Ms. Hadeel Asmar,
Member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child:
“The CRC is Well-Accepted in Both Political and Public Arenas in Syria”
By Yahya Alous, al-Thara
Translated by Susanna Ferguson
Ms. Hadeel Asmar firmly believes that efforts regarding children’s issues in Syria are moving in the right direction; at the same time, she recognizes that the challenges are considerable and will be impossible to overcome without cooperation between the many civil and governmental agencies who work to improve the lives of children. She spent her first year as a member of the UN Committee attempting to bring attention to the reality of the way children’s rights are distributed across the international map, and thus to point to the real situation of children’s rights in Syria.
She has also contributed actively to reports on children’s rights from many different countries, which has allowed her to contrast the status of children’s rights in the developed world with their status in Syria and show what is lacking.
This woman is an independent expert with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and maintains an open mind towards all of the actors on the Syrian stage in the hopes that an open discussion of all prospects will benefit the children of her own native Syria.
Thara Magazine met with Ms. Hadeel Asmar and conducted the following interview:
Thara: “Ms. Asmar, how would you describe to us your position in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in the year after you were selected to be the independent member?”
Ms. Asmar: “Practically speaking, this was my second year in this role in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This year, we reviewed reports on the status of children in many different countries, which allowed us to compare the realities of children in these countries with those of children in Syria, which allowed us to place the situation of children in Syria in perspective within the international system. In two sessions of the Committee, we discussed the situation of children in 18 countries (9 per session), among which were France and Sweden. While France and Sweden’s children are particularly well-protected, we found the situation of children in most other countries to be similar to that of children in Syria, which convinced me that the work we are doing together in Syria to better the situation of our children is proceeding appropriately. I think our challenge today is the quality and effectiveness of that work, and this is an aspect of the utmost importance.
Thara: “How can you, from your position on the Committee, contribute to removing the remaining Syrian restrictions on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and do you consider this a priority?”
Ms. Asmar: “Personally, I don’t think that removing the Syrian restrictions on the Convention is the most important thing. Other issues that I think are equally important include, for example, for Syria to work to meet international standards in terms of legal age: the government must uphold the legal age of adulthood, 18 years, in every case—this is one of my primary concerns. As an expert on the Committee, I believe that removing this double standard is critical.
Thara: “To what extent can members of the UN Committee be seen as entirely independent from the agendas of their governments?”
Ms. Asmar: “I consider each member of this committee fully independent from his or her government; certainly for me personally there has never been any interference on the part of my government in my work for the UN. In fact, the government supported my candidacy for membership in this Committee and has never tried to guide me or interfere with my work in any way, nor has any other government. I think the government’s main goal is to assure my complete impartiality as an independent expert.
Thara: “What is the general opinion within the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Syria’s restrictions on the application of the Convention?”
Ms. Asmar: “We will get a sense of the international opinion of Syria’s restrictions when it Syria is called upon to discuss its application of the Convention in front of the Committee in 2011.”
Thara: “What role do you specifically envision playing personally in this discussion?”
Ms. Asmar: “My presence on the Committee on the Rights of the Child is designed to allow me to compare the situation of children in Syria with that of children in other countries around the world whose reports we have received. When the discussion regarding Syria takes place, it will be appropriate for me to shed light on some of what I’ve seen in test cases in other countries so that Syria can benefit from their experiences, and I will bring this up.”
Thara: “Do you think the Syrian street is ready to accept all of the contents of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?”
Ms. Asmar: “It would be no exaggeration to say that the Convention is of great interest at both the governmental and the popular level in Syria. We should work hard on deepening popular understanding of what the Convention entails, because all over the world the issue of children’s rights is gathering momentum, and we can only keep up if the government and popular organizations work together.
Thara: “How can you describe to us these international developments?”
Ms. Asmar: “The Committee on the Rights of Children meets every two and a half months to discuss reports from nine countries. Aside from this, the expert members often meet on their own to talk about the development of children’s rights and the documents that serve as instructions or guidelines for states hoping to improve the quality of children’s services. During the past two meetings, we’ve adopted three documents that dealt, firstly, with listening to children and increasing their participation, which we compiled into guidelines for states; second, with a program for furthering the protection of children; and third, suggestions for states who want to write a report on the status of children.
