UN committee concerned at numbers of children in hazardous work

-urges national study on sexual abuse

The United Nations Commit-tee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern at reports that there are significant numbers of children involved in hazardous work here and also that sexual exploitation and abuse particularly of girls, remain prevalent and socially tolerated.

Its concluding observations on Guyana’s submissions were issued on February 5th,  2013 following the appearance of Guyana’s delegation on January 15th 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland

Guyana submitted several periodic reports to the Committee which welcomed the adoption of legislative measures such as the Custody, Contact, Guardianship and Maintenance Act, 2011; the Sexual Offences Act, 2010; the Childcare and Protection Agency Act No. 2, 2009; and the Juvenile Offenders (Amendment) Act, 2010; among a number of others.

The Committee also welcomed, among others, the ratification of and/or accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in July 2010. Institutional and policy measures such as the Rights of the Child Commission Strategic Plan for 2012 – 2016; the Indigenous People’s Commission Five-Year Strategic Plan for 2012 – 2016; the Education Strategic Plan 2008-2013; as well as others were also welcomed.

The Committee was also concerned as it relates to several issues and expressed these in its concluding observations on the combined second, third and fourth periodic reports of Guyana, adopted by the Committee at its sixty-second session in January. Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Jennifer Webster and Chair-person of the Rights of the Child Commission, Aleema Nasir represented Guyana in Geneva.

In its report, the Commit-tee noted that Guyana’s economy is heavily dependent on the extractive and timber industries and expressed concern at the absence of a legislative framework regulating the prevention of, protection against and reparation of the adverse impact of such activities by foreign and national private and State-owned enterprises on human rights, including children´s rights. “The Committee is especially concerned at the impact of these businesses on the living conditions of children and their families in the regions directly affected, on the health hazards and environmental degradation arising therefrom as well as on child labour,” the report said.

The Committee recommended that Guyana establish the necessary regulatory framework and policies for business, in particular with regard to the extractive industry (gold and bauxite) and timber and fisheries projects –whether large or small scale-, to ensure that they respect the rights of children and promote the adoption of effective corporate responsibility models.

Free trade agreements
Guyana was also urged to ensure that prior to the negotiation and conclusion of free trade agreements, human rights assessments, including on child rights, are conducted and measures adopted to prevent and prosecute violations, including by ensuring appropriate remedies. The Commit-tee also urged Guyana to comply with international and domestic standards on business and human rights with a view to protecting local communities, particularly children, from any adverse effects resulting from business operations, in line with the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and the Business and Human Rights Guiding Principles that were adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

Meantime, the Committee said that Guyana’s 2011 “Tackling Child Labour Through Education (TACKLE)” programme was positive but expressed concern at the inadequate legislative and policy clarity on the definition on child labour, particularly with regards to domestic work and work for family businesses and farms where large numbers of children are economically active.

Concern was also expressed at the lack of information on children employed in the informal sector and the tourism industry. The committee was also concerned at reports of there being significant numbers of children involved in hazardous and exploitative work in logging and saw-milling, fishing, hazardous farming, factory work, mining, and freight handling; and, that notwithstanding these reports, Guyana’s current reporting mechanisms have only received three cases of child labour between 2009 and 2012. The committee also expressed concern at the lack of legal clarity on the types of hazardous work that children are prohibited from being employed in and inadequate measures for monitoring and enforcing the Guyana’s Occupational Safety Act.
In recent years a number of youth fishermen have died on the high seas.

Guyana was urged to ensure that labour legislation and practices comply with article 32 of the Rights of the Child Convention as well as International Labour Organisation Convention No. 138 and 182, including by establishing a clear definition of child labour for all its legislation and policy; and collecting and including information on the employment of children in the informal sector and tourism industry.

Guyana was urged to ensure the effective operation of its labour inspectorates and child labour reporting mechanisms, including with regards to the prosecution of perpetrators of child exploitation with commensurate sanctions, and in doing so ensure that these are known to and accessible by children. The Committee also recommended that Guyana defines a list of hazardous work and establish the legal requirement on the types of work in which children under the age of 18 cannot be employed and implementing specific measures for monitoring and enforcing its Occupational Safety Act. Guyana was urged to seek technical assistance from the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour of the International Labour Organisation in this regard.

As it relates to sexual exploitation and abuse, the Committee welcomed the raising of the age of sexual consent from 13 years to 16 years in Guyana as well as the enactment of legislation to strengthen the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation, including the Sexual Offences Act of 2010, Protection of Children Act 2009 and the Prevention of Crime Act 2008.

Lack of data
However, it expressed concern that there is a lack of data and information on the root causes and extent of sexual exploitation and abuse of children and that sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly of girls, remain prevalent and socially tolerated here. “There are inadequate reporting and enforcement mechanisms on instances of such abuse, with little or no prosecution for such offences,” it was observed.

The Committee urged Guyana to conduct a national study on sexual abuse of children to determine its root causes and assess the magnitude of it and use the findings to strengthen its legal framework and legal enforcement mechanisms at the national and local level and develop a long term societal behaviour change campaign to reduce sexual abuse and its acceptability, especially of girls, as well as address harmful cultural practices involving child abuse and exploitation.

It also recommended that Guyana establish procedures and guidelines to ensure mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse and exploitation cases pursuant to the Sexual Offences Act 2010; and ensure that it has programmes and policies for the prevention, recovery and reintegration of child victims in accordance with the outcome documents adopted at the 1996, 2001 and 2008 World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm, Yokohama and Rio de Janeiro.

In its report, the Committee said that it welcomed Guyana’s efforts to implement the Committee’s concluding observations of February 2004 on Guyana’s initial report but noted with regret that some of the recommendations have not been fully addressed. “The Committee urges the State party to take all necessary measures to address those recommendations from the concluding observations of the first periodic report under the Convention that have not been implemented or sufficiently implemented, particularly those related to a national plan of action, birth registration, corporal punishment, health, particularly adolescent health, and juvenile justice,” the report said.

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