October 28, 2016

Press Release – Statement of Eritrea’s Delegation at the 28th Ordinary Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC)

Press Release – Statement of Eritrea’s Delegation at the 28th Ordinary Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC)

Banjul, the Islamic Republic of the Gambia

Honourable Chairperson,
Distinguished Members of the ACERWC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very much delighted and honoured to present, on behalf of my Government and the high level delegation, a statement in relation to the report of the State of Eritrea on the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. This report covers the period between 2002 and 2013.

I will also touch upon some of the important issues which have transpired subsequent to the submission of our consolidated initial report. It is indeed an honour and a privilege for us to discuss with this distinguished African Committee of Experts the situation of the Rights and Welfare of the Child in Eritrea.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ever since independence, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GoSE) has committed itself to promoting and protecting the rights and welfare of children in Eritrea. My delegation recalls with pride that Eritrea ratified the CRC in 1994, welcoming it as the first international convention which the country acceded to, soon after formally joining the community of independent sovereign states on the 24th of May 1993. Similarly, Eritrea ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in the year 2000. This coincided with the peak of the bloody Ethio-Eritrean border war (1998-2000) which has entailed a huge loss of life and immense social and economic destruction. The foregoing demonstrates my Government’s commitment and the great importance it attaches to the promotion of the rights and welfare of the child as one of the central pillars in its development agenda.

During the reporting period, there has been increased coordination in the implementation, reporting and monitoring of programs at the national, regional and sub-regional levels. Strong alliances have been forged between government institutions and civil society organizations. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS), the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers, the Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the 42 Local Child Well being Committees have been instrumental in preparing the report.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

In the domain of legislation, Eritrea has come up with new legal codes. These new legal codes have introduced child-friendly provisions. The Best Interest of the Child, as a primary consideration in all matters which affect the child, has been clearly spelt out as a guiding principle in the new Civil Code. This Code also expressly provides for the right of the child to express his/her views and stipulates how and in what matters the child should be heard. In addition, all children are entitled to having names and citizenship. In conformity with the requirements of the ACRWC and other instruments to which Eritrea is a party, the principle of non-discrimination is firmly incorporated in the Codes. The new Penal Code has done away with the provision that a child under the age of 18 years could be subjected to a penalty that is applicable to adults. It also stipulates that life imprisonment or the death penalty shall not be applied or imposed on a person who had not attained the age of 18 years at the time of committing the offence.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

In the social and child protection domain, my Government has been advancing the rights and welfare of children and has been promoting and implementing social protection measures. The popular African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is upheld dearly in my country. Government and civil society institutions as well as families and communities have assumed collective roles in the effort to promote the survival and development of the child by undertaking various programs in their domains including promotional and sensitisation activities on the ACRWC and the CRC. The community-based approach has been utilized to reunify orphaned children with their blood relatives; to facilitate their adoption; to place them in foster host families; or group homes and to hosting them in orphanage centres in that order of priority.

The Community Based Reunification Program for orphans as well as programs for street children, families of martyrs and HIV/AIDS affected families have been put in place. Some of the results have been;(i) strengthening the family unit, aiming at providing a better environment for the growth and development of children; (ii) empowering communities to promote good socialization practices; (iii) creating favourable grounds for orphans and other vulnerable children to remain within their communities; and (iv) strengthening the coping mechanism of care taking families through cash support and income-generating schemes and eventually enabling OVCs to become self-supporting and productive citizens.
To promote the welfare of Children with Disabilities (CWDs), village rehabilitation committees, composed of representatives from the village administration, the NUEW, NUEYS and disabled members of village communities, have been established in 52 sub-region administrations with the objective of (i) improving the livelihoods of CWDs and their families (ii) promoting the welfare of CWDs by providing school materials, orthopaedic appliances and other means of mobility and transport and (iii) mainstreaming CWDs in secondary schools and colleges.

