faced the country and that immediate action should be taken to harmonize legislation on data collection, the definition of the child, adolescent health, corporal punishment, domestic violence and adoption.
Also in concluding observations, Ms. Jacobsen of Niue thanked the Committee for the suggestions on what the country should look into in order to be a good State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Jean Zermatten, the Committee Chairperson, in closing remarks appreciated the commitment of Niue to the rights of the child and the good will to take the necessary steps to harmonize domestic laws, update the archaic laws and adopt the Family Code that would take into account all principles of the rights of the child.
In the teleconference today, Niue was represented by the High Commissioner of Niue to New Zealand and a Head of External Affairs of the Government of Niue also representing the National Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will examine the initial report of the Philippines under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/PHL/1).
The initial report of Niue under the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be read here: (CRC/C/NIU/1)).
Statements by the Delegation
O’LOVE T. JACOBSEN, High Commissioner of Niue to New Zealand, said that Niue had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996 and had submitted its initial report to the Committee in 2010. Niue was an isolated, remote island, the largest coral atoll in the world with a population of 1,700 people living in villages on the peripheries of the island. Children lived with families and children under the age of 18 were under the care of a responsible adult. They lived in hurricane proofed housing with water and electricity. Roads connected all the 13 villages of the island and were greatly improved recently. Each of the villages had a village council democratically elected every three years; the Council looked after the villages and the wellbeing of the people, particularly children. Every village had at least one church, a local policeman and a nurse. Those structures allowed children to participate freely in the village activities and to mix and interact with the people in the village, all of whom took part in taking care of the children. There was a primary and a secondary school on the island. Children under the age of 18 made up 25 to 30 per cent of the population. The central Government coordinated all the activities in villages and ensured that each village was represented in the statutory bodies. Access to education and health services was free of charge. Niue was a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. The culture was mainly oral and sometimes it was hard to understand why data needed to be collected and kept. It was not until 1974 that the self governing state had been established and independent laws, which were in most cases aligned to those of New Zealand, had been passed. The responsibility of looking after children belonged to the parents and a child allowance had been introduced to allow for the purchase of school uniforms; thanks to this initiative, school enrolment rates were 100 per cent. For a small island, Niue wore many hats, and people had multiple functions within the local authorities and Government. Niue often lacked resources to implement the provisions of the Convention and other international instruments it had ratified.
Questions by Experts
KAMLA VARMAH, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the Report of Niue, noted that Niue did not have specific legislation on the rights of the children; articles were scattered in multiple sources of civil, penal and customary law. Could the delegation provide more information on the reform of the Family Law and the law on mental health, what specific steps had been taken to harmonize the law and to set up a comprehensive data collection system for the purposes of the Convention? Were teachers and child professionals adequately trained and were the children’s rights disseminated to parents and children? The age of criminal responsibility was 10 years, much lower than international standards; was this law going to be reviewed to bring it in line with the Convention? Girls as young at 12 could be married to perpetrators of statutory rape. The age for sexual consent for girls was 15 years, and for the boys it was not specified. At what age could a child participate in legal proceedings in cases concerning him or her, such as in custody cases? There were no labour laws in the country and the Country Rapporteur asked about working children and when they could be employed.
Girls were subject to discriminatory social practices and offenders of sexual abuse of girls with disabilities received lesser punishments. What measures were being taken to guard the privacy of children and adolescents in a small island where everyone knew each other? Corporal punishment was lawful in homes and schools and there was no explicit prohibition in institutional settings. What was the status of the Family Status Bill of 2010? Could the delegation explain the system of customary adoption and protection of children from abuse in their adoptive families, and what were the reasons for not considering the ratification of the Hague Convention on international adoption? Domestic violence, statutory rape and incest were considered family matters and were not reported to the police. What specific actions had been undertaken to ban all forms of violence against children at all levels? What steps were being taken to address alcohol and tobacco abuse, reproductive health of adolescents, and childhood obesity which was rather high?
The delegation was asked about the participation of children in political and public life, measures to ensure that parents listened more to their children, and measures to improve the situation of girls; the elimination of discrimination on all grounds and the prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings; the right to name and nationality and legal provisions in situations when a man did not want his name entered into the birth registration of the child; barriers to the allocation of resources to early childhood education and development; the situation of children with disabilities, including their access to education; and the complaint mechanism available for children to report cases of abuse, violence and corporal punishment.
