Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the second periodic report of Malawi on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Introducing the report, Anna Andrew Namathanga Kachikho, Minister of Women and Child Development of Malawi, in terms of positive achievements, highlighted that there had been a high level of political commitment and resources for scaling up the responses to the orphans and other vulnerable children crisis in Malawi. The Ministry of Women and Child Development had been strengthened to take on a leadership role to operationalize the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children, and a national steering committee, national technical working group and a technical and advisory support unit were in place to anchor coordination efforts. Other progress included an increase in access to early childhood development services, which was currently at 30 per cent, as compared with just 4 per cent in the 1990s; an improvement in the under-five mortality rate from 133 per 1,000 live births in 2000, to 118 by 2007; and progress in addressing the problem of clean water and sanitation.

Ms. Kachikho, recalling that the Convention required States parties to ensure domestication of its principles, said Malawi acknowledged that those laws had not been promulgated. The delay was heavily attributed to the current political environment in the country, with Malawi's Parliament over the past four years prioritizing matters of political interest. The legislation delayed included the Child (Justice, Care and Protection) Bill; the Birth Registration Bill; the Constitutional Review, which included recommendations for consistency with the principles of the Convention; and the review of the Education Act, which recommended that primary education be free and compulsory for children under age 18. The National Plan of Action for Children, initiated in 2004, also had yet to be finalized although it was anticipated that by 2010 all child-related issues would be guided by one generic policy.

In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert Agnes Akosua Aidoo, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Malawi, relayed the Committee's firm belief that Malawi could assert its leadership role more in ensuring children's rights, reminding the delegation that the State was the principal bearer of upholding children's rights. Priority for children needed to be clearer and stronger and perhaps it would require stronger advocacy on the part of the lead Ministry – the Ministry for Women and Child Development. Among concerns was the large number of bills for children's protection that remained to be enacted. The Committee would like to see when the new Parliament was elected that it established priorities so that the 10 or 11 bills pertaining to children be dealt with first, in particular the Children's Act.

Other Experts raised a series of questions pertaining to,among other things, discrimination against the girl child, including via female genital mutilation and forced and/or early marriages; a lack of procedures to ensure the legal right of the child to be heard; a lack of funding and resources for children's issues; a lack of data on cases of commercial child sexual exploitation; the situation of children deprived of family environments living in institutional care, in particular owing to HIV/AIDS; adoption laws; awareness-raising for adolescents on HIV/AIDS issues; measures being taken to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; the situation of children in prisons; provisions for disabled children, and the lack of national policy in this area; and trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the second periodic report of Malawi towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 30 January 2009.

The delegation of Malawi also included Anthony Kamanga, Solicitor-General and Secretary for Justice; Hyacinth Kishindo Kulemaka, Director of Women and Child Development; Augustine Kamlongera, Director of Education Planning; representatives from the Ministry of Justice; and a member of the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention, Malawi 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 to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes on Wednesday, 14 January, at 10 a.m., it will consider the second periodic report of Chad (CRC/C/TCD/2).

Report of Malawi

The second periodic report of Malawi (CRC/C/MWI/2) says that in a quest to develop a comprehensive code on children which will reflect the general principles of the Convention, the Children and Young Person's Act of Malawi has been reviewed. The review process was finalized in 2005 and culminated in a report of the Law Commission's findings and recommendations and a proposed Bill entitled the Child (Care, Protection and Justice) Bill. This Bill is a comprehensive attempt to domesticate the Convention as it extends beyond issues of child justice to include matters pertaining to: duties and responsibilities of parents towards their children; determination of children in need of care and protection; guardianship; fosterage; residential placements; powers and duties of child justice courts in care and protection matters; duties and functions of local authorities relating to child justice and protection; and protection of children from undesirable practices. The Report of the Law Commission has been laid in Parliament and presented to Cabinet.

