Unjustified Delay

The Child Bill and Bahrain’s International Obligations

Despite Bahrain ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 19 years ago, the practical implementation of the Convention in national legislation has been delayed. Bahrain joined CRC in 1991 and ratified it without any reservations on 13 February 1992. CRC came into force in March 1992 and since then; all efforts were made to create a safe environment in order to guarantee a better future for children. However, people are still waiting for the passage of a law that would protect the rights of the child.

The President of the Committee on Women and Children’s Affairs in the Shura Council, Dalal Al Zayed is optimistic that a new law will be passed in the coming weeks. However, reasons behind the long delay are unjustified; given the fact that Bahrain affirmed its commitment to the CRC, despite many problems, which were stated in the second and third Periodic Reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in February 2009.

The current debates on the bill especially with regards to legal and Islamic interpretations on defining the age of a child are not helpful. There is also an absence of a clear vision regarding children, who should be covered by the bill, and whether non-Bahrainis should be covered by the law. This heated debate mainly revolves around vague principles rather than legal texts.

Article 1 of the Convention clearly states that: “a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

The Article is clear, and it is difficult to find other jurisprudence, legal or political interpretations which might contradict it. In discussing the bill, there are several interpretations with regards to determining the minimum age for work. According to Article 32 (a) and (b) of the Convention, Bahrain should determine the suitable age for work, so that children can enjoy their childhood and live a prosperous and dignified life. Bahrain should also prepare and train children for the future by instilling work values.

Article 32 states that:

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:

(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;

(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;

Perhaps the most suitable age for employment is 12, which should include putting into place strict rules for working hours and providing a suitable working environment. Bahraini Labour Law should also be used as a guideline in this regard. As for non-Bahraini children, Article 2 (1) of the CRC should be considered, which states:

“States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.

A careful reading of the Article shows that all children inside the country regardless of their nationality should be protected. This implies the inclusion of non-Bahraini children unless there are strong legal reasons. This interpretation runs in line with the UN child protection principles, which aim to protect children’s rights including social and economic rights given the fact that children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

Governments should not use the poor economic situation as an excuse for failing to meet their commitments and should provide the necessary resources in order to implement CRC. Parents should be encouraged to play a more proactive role, especially non-Bahrainis. It may be useful to engage non-Bahraini parents in this process by requesting them through the different media channels to submit proposals in line with the spirit of the Convention. Non-Bahraini parents should be encouraged to express their views, needs, and making lists of what they can or cannot provide to their children, and what kind of support they need from the Government of Bahrain in this area. These can be grouped and issued in the form of legislative circulars or supplements to complement any adopted child law. In this way non-Bahraini parents will play a positive role in helping Bahrain to fulfill its obligations towards non-Bahraini children.

It is worth noting that the child bill should be in line with Bahrain’s international obligations to CRC. Bahrain presented its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in July 2000, which was discussed on 28 January and 1 February 2002. The Committee specialises in looking into state parties reports based on Article 44 of CRC. The initial report highlighted Bahrain’s achievements regarding children’s rights.The Committee’s final recommendations were implemented by Bahrain, which include: raising awareness and building a strong partnership between the Government and civil society on child protection issues. In February 2009, Bahrain presented its second and third Periodic Reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which were prepared by the National Committee for Childhood in Bahrain with the help of concerned parties. The National Committee was established in 1999 and is made up of ministries, governmental institutions, and civil institutions. The National Committee prepared the report by using the same methodology, which was adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 39th session held on 3 July 2005.

The National Committee held a series of workshops, which were specially designed to obtain feedback on children’s issues presented in the report. The report contained statistics and new information from 2001 to mid 2008, which was unavailable in the first report. The report also highlighted current difficulties and challenges, and contained series of indexes on new legislations, laws, ministerial decisions, leaflets, newsletters and CDs. The report responded to the main concerns and the recommendations in the concluding observations of the initial report considered by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Periodic reports, international obligations and concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child will undoubtedly help in achieving a more comprehensive child law, which will fill legal gaps and improve Bahrain’s image. Civil society and human rights organizations, and organizations working on children’s issues should all present similar reports in order to support children’s rights, complement official efforts and help pass a suitable Bahraini child law.