PANAMA: Children's rights references in the Universal Periodic Review

Summary: A compilation of extracts featuring child-rights issues from the reports submitted to the first Universal Periodic Review. There are extracts from the 'National Report', the 'Compilation of UN Information' and the 'Summary of Stakeholder's Information'. Also included is the final report and the list of accepted and rejected recommendations.

Panama - 9th Session - 2010
2nd November, 3pm to 6pm

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National Report
Compilation of UN information
Summary of Stakeholder information
Accepted and rejected recommendations

National Report

 27. The establishment of the National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents and the Family (SENNIAF) represents an important step forward. This is an independent State body charged with coordinating, implementing and monitoring policies for the comprehensive protection of the rights of children and adolescents.

28. Special courts hear cases involving family matters, children and adolescents. Within the judicial branch, there are 12 municipal courts, 10 local courts and a superior family court, 8 criminal courts and an enforcement court for adolescents, and 12 courts and a superior court for children and adolescents, with the latter being competent to hear appeals in criminal cases involving adolescents.

58. As established in the Constitution, the prison system is based on the principles of security, rehabilitation and social defence; measures that harm the physical, mental or moral integrity of prisoners are prohibited, and vocational training is provided in order to help them reintegrate into society. There are work and study leave programmes, arrangements for the performance of community service, for studying within prison, and for release on parole or commutation of a prison sentence for the purpose of working or studying. Minors are subject to a special regime of custody, protection and education. The constitutional provisions in this respect are implemented by Act No. 55 of 2003 on the reorganization of the prison system, as regulated by Executive Decree No. 393 of 2005 and Act No. 40 of 1999 on the special regime governing juvenile criminal responsibility. The country’s 22 prisons house a prison population of 11,532 persons, including 764 women. In order to tackle the problem of prison overcrowding, the Government is building a new large prison at a cost of 150,000,000 balboas. This facility is especially designed and equipped to promote prisoners’ resocialization .

63. The 2010–2014 strategic plan18 sets out State initiatives to address the problems of the most vulnerable population groups. Its two main priorities are training human capital for development and social inclusion. In the latter area, the strategic goals for the health sector focus on eradicating malnutrition, especially among young children and pregnant women; extending drinking water coverage to 90 per cent of the country’s population and launching an urban and rural sanitation programme; increasing the coverage and quality of basic health services, with particular emphasis on primary care and the development of the hospital network; establishing a support network for the poorest families and older adults; and introducing social protection measures for vulnerable groups.

65. The Ministry of Health has established the right to universal, free access to health-care services in its facilities for the following vulnerable groups: children up to the age of 5 years, women during pregnancy and the post-natal period, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples in the most underprivileged sectors of society.

68. Various programmes for the elimination of malnutrition are being implemented under the strategies set out in the National Plan to Combat Child Malnutrition (2008–2015) and the National Plan for the Prevention and Monitoring of Micronutrient Deficiencies. 

69. Other government bodies are also working to combat malnutrition, such as the Ministry of Health, which runs programmes to ensure that children receive the essential nutrients they need for their proper development from the time that they are in the womb onward, to promote breastfeeding, to provide iron supplements and mega-doses of vitamin A and to distribute vitamin-rich puddings. The Ministry of Education28 is operating nutrition programmes throughout the country to distribute milk, nutritional biscuits and enriched pudding dishes to children in all State-run preschools and primary schools. 

70. Panama is very close to achieving the Millennium Development Goal on education, since school coverage has increased significantly in recent times, especially in primary schools, where coverage is now universal. Preschool education coverage rose from 43.1 per cent in 2001 to 61 per cent in 2008. This is a highly important achievement, since successful completion of this stage of education is effective in reducing the primary-school repeat rate and increasing the school survival rate to grade five. Steps have been taken to expand the coverage of middle and secondary education and to improve the quality of education through innovations in the curricula and the establishment of elementary and secondary schools in communities that have none.

