Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Committee concerned about violence, discrimination and sexual exploitation of children

Human Rights Committee's 125th session - March 2019

The delegation from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at the 125th session of the Human Rights Committee

On 5 and 6 March 2019, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the absence of a report. The State delegation opened the session by recognising the challenges the country faces in complying with its reporting obligations to a number of treaty bodies, noting their limited human and financial resources. 

Some concerns of the Committee were high levels of violence (especially against women and children), lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation (including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity), obstacles in the access to reproductive health services and corporal punishment of children.

Other issues from the examination included lack of criminalisation of torture, restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly, rights of victims of trafficking, corruption, rights of asylum seekers and refugees, the legality of capital punishment, establishment of a national human rights institution and implementation of the Cybercrime Act.

The webcast is available here: part 1 and part 2.

High levels of violence, especially against women and children

Committee members were concerned about the State’s laws not recognising marital rape or workplace sexual harassment and lacking a comprehensive definition of gender-based violence. The delegation answered that rape is defined broadly under the Criminal Code.

The Committee twice asked about how the country systematically collects and analyzes comprehensive and disaggregated data on violence, as well as resources allocated to provide protection and remedies to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, including to child victims. The State delegation announced the creation of the Sexual Offence Unit to address this issue and detailed the government’s plan regarding the assistance to victims of domestic violence, including shelters to place victims in emergency cases.

The Committee also expressed concern about how domestic violence seems to go unpunished, unreported cases of abuse and violence and inquired as to how laws currently on the books directly address sexual abuse of children. The State delegation replied that law enforcement agents, judicial authorities, and medical professionals are trained on how to recognise and report abuse. State-sponsored programmes encourage everybody to report possible cases and there is a law mandating anybody working with children to report potential domestic violence or face imprisonment.

Anti-discrimination legislation

The Committee questioned the delegation on what their plans were to pass comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, including on the grounds of sexual orientation. According to the delegation, the Constitution outlaws all types of discrimination, but the State has no intention to change its law criminalising same-sex sexual conduct. criminalisation of same-sex sexual conduct is popular within the State. 

The Committee was worried about the accessibility of the State’s public buildings, access to education of children with disabilities and the role of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes. The State replied that domestic legislation prohibits discriminating against persons with disabilities, and public building codes have been updated to be completely accessible.

On questions pertaining to the social stigma surrounding people living with HIV/AIDS and access to legal and safe abortion, the State said that they have a programme in place to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, and that abortion is limited to instances of rape and incest and can only be performed in licensed institutions.

Access to reproductive health services and abortion

On the high rate of maternal mortality in the country and actions the State has taken to improve the situation, the delegation claimed that the rates listed in the State’s response to the Committee’s List of Issues are incorrect and in fact are lower than ever before.

On access to reproductive health services for pregnant teenagers, the State said that the law dictating teenagers have parental consent before receiving this kind of attention is under review. The State gave no answers to the Committee’s questions regarding equal access to the labour market and equal pay for equal work to all genders.

Corporal punishment of children

The Committee expressed concern about the prevalence of corporal punishment of children both in law and in practice within Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. To answer the Committee’s questions on its, the State delegation made note that the law allowing this form of discipline regulates who can and cannot punish the child in such a manner. The law also places limits on what is considered corporal punishment and what is considered child abuse. The State delegation also said that Parliament is considering a bill that would repeal the old law on corporal punishment. The delegation did not answer the Committee’s questions about how the State determines children to be “fit” for beating.

Juvenile justice

The Committee wanted to learn about different measures the State has taken or plans to take on juvenile justice reform. Additionally, the same bill that would change the law on corporal punishment would also raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years old. When asked about detaining children in conflict with the law, the delegation emphasized that detention is the government’s last resort of punishment for juveniles in conflict with the law, though detained juveniles are held separately from adults.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

By 21 March 2021, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Violence against women and domestic violence

  • promptly amend its laws so as to afford adequate protection against gender-based violence including sexual violence and abuse such as rape, incest, and sexual harassment
  • strengthen its efforts to raise public awareness of the adverse impact of domestic and gender-based violence, as well as on changing societal attitudes towards women and cultural gender norms
  • encourage reporting of incidents of domestic and gender-based violence
  • ensure that allegations are thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the severity of the crime
  • improve victim support facilities and mechanisms and ensure that victims of domestic and gender based violence receive proper legal, medical and psychological assistance

Torture and ill-treatment

  • review the Criminal Code with a view to including torture as a criminal offence
  • establish an independent body to investigate complaints and prevent abuse and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials
  • ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are investigated promptly, impartially and thoroughly, that the perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, sentenced to punishment commensurate with the gravity of the crime and that victims are provided with effective remedies

Sexual exploitation and abuse of children

  • improve mechanisms for early detection and intervention in cases of child sexual abuse
  • encourage reporting of suspected and actual abuse of children, including through taking measures to address societal attitudes regarding reporting
  • ensure that cases of child sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that victims are provided with an effective remedy, including rehabilitation
  • provide child complainants with guaranteed legal assistance or a state-appointed children’s lawyer
  • establish a mechanism for the systematic collection and publication of comprehensive and disaggregated data on child exploitation and abuse in all settings

The next report of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is expected by 29 March 2024.

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