Regarding HIV/AIDS, the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children, developed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is a strategic response to ensure that the rights of orphans and other vulnerable children are fully met through mitigating the effects of HIV and AIDS. The National Plan of Action, launched in 2005, also attempts to translate some of the Millennium Development Goals into reality. The six strategic areas of the Plan are: improve access for orphans and other vulnerable children to essential quality services in education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and birth registration with increased support from social safety nets; strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for orphans and other vulnerable children; provide the legal framework and coordination to protect the most vulnerable children; build the technical, institutional and human resource capacity of key service providers for orphans and other vulnerable children; raise awareness at all levels to create a supportive environment for children and families affected by poverty and HIV and AIDS; and monitoring and evaluation. So far the National Plan of Action has been quite effective, with some minor problems being registered with Community Based Organizations, which still need some capacity building and training so that their efforts are better coordinated.

Presentation of Report

ANNA ANDREW NAMATHANGA KACHIKHO, Minister of Women and Child Development of Malawi, presenting Malawi's second periodic report, said that it presented major achievements since 2001 to date. It had been prepared with the active participation of all stakeholders – government officials, constitutional bodies, including the Malawi Human Rights Commission and the Malawi Law Commission, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations and international organizations, which had not just participated in the report, but also in making the rights of children a reality in Malawi.

Ms. Kachikho noted that Malawi was currently translating the Millennium Declaration of the United Nations through the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy. That was the current overarching Government policy, which set out a strategic direction towards the progressive realization of the rights of children – and indeed all the people of Malawi. It streamlined the rights of children on the Government agenda and focused on children as a category through different themes, namely, social protection and social development, including health and education.

Recalling that the Convention required States parties to legislate on provisions to ensure domestication of its principles, Ms. Kachikho said Malawi acknowledged that those laws had not been promulgated. The delay was heavily attributed to the current political environment in the country, with Malawi's Parliament over the past four years prioritizing matters of political interest. As to where they stood right now, the Child (Justice, Care and Protection) Bill had been gazetted and was expected to be presented to Parliament after the May 2009 Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The Birth Registration Bill had been tabled in 2008 but had not been discussed by Parliament. The Government was hopeful, however, that the outstanding legislation on child issues would be laid before Parliament in 2009.

The Constitutional Review, which included recommendations for consistency with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, had been completed in 2007, Ms. Kachikho continued. Among others, the recommendations included provisions for ensuring that the definition of a child was consistent with the Convention. A report with a proposed bill had been submitted to the Ministry of Justice. Also, the review of the Education Act had been completed, which, among other things, recommended that the provision of primary education in government schools be free of tuition to all and compulsory for children under the age of 18. Malawi had also initiated the process of ratifying the two Optional Protocols to the Convention, which would complement other international and national legal instruments in creating a protective environment for children.

One outstanding issue in ensuring efficient programming of children's programmes was the National Plan of Action forChildren. The Government had initiated the development of the National Plan in 2004, but it had yet to be finalized, Ms. Kachikho observed. It was, however, anticipated that by 2010, all child-related issues would be guided by one generic policy and National Plan of Action for Children.

In the area of protection and care of orphans and other vulnerable children, there had been a high level of political commitment and resources for scaling up the responses to the orphans and other vulnerable children crisis in Malawi, Ms. Kachikho highlighted. The Ministry of Women and Child Development had been strengthened to take on a leadership role to operationalize the National Plan of Action for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children, and a national steering committee, national technical working group and a technical and advisory support unit were in place to anchor coordination efforts of the orphans and other vulnerable children response. At the district level, capacity-building of the District Social Welfare Officers was also being implemented, through deployment of volunteers and community child protection workers and support to draft district action plans.

In addition, to ensure that children were afforded the best opportunity to develop, the Government was implementing a social protection programme to support vulnerable groups (including children) that might not benefit from any socio-economic growth, Ms. Kachikho noted. A direct cash transfer scheme, a public works programme and an agricultural subsidy programme were some key productivity enhancing interventions that were targeted at transforming individual households under the plan.

Turning to education issues, Ms. Kachikho noted that access to early childhood development services was currently at 30 per cent. Although low, it represented efforts that the Government had taken since the 1990s, when early childhood development coverage had been just 4 per cent, and the Government was aiming to improve those numbers further.