71. The Government has started reforming the education system in order to ensure that education in Panama is competitive. Policies are being implemented with a view to updating curriculum design, expanding coverage, building new school infrastructure and improving existing infrastructure, and providing families with study tools and with the resources they need to cover the costs of school attendance. 

72. With the support of the private sector and volunteers, the Ministry of Education launched a project called “Back to the Classroom” in order to analyse how the system is working and to compile the data and information needed in order for Panamanians to determine just who we are, where we stand and where we are going.

73. The Government has now begun to provide families with educational resources and a school voucher for the purchase of uniforms. The programme serves a total of 800,000 students and, as from this year, a universal grant for State and private schools is being provided to help cover school costs.

89. Systematic institutional efforts to develop and implement a social protection system applying equally to everyone in Panamanian society are under way. Latent challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve this goal include providing institutional structures for young people, older adults and ethnic groups; implementing the Citizen Participation Act; and moving social programmes towards a system of social protection focused on rights and social cohesion. 

92. These programmes have an impact on the health status of young children and pregnant women, the schooling of children and adolescents, the health of adults aged 70 and over, their quality of life and the homes they live in. They cover some 161,907 persons, or 19 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, and are therefore helping the country to achieve Millennium Development Goal 1.

94. A law was passed that regulates the use of re-educational and social rehabilitation measures for children under the age of 12 years who have committed an infraction but who, because of their age, bear no criminal responsibility. SENNIAF is conducting a re- education programme to this end.

95. SENNIAF is carrying out two programmes to prevent sexual violence and child abuse and ill-treatment and to assist victims. The Direct Assistance Programme for Victims of Sexual Violence and the Child Abuse and Ill-treatment Prevention Programme focus on organizing educational seminars at schools for children and their teachers and parents. 

96. The General Adoption Act is a major step forward in the fight against trafficking in children and organs. The law establishing SENNIAF states that it is to act as the central authority for adoptions in order to streamline and improve procedures for both national and international adoptions. Systems have been set up for monitoring children and adolescents in their new homes, and voluntary adoption has been abolished.

97. The Shelter Supervision and Monitoring Unit of SENNIAF is responsible for ensuring that children and adolescents placed in shelters and other institutions are provided with full support for their welfare and development.

98. To this end, Executive Decree No. 26 of 2009 lays down rules governing the opening and operation of shelters for children and adolescents.

99. A number of steps have been taken to eliminate child labour. One such measure is the establishment of the Committee for the Eradication of Child Labour and the Protection of Young Workers (CETIPPAT), which is made up of 27 public, private and non-governmental institutions. The department within the Ministry of Labour that is responsible for combating child labour and protecting young workers has been raised to the status of a national directorate. Three national plans to eradicate child labour and protect young workers covering the period 2007–2011 are overseen by CETIPPAT: a local plan to eradicate child labour in indigenous areas; a plan to work with trade unions to eradicate child labour in coordination with the National Private Enterprise Council and a plan to band together with employers to eradicate child labour. CETIPPAT monitors child labour on an ongoing basis through CETIPPAT-INFO, which is administered by the National Statistics and Census Institute.


UN Compilation

4. The United Nations country team (UNCT) also recommends that Panama ratify the above-mentioned conventions, as well as the Ibero-American Convention on Youth Rights.

17. In 2004, CRC noted with appreciation, inter alia, the adoption the National Plan of Action for Children and Adolescents (2003–2015). 

30. Additionally, CEDAW noted with concern that girls were not protected from corporal punishment and abuse as forms of disciplinary measures. In line with the recommendations of CRC, CEDAW urged Panama to include in its legislation the prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment of children.

33. In 2010, CEDAW noted with concern the large number of trafficked women and girls, and the very low number of perpetrators prosecuted and punished. It was further concerned about the non-comprehensive nature of the new legal framework and its implementation.

