Ramallah, October 4, 2019—Inadequate data, a lack of mechanisms to ensure rights for children with disabilities, and the need for increased protections for children exposed to or at risk of early marriage and community-based violence are some of the most pressing issues highlighted by a United Nations human rights treaty body as it prepares to assess the State of Palestine’s compliance with international child rights standards.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), began its initial review of the State of Palestine’s compliance with the CRC on June 3, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. At the June pre-sessional working group meeting, the Committee considered the State of Palestine’s initial report and information from civil society organizations, including DCIP, in an effort to narrow the scope of the full review scheduled for January 2020 to the most pressing issues.
Following the June session, the Committee released its “list of issues” on July 5, 2019. Requests for issue-specific data and case details form the backbone of the Committee’s 23-item list focused on implementation of national laws and a range of child rights issues. Without these, the State of Palestine’s progress toward full CRC implementation cannot be fully assessed. Included are requests for data on spending, disaggregated indicators broken down by categories such as gender and ethnic origin, and individual cases on state abuses such as arbitrary arrests of children, to name a few.
Regarding access of children with disabilities, the Committee asked the State of Palestine to demonstrate what steps it is taking to facilitate early diagnosis and interventions, as well as to ensure access to public services, including public schools. The Committee further requested the State party provide information on how it is promoting “inclusive education in mainstream classes,” rather than an educational model of separate classrooms for children with disabilities.
Palestinian law (Decree Law No. 8 of 2017 Concerning Public Education) lays the groundwork for an inclusive education framework. It assigns responsibility to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) to ensure the right to education, on an equal and inclusive basis, is protected.
The Committee’s list of issues also raised concerns about the prevalence of violence in school environments. According to a July 2018 UNICEF report, corporal punishment is still a common practice in Palestinian public schools. The report cited MOEHE data from January 2017 which showed that nearly 70 percent of students between 1st and 10th grade had been exposed to violence at school, whether from peers or school staff. The study concluded that these forms of community-based violence were causing students to drop out of public schools.
Another issue highlighted in the U.N. list is early marriage. The State of Palestine reported that the Personal Status Law of 1976 allows for marriage below the age of 18 for both boys and girls. The initial report stated: “The Sharia Court Council is to take action in the future to raise the age of marriage to 18 years for both spouses.”
The Committee asked the State party to specify the measures it has been taken to revise the Personal Status Law in order to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18. Additionally, the Committee requested updated and disaggregated statistics on married children.
In 2014, the State of Palestine acceded to the CRC and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. In so doing, the State of Palestine agreed to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the enumerated rights — including by adopting or reforming laws and policies in line with the provisions of the CRC or Optional Protocol. It also obligated itself to periodic review.
The State of Palestine submitted its initial report to the Committee demonstrating CRC implementation nearly two years after the required 2016 deadline, on September 21, 2018. As a parallel fact-finding process, the Committee invited nongovernmental organizations to submit independent “alternative reports” to identify gaps and underline challenges that may not appear in the state’s report.
Earlier this year, Defense for Children International - Palestine submitted a joint alternative report in collaboration with eight other local, Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, finding the State of Palestine had significant obstacles to overcome in order to achieve full compliance with the CRC.
The joint report found that a web of overlapping bodies of laws amounting to different legal systems apply to Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
These inconsistent legal standards stem from the number of past and present authorities who have exercised or are exercising jurisdiction. In addition, poorly defined roles for various duty bearers, a lack of fund allocations, and insufficient data collection all presented major roadblocks to the full implementation of the CRC, the joint report found.
The Palestinian government is required to send a response to the requests included in the list of issues by October 15, 2019. The State of Palestine’s periodic report will then be examined at the Committee’s 83rd plenary session in January 2020. At the end of this session, the Committee will issue its concluding observations, which sets in motion an ongoing periodic reporting, review, and follow-up process to regularly monitor the State of Palestine’s respect and implementation of child rights.