As concerns children in conflict with the law, numerous promotional, probational and rehabilitation activities have been undertaken. During the reporting period, IDPs, Eritreans returning from neighbouring countries and Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia and Eritreans whose villages are still occupied by Ethiopia have been resettled into communities in areas of their preferences and have been provided with various social services including education, health, transportation, communication and water supply.
While extensive efforts have been made since the signing of the ACRWC, some challenges still remain in the social and child protection domain, in providing adequate care and protection to CWDs and children in conflict with the law, mainly because of limited resources. In order to improve the livelihoods of the families of youths in the national service, the GoSE has introduced, since 2015, the payment of reasonable salaries and has been providing technical and vocational training aimed at creating employment for them.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Health is the right of every citizen. Eritrea puts much emphasis on the needs of the relatively less privileged rural population, which constitutes the overwhelming majority, as well as vulnerable population groups, which include mothers and children. Eritrea has adopted Primary Health Care (PHC) as a principal strategy, with the key principles of universal coverage, comprehensiveness of services, community involvement, multi-sectoral approach and political commitment.
According to current data, the infant mortality rate has dropped from 93 per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 34 per 1,000 live births in 2015, and under-five mortality has dropped from 151 per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 47 in 2015 (MDG-4). Vaccine coverage has been over 90% for the past several years. The immunization program has focused on hard to reach areas and nomadic populations so as to ensure that no single child is left behind. Moreover, vitamin A and iodized salt with over 95% coverage and nutritional support have been provided to children to combat deficiency diseases.

Eritrea has identified the major harmful traditional practices and cultural beliefs that contribute to high maternal and child morbidity and mortality. These are female genital mutilation (FGM), early child marriage, uvulectomy, blood-letting during high fever and gender inequalities. With regard to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the State of Eritrea had earlier issued Proclamation No 158/2007 banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) which is additional proof of the commitment of the people and Government to the Best Interests of the Child. This has been achieved through advocacy and sensitization campaigns and the co-option of religious and other influential people. FGM in the age group 15-19 years has been reduced from 90.4% in 1995 to 68.8% in 2010, which is a reduction of 24%. Furthermore, many communities have developed local communal laws that discourage the practice of FGM. Encouragingly enough, some sub-districts have already declared “FGM-free villages”.

Proclamation No. 2/1991 had set the marriageable age at 18 years for both sexes. The issuance of this proclamation has enabled appropriate ministries and civil society organizations to conduct collective advocacy and sensitization campaigns. On the 11th of June 2016, in collaboration with the African Union Commission and other partners, Eritrea launched a big event to end child marriage in Eritrea. Underage marriage for females 15-19 years has declined from 31.3% in 1995 to 7.1% in 2010 which is a reduction of 77.3% in 15 years’ time. For males it is practically zero – no one is married before or at the age of 19 years.

Mothers and children are prioritized in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Eritrea has made tremendous achievements in combating these diseases, and it has already achieved MDG 6. The coverage for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission and Anti-Retroviral Treatment is 75% and 80% respectively. Although chemically treated bed-nets are given free to all people, special focus is put on children and pregnant mothers. Bed-net coverage is 100% in the malaria endemic areas of Eritrea. Malaria Morbidity and Mortality reductions are 90% and 95% respectively. Women of child-bearing age need more care both for their own health and for the health of their babies. The WHO Health Report for 2015 reveals that the Maternal Mortality Ratio in Eritrea has declined from 1,590 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 501 in 2015 (MDG-5). The annual rate of reduction in the Maternal Mortality Ratio during 1990-2015 was estimated at 4.6%. To top up the routine antenatal delivery and postnatal care, emergency obstetric care services have increased from 21% in 1995 to 88 % in 2013. One of the innovative ways in the reduction of maternal mortality is the provision of Maternity Waiting Homes. This gives mothers who live far away from health facilities an opportunity to get access to deliveries assisted by skilled personnel.

Life expectancy at birth has increased significantly from 48 years in 1990 to 63 years in 2012. Globally, Eritrea is one of the 24 countries that have gained more than 10 years in life expectancy (both sexes combined) between 1990 and 2012 (WHO, 2014).