42. In 2010, CEDAW regretted that Panama has not yet modified the very low minimum age for marriage, which is set at 14 for girls, and 16 for boys.69 CRC had expressed similar concerns in 2004.

43. In 2004, CRC was also concerned about the difficult access to birth registration procedures, particularly for children of African descent, indigenous children and those living in rural areas and border areas.

44. CRC urged Panama to develop and implement a comprehensive policy to protect children’s rights, including, inter alia, measures to strengthen the competence of parents, with particular attention to poor families and female-headed households, increase fathers’ awareness of their responsibilities, and ensure that they provide necessary financial support, and ensure that children in institutions enjoy the rights enshrined in the Convention .

54. In 2004, CRC recommended that Panama ensure full implementation of child labour provisions and take all necessary measures to prevent child labour in both rural and urban areas (including child domestic workers) .

62. UNCT notes that Panama offers nine years of compulsory, free-of-charge basic education and that the enrolment rate at this level is 98 per cent. At the secondary level, which basically concerns children between the ages of 15 and 18, the enrolment rate is 60 per cent, with high levels of dropout.

64. CEDAW was concerned at the large number of girls who drop out of school due to early pregnancies and regretted that although there is legal provision (Law No. 29) mandating continuation of education for girls during and after pregnancy, there is no effective mechanism in place to ensure compliance.It also noted with concern the high level of illiteracy among rural women who speak indigenous languages. 

65. In 2004, CRC was concerned about identity preservation of indigenous children, since bilingual education remains a challenge in indigenous areas, and general education lacks resources.It recommended that Panama pay particular attention to guarantee the preservation of the identity of indigenous and Afro-Panamanian children by, inter alia, the implementation of a national plan to develop bilingual intercultural education.

66. CRC also recommended that Panama pay special attention to the educational needs of vulnerable children, for example, girls, indigenous and refugee children, working and street children, in order to fulfil their basic right to education, by upgrading the infrastructure of the educational system and offering more facilities for non-formal learning and vocational training, including for children who have not completed primary and secondary education.

77. CRC recommended that Panama request technical assistance in the areas of juvenile justice and police training from, among others, UNICEF, and combating HIV/AIDS from, inter alia, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and UNAIDS .


Stakeholders Compilation

8. RDH says that the abolition of the National Directorate for Youth has highlighted the problems stemming from the failure to implement government youth policies effectively, and that the situation is exacerbated by the lack of a Youth Act and the failure, as yet, to ratify the Ibero-American Convention on Young People’s Rights.

10. IIMA-VIDES welcomes the establishment of the Committee for the Eradication of Child Labour and the Protection of Young Workers and the preparation of the Plan for the Eradication of Child Labour and the Protection of Young Workers for 2007–2011, aimed at protecting minors from economic and labour exploitation.

20.The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment Against Children (GIEACPC) notes that corporal punishment of children is lawful in the home and in schools. The Family Code (1994, art. 319) and the Civil Code (art. 188) confirm the right of parents and guardians to “correct” their children “reasonably and moderately”. GIEACPC notes that the Family Code (art. 443) authorizes tutors to “moderately correct” their pupils. GIEACPC further indicates that the Civil Code (art. 188) authorizes “reasonable and moderate correction” by guardians in alternative care settings.32 GIEACPC hopes the review will highlight the importance of prohibiting all corporal punishment of children and strongly recommends that the Government enact and implement legislation to ensure complete prohibition .

21. RDH notes that, according to data from the Office of the Comptroller-General of Panama, the proportion of children aged between 5 and 17 who are working increased from 6 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2008.34 JS6 notes that, despite the constitutional ban on children under the age of 14 working, even in domestic jobs, and despite legislative measures banning the worst forms of child labour, the use of child labour is still widespread in areas where coffee, sugar cane and vegetables are grown and in street markets. 