Regarding health, during the period 2000 to 2004, the under-five mortality rate had been 133 per 1,000 live births, but that number had reduced to 118 by 2007, Ms. Kachikho reported. The infant mortality rate had also been reduced from 131 per 1,000 births in 2000 to 69 per 1,000 by 2007. The Millennium Development Goal of reducing the rate by one third would thus be achieved by Malawi if that rate of progress continued.

While safe water and poor sanitation remained one of the major contributing factors to high child mortality in Malawi, Ms. Kachikho said the Government was making some progress in addressing the problem. By 2004, 61 per cent of the urban population and 62 per cent of the rural population were using adequate sanitation facilities. By 2007, 98 per cent of Malawi's population had been using improved drinking water sources, although notably that was in urban areas and only 68 per cent in rural areas.

With regard to education, more girls (84 per cent) were attending school than boys (80 per cent), which represented a slight improvement compared to 2000 figures. Net enrolment for boys was 93 per cent for boys and 98 per cent for girls. Nevertheless, gender equality still remained a challenge for Malawi and it was a crucial programme being implemented by the Government. It had been noted that from grades 4 to 8 the 50-50 male-female ratio began to drop. In secondary school the male-female ratio was estimated at 72-28. Reasons for the high dropout rate of girls included pregnancies, early marriages, and the need for household labour, Ms. Kachikho posited.

On child protection, during the reporting period the Government continued to implement its Child Protection Programme, which contributed towards the creation of a protective environment for all children, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable, through protection, prevention and rehabilitation. In an effort to eliminate harmful traditional practices, the Government and its partners had continued to raise awareness on child abuse through the Zero Tolerance Campaign against Child Abuse. They were also increasing access to justice for both women and children by increasing support for victim support services and establishing 300 community-based victim support units on top of the 34 police-station-based support units across the country. Other achievements included the establishment of four child-friendly courts; increasing the number of child protection workers to 809; and training 34 police commanders on child protection issues and incorporating child and gender protection into the police training manual.

Questions by Experts

AGNES AKOSUA AIDOO, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Malawi, began by highlighting some of the socio-economic background and challenges facing Malawi. Malawi was a landlocked least developed country, faced by persistent poverty, high fertility, and a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. More than half of Malawi's children lived in general or extreme poverty. Moreover, the political impasse in governance impacted children seriously and there was a great concern that there was an absence of an effective or adequate legislative framework for pursuing children's rights. Many proposed good laws dated back to 2004/2005 and remained Bills before Parliament. In that connection, while the Committee had heard that the new parliamentary and presidential elections expected in May 2009 would end the political impasse, could they consider prioritising these bills concerning children when the new Parliament sat?

On the preparation of the report, Ms. Aidoo asked what the real role of non-governmental organizations had been in the preparation and drafting of the report. In addition, what was the nature and extent of collaboration between the Government and civil society in promoting children's rights and the Convention specifically?

Given the "capacity limitations" raised in Malawi's report, including serious budgetary and financial constraints, how effective was coordination by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, given the numerous multi-agency, multisectoral technical working groups and networks established for different children's groups within the Ministry, as well as other sectoral ministries, especially Health and Education? Moreover, how effectively did the Ministry coordinate children's rights issues in the absence of a Children's Act, Children's Policy and a National Plan of Action on Children – instruments that provided a common framework for all actors and all stakeholders, Ms. Aidoo wondered.

Regarding dissemination and training on the Convention, Ms. Aidoo noted that in its previous concluding observations the Committee had recommended additional efforts in the dissemination of the Convention to all. Despite translation of the Convention into two local languages, the report in several places observed that awareness and knowledge of the Convention was quite low among policymakers, local government officials and traditional chiefs. What was being done to change that? Of particular concern was the phrase in the report that "child rights are a relatively novel phenomenon in Malawi" although it was now 18 years after Malawi had ratified the Convention.

ROSA MARIA ORTIZ, the Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur for the report of Malawi, asked about the coordination mechanism for children's rights and how that body insured that all plans, programmes and policies for children led to local-level guideline and policies. With whom did the body work at the local level? What was their strategy to ensure that those policies had a real impact on the lives of children at the local level?

With regard to non-discrimination, in what way had traditional leaders been involved in strengthening the provisions and principles set out in the Convention, Ms. Ortiz asked? Moreover, how was the Government going to ensure that the proposed legislation in such areas as HIV/AIDS and education would be implemented, in particular in the rural areas?

