Brian J. HunterBrian J. Hunter is Save the Children Country Director for Nepal and Bhutan. He’s been working with Save the Children for past nine years, and in Nepal since November 2009. A postgraduate in Civil Engineering, Hunter’s previous assignment was in Nicaragua as Country Director. His engagement in the development sector has taken him to Bolivia and Ecuador working in child focused development projects, rural infrastructure, sanitation and water system projects and structural designing for educational, public, and health care facilities. In an interview with Anand Gurung of Nepalnews.com, he talks about how Nepal has made a lot of progress in the last 5 to 10 years in addressing the situation of children in the country.
1. First of all, tell us about child rights situation in Nepal?
The principal mission of Save the Children is to help ensure children’s rights as framed in the Convention on the Rights of Child to which Nepal and almost all nations in the world are a signatory party. The convention categorically states that children are rights bearers and the government, as duty bearers, is obligated to ensure the protection as well as fulfillment of children’s rights. It has set minimum entitlements and freedoms for children that should be respected by all governments.
However, the human rights of children are not expressly guaranteed by the interim constitution of Nepal. The current children’s act of Nepal also doesn’t clearly identify children as rights holders, but only beneficiaries.
But this doesn’t mean that the Nepal government is not serious towards its responsibilities to ensure children’s rights are fulfilled. In many ways it is protecting and ensuring children’s rights. In the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council where all human rights issues including those of children were discussed, the government of Nepal clearly expressed what it is doing to protect children’s rights in the country. But we think it is not enough and the government clearly needs to do more to even help meet the basic needs of the children as well as guarantee all of the rights of children in Nepal.
2. Do you see any progress that has been made in Nepal in improving the situation of children in Nepal?
I think there has been a lot of progress in the last 5 to 10 years in addressing the situation of children. One good example is Nepal’s effort to bring down the child mortality rate. So, children’s right to survival and development has improved dramatically. Last September, Nepal received the “MDG award for outstanding national leadership, commitment and progress towards achievement of the MDG goal related to improving maternal health” in recognition of successfully lowering the child mortality. One of the main Millennium Development Goals is to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five and Nepal is on track to achieving the development target.
Similarly, for the past three or four years we have also been working with the Ministry of Health to develop community-based new born care package in which the government is clearly taking the lead in developing policy to reach out to the furthest corners of Nepal to insure that new mothers as well as pregnant woman have access to health services in order to reduce neo-natal mortality rate. The government has shown great initiative as well as leadership as the principal duty bearer in fulfilling its responsibility in this regard.
3. What is being done to ensure free and compulsory education to children in Nepal as declared by the government?
We strongly believe that children have a right to free and compulsory education. Education being our biggest concern, most of our funds are channeled into ensuring children’s right to education. Save the children has been working with its local partners and District Education Offices as well as supporting various efforts at the micro level towards ensuring free, compulsory and quality education for children. But there has not been much progress in this regard, especially for Dalit children, girls and children belonging to ethnic minorities as they don’t necessarily have access to free and compulsory education. And even though they have access, they don’t complete the education cycle.
Free and compulsory education means that not only the government, as the duty bearer, needs to offer free, compulsory and quality education to children but the parents as well as the community needs to support such an initiative. Ensuring compulsory education to children cannot be done by the government alone; it has to have community ownership through social mobilization, and also awareness building among parents on the value of education and their role and responsibility in ensuring that their children finish school. This has been demonstrated in four VDCs in Surkhet where you will not find any school going age child out of school.
4. Various recommendations were made during discussions on child rights at the recent UPR event in Geneva? Which do you think were the key points?
The recommendations made by Maldives was important as it pressed for enactment of a Juvenile Justice Law compliant with international standards, to consolidate the legal framework surrounding the protection of the rights of children and to ensure the proper functioning of a juvenile justice system in the country.
In our separate report presented at the meeting, we called on the international community to support our call to establish child friendly administrative and judicial procedures for child victims and witnesses of crimes in Nepal in order to ensure that they receive adequate protection, rehabilitation/compensation packages and that includes right to confidentiality.
So that’s something that is under-consideration. We need to see what the Nepali government response would be to ensuring a working juvenile justice system.
The government has already agreed to expedite endorsement of long awaited child policy legislation, including the child rights Act. As I mentioned before, the current child rights act is out of date and not up to the international standards. We would like to see a new child rights act passed. Similarly, the government has also committed to expedite endorsement of education regulation, Child Protection Policy, and set minimum standards for child care homes, as well as take the necessary steps to ensure their full implementation.
The current draft for the new constitution does not address cases of stateless in the new Constitution's drafting process. This is something very sensitive and all the indications are that the new constitution will not guarantee right to citizenship to children born to all Nepali mothers in Nepal. This is a very serious issue which needs to be tackled properly.
5. What is Save the Children doing in order to guarantee children’s rights in the constitution?
We have been working in partnership with organizations like Children as Zones of Peace (CZOP), Consortium and others that have been involved from the very beginning to lobby the Constituent Assembly members to incorporate children rights in the new constitution that is being drafted. It is quite encouraging that some of the recommendations that we provided as experts’ submission to the CA have already been incorporated. Almost 85 percent of the recommendations that we made to protect children’s rights have been included in the draft of different thematic committees of the Constituent Assembly. However, we have our concern over some recommendations that have still been left out. For example, we just talked about the state-less children in relation to the citizenship. Another thing we consider very strongly and that have been left out is the provision regarding a child rights commissioner within the National Human Rights Commission. We don’t have constitutionally guaranteed specific mechanism that monitors and reports on children’s rights. That is one way to ensure that children’s rights are addressed and when there are rights violations, they are properly investigated and recommendations are made. At some point in time in the near future we would like to see a Commission for Children or an ombudsperson established in Nepal.
Another issue that is not addressed by the new constitution is related to misuse of children by political parties in their different activities. In the name of children’s participation, we see children being exploited for political purposes in many ways including closing down schools So those issues should have to be addressed in the new constitution. The state should ban all kinds of misuse of children by the political parties and armed groups. However, we are not against children’s participation in awareness and promotional programs on issue that are close to them, but it has to be voluntary rather than forced and has to be in the best interest of the children.
6. Is Save the Children doing anything to ensure all Maoist army personnel disqualified as minors reintegrate into the society?
Save the Children has been working with several other development partners including UNICEF to try and make an enabling atmosphere to help Maoist army personnel disqualified as minors - or Verified Minors and Late Recruits (VMLRs) who were discharged last year - to be reintegrated into society. Save the Children has been working as well as assigned in different areas of the country together with other development partners to assist the reintegration of VMLRs into the society and diminish the stigma attached on them of being involved in armed group activities. We want to facilitate in the integration process to make them feel comfortable and welcomed back into the community to start a new life. nepalnews.com