Press document


26.05.04

COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD CONSIDERS SECOND PERIODIC REPORT OF MYANMAR

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the second periodic report of Myanmar on that country’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Daw May May Yi, Advisor for Women’s Affairs to the Prime Minister of Myanmar, said the Government of Myanmar was giving top priority to the rights of children in its national agenda, and was making every effort to ensure that children enjoyed the right to basic education.

Ms. Yi said the Government was deeply committed to the protection of children, including the important issue of child soldiers; children under 18 were not enlisted into the armed forces. The Government was committed to work for the full realization of the rights of children who enjoyed a special place in Myanmar. They were regarded as the “jewels” of the society, she said.

U Mya Than, Myanmar’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the Government was aware of the seriousness and importance of the problems and issues relating to the rights of the child. Despite all those constraints, it was making its best efforts to protect and promote the rights of the child as one of its top priorities.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Yanghee Lee, who served as country Rapporteur to the report of Myanmar, said the dialogue had been fruitful and constructive and had provided the Committee with a better understanding of the status of children in Myanmar. She recommended, among other things, amending and/or repealing national legislation in order to fully harmonize it with the provisions of the principles of the Convention.

Other Committee Experts also raised a number of questions pertaining to, among other things, the law that regulated the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs); lack of NGO participation in children’s affairs; the transformation of the national commission for children and whether it received complaints; how the “World Fit for Children” Declaration was being implemented; the situation of stateless children; the lack of implementation of the Committee’s previous recommendations and the value attached to those conclusions; the laws on citizenship, corporal punishment and villages which were not compatible with the Convention; and discrimination against the poor and some ethnic groups in access to education.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Myanmar towards the end of its three-week session, which will close on 4 June.

Also representing Myanmar were U Sit Myaing, Secretary of the National Committee of the Rights of the Child, and Director-General of the Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health, Office of the Attorney-General, Ministry of Labour, and the Permanent Mission of Myanmar in Geneva.

As one of the 192 States parties to the Convention, Myanmar is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee convenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 May, it will meet in private. The Committee will meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 28 May, to consider the initial report of Dominica (CRC/C/8/Add.48).

Report of Myanmar

The second periodic report of Myanmar (CRC/C/70/Add.21) provides information on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on an article-by-article basis. It notes that the society of Myanmar is founded upon gentleness and kindness and there is no discrimination based on sex, culture, class or colour. Children in Myanmar are regarded as jewels by the society. It is one of the most child-caring countries among the developing countries. The upbringing of a Myanmar child is also influenced by his or her own religious teachings and guidance aimed at creating a noble and worthy person of the society.

The report further notes that activities carried out for the survival and care of children, such as efforts to reduce the infant and maternal mortality rates, nationwide immunization campaigns, birth spacing and family planning programmes are described in the report. Myanmar has always fulfilled the physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social rights of every child. In order to serve the best interest of children, the commitments and endeavours are not only of parents and teachers, who were the most responsible persons, but also the important role played by the environment. Children in need of special protection are being taken care of at government and private institutions.

Introduction of Report

DAW MAY MAY YI, Advisor for Women’s Affairs to the Prime Minister of Myanmar, said the Government of Myanmar was giving top priority to the rights of children in its national agenda. Two years after ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in August 1991, the Government had promulgated the Child Law. In September 1993, the National Committee on the Rights of the Child had been formed to effectively and successfully implement the provisions of the Convention and the Child Law. Working committees were also formed at national and regional levels, followed by the formation of the Monitoring and Evaluation Sub-Committee in May 1999.

Ms. Yi said that with a view to raising public awareness and participation, the National Committee had published 15,000 copies of the Child Law in English and Myanmar languages and had distributed them free of charge. The Law had been translated into Kayin, Shan, Mon, Kachin and Chin languages and the texts had been widely distributed.

The Government was making every effort to ensure that children enjoyed the right to basic education, Ms. Yi continued. The long-term Thirty-Year Plan for basic education development (2001-2031) had been launched with the vision of creating an education system that could generate a learning society capable of facing the challenges of the information age. Since 1991, the Continuous Assessment and Progression System project had been implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). That project had raised the quality of primary education and had reduced the repetition rate significantly.