24. JS6 says that Panama is not meeting international standards for the treatment of juvenile prisoners, particularly as regards the right to continue with their studies. Inmates’ complaints continue to focus on food, health, personal treatment and comradeship. 

33. JS6 is concerned that Panama has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to bring the administration of juvenile justice fully into line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international instruments. It is also concerned that Act No. 6 of 8 March 2010 may lead to the introduction of a tougher regime of juvenile criminal responsibility, particularly as it increases the maximum period of pretrial detention.

34. According to RDH, the age of criminal responsibility has recently been lowered from 14 to 12 years, while there is no special rehabilitation system for minors. 

43. IHRC-UOK notes the high rates of poverty and extreme poverty, especially among indigenous children. It indicates that indigenous children are not registered at birth. Underlining that 82 per cent of Panama’s indigenous population lives in remote, rural areas, IHRC-UOK notes that access to treatment is often difficult for those in need of medical attention.70 It stresses that those who are able to reach health-care centres often choose not to, due to a lack of understanding and respect for traditional medicines, treatments and cultural customs in such centres. Indigenous populations face extremely high mortality rates resulting from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. IHRC-UOK also notes that there is a tremendous lack of food, causing malnutrition among 60 per cent of indigenous children.

50. IUHR-UOK reports that indigenous children face discrimination and a lack of access to adequate cultural and linguistic education. It notes that as indigenous peoples are concentrated in rural areas, transportation to schools can be costly and time-consuming. Not all children speak Spanish and school curricula do not reflect an understanding of the relevance of indigenous cultural perspectives. The majority of teachers are not indigenous and cannot speak their students’ mother tongue. IUHR-UOK recommends that Panama work to preserve bilingual and cultural education.

51. JS6 refers to the paucity of good-quality education in places where there are settlements of people of African descent. JS6 notes that the official school curriculum makes no reference to African ancestry or the history of African peoples. JS6 recommends that textbooks be revised to cut out implicit racial stereotypes that disparage the ethnicity and race of people of African descent.

Accepted and Rejected Recommendations

The following recommendations were accepted:

68.23. Ensure the full implementation of child labour provisions, and take all necessary measures to prevent child labour in both rural and urban areas, including child domestic work (Slovenia).

68.27. Intensify the necessary measures to guarantee the right of all children to have their birth registered, in particular children of African descent, indigenous children and those who live in rural and border areas (Mexico).

68.28. Address difficult access to birth registration procedures, particularly for children of African decent, indigenous children and those living in rural and border areas (Nigeria).

68.29. Take measures to overcome the difficulty of access to birth registration procedures, particularly for children of African descent, indigenous children and children living in rural and border areas (Haiti).

68.31. Redouble efforts to enhance the positive results in the area of economic, social and cultural rights to provide more benefits to the most vulnerable populations, in particular children, indigenous peoples, people of African descent and the rural population (Peru).

69.15. Address the root causes of child labour by drawing up a cash-foreducation programme or a similar programme that is aimed at reducing poverty and guaranteeing children's right to education, with a specific focus on rural areas and indigenous communities (Netherlands).

69.29. Speed up efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals on education (Algeria).

69.30. Strengthen its steps to improve the quality of education and continue the establishment of elementary and secondary schools in communities that have none (Azerbaijan).

70.8. Ratify ILO Convention No. 169, concerning indigenous and tribal peoples, and the Ibero- American Convention on the Rights of Young People (Ecuador).

70.9. Adopt a comprehensive law on the protection of children and young people (Hungary).

70.15. Prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children (Brazil).

70.16. Make efforts to include in its legislation a prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment of children (Costa Rica).

70.17. Modify the low minimum age for marriage for girls and boys (Nigeria).

No recommendations were rejected.

The following recommendations were left pending:

Revise its criminal legislation, including juvenile justice legislation, so as to reduce the use and length of pre-trial detention for persons under 18, and increase the age of criminal responsibility in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Mexico).



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