This second article summarizes the Concluding Observations on Malta issued by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and follows our first article that focused on shadow reports submitted by civil society organizations and other stakeholders.
All the review documents (State Report, List of Issues, Civil Society Input, List of Delegation, Concluding Observations) may be found on the OHCHR site, under Malta.
What are Concluding Observations?
Malta is required to submit regular state reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on how rights provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child are implemented. Following an analysis of these reports and of the shadow reports presented by interested entities, the CRC adopted Concluding Observations on Malta wherein it presented its concerns and recommendations.
Concluding Observations should be widely publicised in the State party as they serve as a basis for national debates on the improvement in the enjoyment by children of their fundamental human rights. Malta is also expected to follow up the recommendations provided in the Concluding Observations, as these will be looked at in the Committee’s next review.
What did the Committee on the Rights of the Child say about Malta?
Several topics were addressed by the Committee, including the allocation of resources, cooperation with civil society, children’s rights and the business sector, civil rights and freedoms, family environment and alternative care, disability, basic health and welfare, violence, non-discrimination, leisure and cultural activities, special protection measures and administration of juvenile justice. The Committee based its Concluding Observations on national and shadow reports, as summed up in our first article focusing on reports submitted by civil society organizations and other stakeholders.
It is encouraging to see that shadow reports serve as a basis for several recommendations made to Malta. For example, the CRC recalled observations made by the IFBAN on breastfeeding (summarised in our previous article), as it recommended that Malta should fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and strengthen its efforts to promote and support breastfeeding.
However, the systematic lack of collection of data, the need for an extension of the length of the fully-paid maternity leave as well as the need to ratify the Labor Organization Convention 183 were not noted by the Committee, which we regret.
Education and non-discrimination
As stated in Malta’s national report, numerous measures were adopted relating to education, such as the Framework for the Education Strategy 2014-2024 placing an emphasis on students learning to live together and conveying a message of respect for the individual’s dignity. However, we also note that a recent report showed data revealing that a “substantial number” of children displayed traits of intolerance and prejudice against non-Maltese ones. The report, led by the University of Malta and commissioned by the Commissioner for Children, analysed the lives of foreign minors concluding that one in every three foreign students experienced some form of bullying while at school, such as name-calling or violence. The CRC recommended Malta to adopt and implement a strategy addressing all forms of discrimination, including educational programs targeting children.
The Committee also underlined that it is urgent that Malta strengthens its efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, and related intolerance negatively affecting children and especially asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children.
Asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children
The delays in authorising the disembarkation of rescued migrants and refugees including children at the nearest place of safety, thereby exacerbating the vulnerability of the rescued children, was raised by the Committee as a matter of serious concern. Indeed, some vessels carrying young children and women in precarious health conditions remained at sea for several days waiting to be authorised to dock.
In its Concluding Observations, the CRC also expressed concern about the shortcomings relating to transparency, independence and appointment of guardians concerning the age assessment process in relation to unaccompanied children, including possible conflicts of interest within the guardianship system.
In addition, the fact that the Temporary Humanitarian Protection (THP) status for unaccompanied children and the rights and benefits attached to are not regulated by law is an urgent issue Malta needs to work on. The Committee noted how this leaves people in a precarious situation with uncertain life conditions.
Moreover, the Committee stressed that it is now urgent that Malta implements a uniform protocol on age determination that is respectful of children’s rights, and only used in cases of serious doubts. It also urgent and necessary that Malta processes cases involving asylum-seeking and refugee children in a positive humane and expeditious manner, and that it prohibits the immigration detention of migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children. Importantly, this legal prohibition must be implemented in practice.
(f) Prohibit the immigration detention of migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children in law and ensure that legal prohibition is implemented in practice, and ensure effective alternatives to detention so as to allow children to remain with family members and/or guardians in non-custodial, community-based contexts, consistent with their best interests;Para. 42(f).
Administration of juvenile justice
Even though Malta amended the Article 35(1) of the Criminal Code increasing the age of criminal responsibility of children to 14 years of age, the fact remains that children co-accused with persons older than 16 years of age are still treated as adults. Moreover, children between 16 and 18 years of age are subject to criminal law and criminal courts for adults, and there are still cases where they are held with adults in prison facilities.
The most illustrating example of these worrying allegations concerns the children who allegedly hijacked the vessel El Hiblu that had rescued them off the coast of Libya in March 2019. The teenagers – aged 15, 16 and 19 – are facing terrorism charges before the Malta’s Court of Magistrates and not before the Juvenile Court. Moreover, they were placed at the high security division at the adult’s prison in Corradino Correctional Facility, a practice with questionable conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the CRC supported the recommendation of Juvenile Justice Advocates International (JJAI) urging Malta to limit the use and length of the pre-trial detention of children.
Intersex genital mutilation
The CRC observed that, among migrant communities, child marriage and female genital mutilation remain under reported. Medically-unnecessary surgical and other procedures are still carried out on intersex children without their consent and it often entails irreversible consequences, causing severe physical and psychological suffering.
Moreover, the CRC pointed out that Malta does not offer to victims of these acts any redress or compensation in such cases, as it was highlighted by StopIGM. It is urging Malta to strengthen its awareness-raising programmes on the harmful effects of child marriage and female genital mutilation. Malta also needs to strengthen protection schemes for actual and potential victims of these crimes and ensure that intersex children are not subjected to unnecessary medical or surgical procedures during infancy or childhood.
Abortion remains a criminal offence under the Maltese Criminal Code in all circumstances, including cases when the woman’s life or health are at risk, of fetal malformation, or when the pregnancy results from a criminal act such as a rape or incest. Indeed, Malta is the only country in the European Union entirely prohibiting abortion.
One of the main consequences of this ban is that Maltese women seek abortion services overseas, if this is accessible to them. The decriminalisation of abortion in all circumstances and the guarantee of access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services for adolescent girls are urgent measure Malta needs to take, according to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
In this regard, have you heard of the national coalition Voice for Choice, of which we are a founding member?
Finally, it is important to note that Malta still has not accepted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to a complaints procedures, a text that – if accepted by Malta – would constitute a step forward in the strengthening of children’s rights.
Moreover, it was recommended by the CRC that Malta considers ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Member of Their Families. It also urged Malta to fulfil its reporting obligations under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, reports of which is overdue as of 28 October 2012.
(d) Expedite accession to the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954, and consider ratifying the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 1961, the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and the 2009 Council of Europe Convention on the avoidance of statelessness in relation to State succession;Para. 23(d).
The Committee’s Concluding Observations are primarily addressed to Malta, in order for it to start working on improving its performance relating to rights of the child. But for this to happen, and for it to happen effectively, it is up to us civil society stakeholders to make best use of the Observations: disseminate to key partners such as Aġenzija APPOĠĠ and most relevant Ministries; share the findings with media organisations so that the key issues will get media coverage; use the Observations as advocacy tools in our work with counterparts; encourage other NGOs to engage with specific issues; and, importantly, ensuring constant monitoring so that at the next round of Malta’s CRC review detailed and useful shadow reports can be prepared for the Committee.
That’s a lot of work, so if you’d like to help out just give us a call!