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Children's rights

UN child rights report slams Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia continues to tolerate "severe" discrimination against girls and even teenage executions, according to the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child. It's also condemned Riyadh for its warfare in Yemen.

The Geneva-based surveillance committee said on Friday that despite some law reform Saudi Arabia still did not recognize girls as "full" legal subjects and left them exposed to the whims of male guardians, a discriminatory dress code and domestic violence, including marital rape.

A recommended international minimum age of 18 for marriage was still being ignored by Saudi judges, who "frequently authorized girls" to marry as soon as they reached puberty, the committee said.

In 2014, a religious leader had even declared himself to be in favor of girls' marriage from "9 years old" - a practice often misconstrued by judges as being in the child's "best interests," the committee said in its report published Friday.

Guardianship meant that males exercised limits over girls in terms of their rights, such as freedom of movement and access to education and health care.

Sharia law still predominant

Precedence given to Sharia law by Saudi Arabia and a lack of monitoring in the kingdom combined to undermine the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the report said.

Frau in Saudi-Arabien mit Kindern (AP)

'Numerous' steps benefiting children, says Saudi Arabia

In reply, Saudi Arabia, which became a signatory in 1996, said "numerous legislative and practical measures" had been implemented since the last UN committee review in 2006, notably a National Childhood Strategy that became operational from 2012.

That had included a campaign against bullying at schools and safety in kindergartens; the children's sector represented one of the chief areas of government spending, Riyadh said.

'Deep concern' over child executions

The UN committee went on to express "deep concern" that Saudi Arabia executed people for offences allegedly committed under the age of 18 and put even 15-year-old's on trial as adults.

It named six adolescents still facing execution and said a mass execution of 47 people on January 2, 2016 included four under the age of 18.

Saudi Arabia should "unambiguously" prohibit the death sentence on children "in line with its obligations" under Article 37 of the Convention, the committee said.

Abuse and torture remained authorized, despite a royal decree nominally banning them, according to the report, and was frequently used to coerce juveniles into signing confessions. The watchdog called for public education on non-violent forms of disciplining children.

'Grave violations' in Yemen

The UN committee said it was "deeply concerned" over "corroborated" information that Saudi Arabia had committed "grave violations of children's rights" through its military operations in neighboring Yemen.

Starvation had been used as a method of warfare and "hundreds of children have been killed and maimed as a result of indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling."

Safeguards for migrants

The committee urged Riyadh to repeal the "vaguely defined" offense of "apostasy" and to permit freedom of thought and expression. Apostasy is the act of leaving a religion, in this case Islam - and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Children born to non-Saudis, born out of wedlock, born to migrants and religious minorities and those with disabilities were victims of "persistent discrimination," according to the paper. It urged Saudi Arabia to adopt legislation to ensure that nationality could be transmitted to children through the maternal and paternal line "without distinction" and especially for children who otherwise end up stateless.

It also urged Saudi Arabia to ensure that migrant girls were not exploited as domestic workers and that their employers "be held accountable" in cases of abuse.

The committee commended Saudi Arabia for accommodating many refugees from Syria and Yemen, but added that a census was needed to establish specific needs of children.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AP)

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