Ms. Yi said her country was making efforts to realize as much as possible children’s health objectives prescribed in the Declaration entitled “A World Fit for Children” adopted by the General Assembly in 2002. The Government had laid down the National Programme of Action and the National Health Plan and had implemented them for the survival, protection and development of children. All children, irrespective of race, religion, status, culture, birth or sex had the right to receive health services equally.

Since 1996, the Government had successfully carried out immunization campaigns throughout the country, Ms. Yi said. The goal to maintain full immunization coverage for all infants and pregnant women against tetanus had been achieved since 1990. Over 90 per cent of all children under-5 had been immunized against polio. The Government, working with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), had declared the eradication of polio in Myanmar on 13 February 2003.

The Government of Myanmar was deeply committed to the protection of children including the important issue of child soldiers, Ms. Yi said. Children under 18 were not enlisted into the armed forces. Recently, a Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment of Child Soldiers had been established.

In conclusion, Ms. Yi said her country was committed to work for the full realization of the rights of children. Children enjoyed a special place in Myanmar. They were regarded as the “jewels” of the society.

U MYA THAN, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that one positive factor in Myanmar since the submission of the initial report to the Committee in 1997 was the promulgation of rules and regulations related to the Child Law in December 2001 and their implementation. Another positive factor was the reconvening of the national convention to draft a new Constitution. Yet, another positive factor was the conclusion of peace agreements between the Government and 17 armed groups of national races. The Government was currently holding talks with the remaining armed group and had reached an understanding with it. This was the first time in the history of the country that the Government had reached such peace agreements with the armed groups and that those groups had joined hands with the Government for the development of their respective regions.

The establishment of the Human Rights Committee in April 2000, which dealt with all human rights issues, including child rights, was an additional positive factor, Mr. Than said. The convening of a series of human rights workshops in various parts of the country was another positive factor. Three workshops exclusively devoted to the rights of the child had also been organized in collaboration with the International Institute for the Rights of the Child and other organizations.

Mr. Than said the Government was aware of the seriousness and importance of the problems and issues relating to the rights of the child. Despite all those constraints, it was making its best efforts to protect and promote the rights of the child as one of its top priorities.

Questions Raised by Committee Experts

YANGHEE LEE, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of Myanmar, welcomed some of the recent developments such as the National AIDS Programme; Joint Programme for HIV/AIDS: Myanmar 2003-2003; National Health Plan of 1996-2001; Joint Plan of Action for the Elimination of Forced Labour; Myanmar Health Vision 2030; and other wonderful programmes as evidenced in the wealth of pamphlets and brochures depicting them.

Ms. Lee said Myanmar was State party to only two UN human rights treaties – the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The State party had not ratified the two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that had a direct bearing on the lives of children in Myanmar. The State party also had not ratified any of the Hague conventions, the ILO conventions, or the Geneva Conventions. She expressed regret that some of the concerns that the Committee had expressed in its conclusions after its consideration of the State party’s initial report had not been sufficiently addressed, particularly the issue of domestic legislation, national coordinating mechanisms, children affected by military activities, and children in conflict with the law.

Citing the concerns expressed by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Ms. Lee asked why the Towns Act and the Village Act which left women vulnerable to forced labour remained as legislation. That had direct implications on the girl child. She also asked the delegation to provide information on the status of the Whipping Act, which still seemed to exist.

On the preparation of the report, particularly the participation of civil society and children, the Rapporteur said that the report had noted the numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) currently active in the country. She wanted to know more about national and local NGOs. The Myanmar Red Cross and the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association had been mentioned but she was not sure if the Myanmar Red Cross could be considered as an NGO because the president of that organization had been part of the Government’s delegation at the dialogue for the review of the initial report.

With regard to the allocation of data, Ms. Lee said that in Myanmar a child was defined as someone under the age of 16. There were no statistics on children between 16 and 18 years as requested by the Committee. The delegation was asked to provide information on this age group.