Thara: “It seems to some in Syria that problems having to do with children are on the rise, even that they are out of control—for example, the surge in the numbers of child beggars, homeless children, and children working on the street. Do you agree or disagree with these opinions?”
Ms. Asmar: “I do not consider these problems to be specific to Syria, rather, I see them as part of the worldwide economic crisis. In general, children are the most vulnerable group within any society and, as Syria is part of the global system, the economic crises has naturally had an effect on children there. In addition to looking at ways to contain this problem, we must also work through international conventions and domestic legislation to protect children from this crisis as much as possible. For example, we must work with the Convention on International Labor to strengthen statutes against child labor, both internationally and domestically, as well as to limit child labor in hazardous industries, set the number of hours appropriate for children to work, and mandate the establishment of evening schools for children who work. In terms of Syria, the work done on children’s issues by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is fully in agreement with the requirements of the Convention on International Labor.
Thara: “But the reality still remains that there has been a marked increase in the levels of child labor and children begging in Syria. What do you think?”
Ms. Asmar: “In my opinion, this phenomenon is not the result of the failure of laws and regulations instituted by the Syrian government—there are other factors that increase the problems of truancy, homelessness, and begging among children. These include family problems like divorce, poverty, and disability (of either children or their parents), which sometimes make parents unable to support their children, forcing the children to leave school and enter the workforce, and sometimes to turn to begging and living on the streets.
Thara: “Do you think that the problem of street children, begging, or homelessness among children, has become insoluble?”
Ms. Asmar: “I do not think that these problems are without solutions, but the solutions must be radical and must be supported by continued study to monitor these problems in all of their many dimensions.”
Thara: “Sources from the Ministry of Labor have estimated that there are about 500 children in the labor market currently. What do you think of this number?”
Ms. Asmar: “The number alone is not the most critical thing; to solve this problem, one must focus on its causes and its possible solutions. When we talk about rights, we must talk about the right of each child to appropriate care and protection, which is not a responsibility of the government alone but also of everyone in the community, first and foremost the civil organizations which are closest to the street and therefore the most sensitive to these issues.”
Thara: “Do you think that the current limited position of civil society in Syria enables it to embark on appropriate study of these problem?”
Ms. Asmar: “Why not? There have been many important studies carried out by civil organizations in Syria, and they have shown themselves to be able to get to the heart of government policy here. NGOs run orphanages and shelters for children, especially girls, who are in need. Private media also has an important part to play here, since it can demand the implementation of studies that would make the real facts about the situation of children in Syria available to everyone. For example, it might suggest that the best solution to homelessness might not be the construction of new shelters, but instead the improvement of learning strategies and the adoption of a different education curricula, or better economic support to families, or the provision of private welfare to the poor. These things are not just the consequences of government action but also the work of civil society, and thus only shared studies can determine the real situation of children in Syria.
Thara: “Do you think there is a real partnership between the government and NGOs in Syria?”
Ms. Asmar: “I have no doubt that there is a very strong intention to create a real partnership between the state and civil society in Syria. There are many examples of successful instances of this partnership. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that we embark on these projects the right way—as a partnership—and do not expect that the state will always take care of these problems by itself.”
Thara: “Do you support the establishment of a special organization for children here in Syria?”
Ms. Asmar: I don’t personally believe that establishing new organizations necessarily affects our success at solving these problems; rather, I think that the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs is sufficient to take care of the problems children are facing in Syria.
Thara: “Can you tell us how the Child Labor Law was received by the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs?”
Ms. Asmar: “As far as I know, the law has not encountered any substantive opposition, and it is likely that it will be adopted in line with the stipulations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Thara: “Do you think that there are pressing issues related to children in Syria today?”
Ms. Asmar: “Any issue related to children is urgent. For example, education, care for children without appropriate family support, reforming the kindergarten curriculum…all of these are important issues regarding which we can accept no delay. I think both the government and civil society have demonstrated high sensitivity to the importance of these issues and have shown a desire to have them addressed as soon as possible.”
No. 205, 10/31/2009
Reproduction permitted with appropriate citation
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