Ladies & Gentlemen,

The GoSE considers children’s education as a right and all children are entitled to equal access to educational opportunities. Eritrea had earlier been committed to the Education for All Goals and the Millennium Development Goals. Although Eritrea, like many other poor, developing countries, had not been able to achieve these goals, it had covered much ground on the way towards meeting these targets. The main thrust has been on ensuring that all children complete primary education of good quality and on improving the national literacy rate substantially. Today, the Net Enrolment Rate at the elementary level stands at 81.7%. The literacy rate, too, stands at about 70%, in sharp contrast to the estimated rate of 30% at the time of independence in 1993.

The GoSE has always paid much attention both to equity and quality in its long-term endeavour to make education accessible to all. During the last five years in particular, it has prioritized the four lowland regions of the country both in the allocation of educational resources and the implementation of various interventions. Among the six regional administrations in the country, these are the most remote regions, and are largely inhabited by semi-pastoralists and other hard-to-reach population groups. Consequently, there has been renewed emphasis on nomadic education and on the sizable number of out-of-school children found in these regions. Similarly, efforts have been made towards the greater inclusion of children with learning difficulties, through the establishment of four national associations for persons with disabilities, as well as the provision of educational opportunities for some children with special needs. At the same time considerable efforts have been made to improve the quality of education at all levels and in all types of education. Chief among these have been the review of the education policy and of school curricula, the training of new and serving teachers, the strengthening of school management and the expansion of skills training.

In the area of leisure, my Government has endeavoured to enhance children’s opportunities for play and sports. Some of the key steps taken in this respect have been the construction of sports fields and play-grounds in and around schools, the training of physical education teachers, and the biennial national sports and athletics competitions among schoolchildren.

Meanwhile, due attention has been paid to the development of robust cultural identity, knowledge and awareness among children, within the rich and diverse cultural milieu in the country. Some of the main interventions in this direction have been the introduction of arts education and civic education, the establishment of students’ clubs throughout the schools in the country, as well as the encouragement provided to schoolchildren to participate in a wide variety of artistic and cultural activities.
Nevertheless, despite all these achievements, Eritrea still faces some major challenges in the education sector. The most glaring of these is that many children of school-going age have not yet got access to education. The quality of education, too, leaves much to be desired, as in most other developing nations. Great effort is still required to improve the internal efficiency of the school system by decreasing the fairly big number of children who usually drop out of school and/or fail to pass from one grade to the next. Wiping out illiteracy has also turned out to be a highly-demanding and extensive task. In taking stock of it all, however, my Government tends to take an optimistic stance, since the achievements and opportunities in our education system by far outweigh the challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My Government believes that there has been a remarkable decrease in poverty and hunger. Between 1995 and 2010, the proportion of the total population without access to safe drinking water decreased by 48%. It is projected to decrease to less than 30% of the national population by the end of 2016.

In spite of the challenges that the people and government of Eritrea have faced during the last two decades, the country has made significant gains toward achieving the MDGs. Among the challenges can be mentioned the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia and the lingering status quo of ‘no-war-no-peace’, the unjustified UN sanctions that have been imposed since 2009 to derail the GOSE from making full-fledged interventions in the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other development programmes. The Government has recently integrated the SDGs into its local and national development programs. The priority goals of the Government of the State of Eritrea are attaining food security on a sustainable basis, developing human resources, technology and basic infrastructure, ascertaining maternal and child health and nutrition and the prevention, control and management of communicable and non-communicable diseases. These goals are expected to reduce the poverty level in general and they are geared towards ensuring and safeguarding the rights and well-being of all children in Eritrea.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My delegation reiterates my Government’s full commitment to the implementation of the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It also hopes that this session would enlighten the Committee on the specific Eritrean context and on matters arising from the review of the Consolidated Initial Report of my Government. Moreover, my delegation wants to reassure the Committee that the GoSE has no greater agenda than upholding the best interests of Eritrean children in the discharge of its responsibilities.

I thank you all for your attention.

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