On non-discrimination, Ms. Lee asked about discrimination against vulnerable children such as girls, children from remote and border areas, children belonging to minorities, and children with low status citizenship. She wanted to know about the general attitude towards children or persons with disabilities; the de facto discrimination against people of the Muslim faith and of certain ethnic origins; the process of obtaining citizenship for some ethnic groups, such as the Bengali residing in the Northern Rakine regions who could not provide evidence of residence prior to 4 January 1984; and the disparity in birth registration between urban and rural areas.

NEVENA VUCKOVIC-SAHOVIC, the Committee Expert who served as Co-rapporteur to the report of Myanmar, said that while welcoming the establishment of an interdisciplinary national committee on the rights of the child and its broad mandate, it was still not clear what was the real power of that body to coordinate all activities related to the implementation of the Convention. How effective had that committee been and how did it function on decentralized levels? What about the new Plan of Action that would fully reflect the “World Fit for Children” Declaration, allocate the necessary human and financial resources for its full implementation, and provide for a better coordination and monitoring mechanism?

In 1999, a monitoring and evaluation sub-committee was established along with a committee on human rights, but Ms. Vuckovic-Sahovic wondered to what extent those bodies were capable of monitoring the situation of children in the country. Were they independent institutions? Were there some units for children? Could children apply for protection in case of violations?

Ms. Vuckovic-Sahovic asked to what extent were the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Myanmar involved in the implementation of the Convention. What was their legal status? What about children’s organizations? She also asked about the impact of sanctions on children.

There were some budget allocations that were upgraded on the account of the social system, the Co-rapporteur said. How did that fit in with the realization of child rights “to the maximum extent of available resources” as stated in article 4 of the Convention?

There was concern that corporal punishment was used as a disciplinary method in raising children, she said. It seemed to be allowed in laws and used in practice. What had the Government done to change this and how effective had the Government’s efforts been so far?

There were allegations of numerous cases of ill-treatment of children by law enforcement officials as well as army personnel, Ms. Vuckovic-Sahovic said. In the report, there was no information on that issue. Was there awareness of such incidents and how did the police and the judiciary treat the perpetrators of such violations.

She said the Committee had received numerous information on the use of children below 15 as soldiers by both the governmental and paramilitary-armed groups. What was the Government doing to prevent such recruitments and to rehabilitate those who had participated in fighting? Further, there were allegations that army members were often perpetrators of crimes against children, such as violence, rape and exploitation. How many perpetrators had been prosecuted?

Other Committee Experts also raised questions. They asked, among other things, about the children’s appeal system; the law that regulated the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs); the lack of NGO participation in children’s affairs; the transformation of the national commission for children and whether it received complaints; how the “World Fit for Children” Declaration was being implemented; if children understood the Child Law; the situation of stateless children; the lack of implementation of the Committee’s recommendations and the value attached to those conclusions; the laws on citizenship, corporal punishment and on villages, which were not compatible with the Convention; discrimination against the poor and some ethnic groups in access to education; freedom of association; the right to be heard; availability of complaint mechanisms for children; and the wearing by some ethnic groups of giraffe-neck necklaces which affected the spinal cords of children.

Response by Delegation of Myanmar

Responding, the members of the delegation of Myanmar said that their Government had partially responded to the recommendations made by the Committee, and some responses were still pending. They would be taken into consideration in the next periodic report of the State party.

Since 1991, Myanmar had ratified a series of international treaties, including United Nations conventions, the delegation said. Apart from that, it had acceded to a number of regional agreements. Since the country was in transition, it had given priority to those conventions that could urgently be implemented. A number of inter-ministerial study groups had been set up with the view to conducting an in-depth study that would enable the State to ratify other treaties. At present, the process of accession to international conventions had become faster than before.

Some laws were no more relevant and they should be replaced, the delegation said. A law had been adopted prohibiting all authorities from using the Village Act, which contradicted the conventions of the International Labour Office (ILO). The ILO had recognized that some of the law orders could be used as a basis for the elimination of forced labour.

Girls in some regions wore necklaces around their necks to beautify themselves, the delegation said. This had nothing to do with Government measures, rather it was a traditional sign to add length and beauty to necks.

There were authoritative syndromes by parents that might affect the positive development of the child, the delegation said. The child rearing practice had been changing, thanks to Government efforts in raising awareness among the population. Since 1954, the Government had prohibited the practice of corporal punishment. However, there were still cases in which teachers were involved in corporal punishment.