Other Experts then raised a series of questions. Regarding the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, what were the roles of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in coordinating and carrying out that project, an Expert asked? With regard to the National Plan on Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children when would registration of orphans and other vulnerable children be extended to urban children, as it seemed to target solely rural children at the moment?

Despite some clarifications by the delegation today, an Expert remained confused about the status of planned legal reform and the current blockage in Parliament. He asked for more information on Parliament's methods of work, and in particular if Parliament had a children's committee.

Other issues of concern included discrimination against the girl child, evidenced by a high dropout and absenteeism rate among girls, female genital mutilation, forced and early marriages; a lack of procedures in civil law to ensure the right of the child to be heard, in particular given the primacy that traditional law was sometimes accorded over civil law; a lack of funding and resources for children's issues; how cash transfers to families were targeted to ensure that children benefited, by linking them to children's school attendance, for example; and a reported lack of cases of commercial child sexual exploitation, which might simply indicate a lack of reporting..

On independent monitoring systems, an Expert asked about the Human Rights Commission, which had a child rights unit that considered complaints from children, and wondered if it had a role in raising awareness about the Convention. Also, what had been the Government response to the recommendations that had been issued by that Commission on numerous areas involving children, including child abuse? Another Expert wondered about the statement in the report that the Human Rights Commission was "coordinating with other ministries" to fill in a data collection gap. For her, that raised serious questions about its independence.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and others, Minister Kachikho noted that, with regard to bills before Parliament and the current political impasse, that was just a matter of "frustrating anything that the Government is putting forward". However, Parliament had learned alesson, as people had been making their concerns known. They were sure that after the 2009 Parliamentary elections those issues would be addressed. Also, while the bills remained unadopted, the various Government bodies continued to promulgate policies, including at the lower level. As an example, the Government had managed to come up with a school-feeding programme to ensure that children attended at the primary level. That programme also included a provision that girl children who completed a full month's school would receive a food ration to take home.

Another member of the delegation, responding on the issue of what was being done about birth registration while the Birth Registration Bill was languishing in Parliament, began by noting that one consequence of the reintroduction of this legislation several times was that it now enjoyed wide support and was expected to be passed when the new Parliament was seated. Pending the enactment of the new legislation, they had gone ahead and set up a registration bureau and rolled out the programme of birth registrations ahead of the new laws that would make it compulsory.

Regarding nationality concerns raised by Experts, it was certainly not the case that if a Malawian lady married a foreigner she would lose her nationality. However, there were complications, there were challenges with respect to the children. The delegation did not believe that the children of such a marriage would necessarily be entitled to Malawian nationality as a right. But that was something the Malawian Law Commission was working on.

On social protection issues and the social cash transfer, there was already a draft national policy on social protection, which had already been circulated to relevant ministries for their comments, and there were already plans to develop a national strategy plan for implementation. As to how this would benefit the poorest children, the delegation observed that the social cash transfer had been developed specifically to address issues of poverty. It was keyed to the most vulnerable, which were often the poorest single-parent or child-headed families. Cash payments were also was likely to benefit AIDS orphans, through the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children Protection Programme.

Turning to dissemination, the child-friendly schools programme, which was being implemented by the Ministry of Education, was a rights-based programme and sensitized children on the Convention, the delegation said. A shorter version of the Convention was available and was used to target those who might not have the time to read the whole text. They had also produced flyers that were disseminated at national events, such as the National Day of the African Child, to ensure that most Malawians were sensitized on Convention issues. It was underscored that dissemination of the Convention to teachers, professionals and the general public was a targeted part of the Ministry of Women and Child Development's plan every year.

Directly on child abuse, evidence that the programme to raise awareness on this issue was working were high levels of reporting on this issue, the delegation said.

Turning to coordination issues, the delegation said that in an attempt to better coordinate work on children they had established national networks and national technical working groups which reported to a National Steering Committee on Children, in an attempt to anchor all children's issues with the Ministry. The National Steering Committee was the permanent secretariat for the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Responding to the query about the coordination of Government ministries with the Malawi Human Rights

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