The Committee noted the lack of concern in Niue about teenage pregnancies and expressed its own concern about the impact of teenage pregnancies which prevented girls from developing their full potential; some of the pregnancies in Niue resulted from incest. Compulsory education was from the age of five to 16 and the concern of the Committee was that in the absence of a labour law many children would drop out of school before the age of 16. The education law was currently being reviewed and the age of compulsory education might further drop.
Response by Delegation
The Family Law Code was being proposed and it included the Family Protection Bill; this code was a challenge to the members of the Government and it would take time to find someone to push it through in the House. Niue was making every attempt to incorporate in the Family Law Code the questions of concern to the Committee and so make the Convention work for the people. The Mental Health Bill was work in progress. Internet was available throughout the island and most young people used Facebook, which made news and issues of interest to children spread like a wildfire throughout the community. Despite the culturally grounded hesitation to speak in open about issues such as abuse and domestic violence, people spoke about these issues. A clinic had been established in 2010 in the Niue secondary school, where adolescents could go and speak privately to a doctor and a nurse about any problems they might have. A public health nurse regularly visited the primary school and checked the children for anything that would affect their health.
Children employed in the private sector worked in family-based businesses and there were no regulations in terms of the minimum age of children. The public sector was governed by the rules and regulations of the Niue Public Service Commission and employed children above the age of 15. The National Youth Council ran programmes on adolescent health in the villages.
Mr. Zermatten, the Committee Chairperson, asked about the situation of children with disabilities and the measures to combat any forms of discrimination. Responding, the delegation said that there was no discrimination against girls who were treated equal to boys. There was not discrimination against foreigners, who were treated better than the nationals and could access all the systems of the Government as long as they met the provisions of the permanent residency status. Discrimination against children with disabilities did not take in practice, while laws took necessary time to catch up with the reality.
There were two types of adoption known to the people in Niue. One type was related to land; land was owned by families and entitlement to land was through genealogical connections and blood line. There were limitations pertaining to land to persons adopted from outside of the family; an adoptee would receive a portion of land to live and dwell on, and this would last his or her lifetime. This customary adoption conflicted with legal adoption which gave the same entitlements to adoptees regardless of the blood line. There had never been a case of inter-country adoption known to the authorities in Niue and until that happened, the ratification of the Hague Convention would not be considered.
Turning to the issue of resources for early childhood development, the delegation said that education budgets were decided about by directors of the two schools. The age of leaving school was 16 and if the family could not create a job for children in the family business, they would send them to New Zealand to look for a job or to continue education in a technical institution. The Youth Employment Scheme was arranged for jobless school leavers, where they would receive training in basics such as how to open a bank account, fill the forms, show up at work on time, etc.
The minimum age for marriage for girls was 15, which was set by an archaic law that needed to change; in practice, there were no girls marrying at that age and most families encouraged the girl child to stay at school and become independent. Families took care of pregnant teenagers; education on early pregnancy was available through hospitals, one-to-one visits with the nurse on various aspects of reproductive health and contraception, and school programmes. Corporal punishment was yet another issue built in the legislation and not really practiced in a way that was detrimental to the child.
There were no children in the judicial system; if that would happen, they would be handled very quietly, cautiously and lovingly and never ostracized, and the system would ensure that children had access to all opportunities open to them. There were no help lines available to the children to report abuse and violence. Many family matters were usually settled outside of the court and there was always a special effort to ensure the best interest of the child.
A Committee Expert noted that in 2004 there had been an attempt to develop the child development policy, but the idea had been abandoned, and asked whether there were any plans to put a comprehensive policy in place that would take into account the provisions of the Convention. The delegation said that there was a Youth Policy in place, for individuals aged 12 to 25, and agreed that getting on with the child policy was important. 2004 was the year of Cyclone Heta which had ripped the country to pieces and this might have affected the policy.
KAMLA VARMAH, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Niue, thanked the delegation and hoped that the dialogue would help Niue to realize the rights of the child. Many challenges faced the country and immediate action should be taken to harmonize legislation on data collection, definition of the child, adolescent health, corporal punishment, domestic violence, adoption and many others.
O’LOVE T. JACOBSEN, High Commissioner of Niue to New Zealand, thanked the Committee for the suggestions on what the country should look into to ensure it was a good State party to the Convention on the Right of the Child.
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee heard the commitment of Niue to the rights of the child and the good will to take the necessary steps, such as harmonize domestic laws, update the archaic laws, and adopt a comprehensive strategy and the Family Code that would take into account all principles of the rights of the child.
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