Questions by Experts

Committee Experts continued raising further questions. They asked, among other things, about access to elementary health care; infant mortality rates; the status of breastfeeding; the problem of teenage pregnancy; preventive measures against alcohol and tobacco; the high dropout rate of girls; the banning of indigenous languages; the situation of HIV/AIDS; children with disabilities; access to clean water; domestic and international adoption processes; age of criminal responsibility; the alleged recruitment of children as child soldiers; punishment for juvenile offenders; forced child labour; the sentencing of children to maximum long-term imprisonment; and the situation of street children.

Response by Delegation

Responding, the delegation of Myanmar said that the nature of certain professions was decisive in the selection of boys and girls. For example, boys were not permitted to be nurses, a profession exclusively reserved for girls.

Any foreigner needed to obtain permission to move from one place to another in Myanmar, the delegation said. Since the Bengali people who did not satisfy the requirements of citizenship were considered as foreigners, they thus needed permission to move around.

Muslims were not discriminated against. They enjoyed all their rights as citizens of Myanmar, the delegation said. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar had attested that there was no religious discrimination in the country. Buddhists, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace. The allegations that Muslim girls needed parental permission to get married were without foundation.

The country was faced with prevailing malnutrition because of a lack of knowledge on nutritive aspects of food which was available, the delegation said. Many people were also anaemic, particularly pregnant women. The problem of Vitamin A deficiency was being overcome through a series of measures by the State.

Nearly all children with disabilities in the country lived with their parents, the delegation said. They went to their respective schools as residential students to attend educational classes and vocational training. The Ministry of Health provided rehabilitative health care to children with disabilities.

The Government had been fully collaborating with the International Labour Office in order to eliminate allegations of forced labour in some parts of the country.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar had so far visited the country six times, and he was welcome to visit whenever he had time to do so, the delegation said.

The Government was endeavouring to make many of its regions opium-free zones as part of its strategy to reduce drug abuse, the delegation said. Measures were taken to encourage peasants to replace their opium plants by other cash crops. Encouraging results had been reached in many areas, where peasants had diverted their agricultural activities to the growing of other crops.

Myanmar was giving high priority to the fight against trafficking in persons, the delegation said. Since 2000, the National Committee for Women’s Affairs had been working on this issue. Ministerial meetings had been conducted with neighbouring countries with the view to taking concerted measures against trafficking in persons. The measures also targeted the movement of illicit migration in the region.

Preliminary Remarks

YANGHEE LEE, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur to the report of Myanmar, said in preliminary remarks that the dialogue had been fruitful and constructive and had provided the Committee with a better understanding of the status of children in Myanmar. Together, new and better ways to implement the Convention had been explored to ensure that the rights of all children in the country were upheld, protected and guaranteed.

Ms. Lee recommended, among other things, amending and/or repealing national legislation in order to fully harmonize it with the provisions of the Convention. The Child Law did not seem to be in full compliance with the Convention and international standards in areas such as juvenile justice and child protection. The general principles of the Convention such as non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, the right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child were not adequately reflected in Myanmar’s legislation. Moreover, the Citizenship Act, Village Act and Towns Act and Whipping Acts should be amended or repealed.

Further, the Rapporteur recommended that Myanmar ratify and implement the two optional protocols to the Convention on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution, and on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The State party should also take steps to ratify other human rights and international instruments. It should allocate resources for services and programmes for children such as health and education. A better coordinating mechanism and establishment of a truly independent monitoring mechanism was also recommended.

Ms. Lee recommended that the State party continue to involve civil society and children throughout all stages of the implementation of the Convention; ensure equal access to education and health for all children, for girls as well as boys, for all ethnic and religious minority groups, and children with disabilities; make education truly free and compulsory and prevent children from dropping out of school; reform the juvenile justice system with a view to ensure maximum protection for children in conflict with the law; continue tackling the issue of child soldiers with a view to put an end to recruitment of child soldiers; initiate a rights-based review of the current registration system; seek a multilateral approach to protect trafficking of vulnerable children within and from neighbouring countries; and take an active approach in tackling the issue of HIV/AIDS.

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