Brunei Darussalam - Child Rights Coalition Asia
Ranking as one of South East Asia’s richest countries, Brunei Darussalam has been a symbol of development. While there is always diversity in items and services the richer citizens could afford, there is hardly any news on what may destabilise the image of Brunei as a land of peace and prosperity, including the state of its children, especially girls and those on the move.
Brunei Darussalam is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even though it underwent a periodic review in 2003, data remains rare on the situation of children and young people behind the veil of conservatism. While the country boosts of an excellent educational and health systems, there are signs that children may not be enjoying their childhood. For example, there is no law hat guarantee’s a child’s freedom to speak one’s mind. Girls can be married off at the age of 14.
In its latest report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the government cited some steps it took to advance the rights of children. These include the passage of the Children’s Order in 2000 and the establishment of a Children’s Council the following year. It also boasted its high-quality health care and school enrolment rates. The Children’s Order provides for the appointment of protection officers who are tasked to investigate cases involving children while the Children’s Council is a body that is expected to facilitate legislation around children’s issues. Aside from the Children Order, Brunei also has the Guardianship of Infants Act but the latter does not apply to Islamic children. Although it has created an office for child protection, Brunei still does not have a family court.
In its Concluding Observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that despite these positive steps, the country has to significantly improve its data collection system and its definition of a child. It cited that while a special unit of police has been dedicated to deal with the victims of abuse and violence, “there is insufficient information and awareness in the State party of the ill-treatment and abuse of children within the family and institutions.” It is for this reason that the Committee urged the government to introduce sustained awareness and capacity-building programmes on children’s human rights, including alternatives to corporal punishment, child sensitive mechanisms as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The Committee also found alarming the minimum age of marriage for girls in the country, currently pegged at 14 years. The country also allows girls to married at a young age under Islamic law. Protection for girls who enter into marriage is not very clear. Children, especially girls who are born out of wedlock experience discrimination in terms of inheritance, custody and guardianship. Meanwhile, children of women who are married to non-citizens are not automatically granted citizenship.
Like the minimum age for marriage for girls, that for criminal liability is also low at seven years. Worse, Brunei has yet to set up a juvenile justice system that would process cases involving children in a child-sensitive manner. The Committee cited that because of this, children continue to be detained with adults. In addition, children are not exempted from whipping.
Brunei Darussalam continues to maintain its reservations on the Convention. These reservations pertain to Article 14 on children’s freedom of expression, Article 20 on the deprivation of family environment and Article 21 on adoption based on the best interest of the child.
In a way these reservations are reflective of the over-all human rights situation in the country where there is minimal freedom for people to participate in governance. Hence the Committee also echoed the need for Brunei to “establish a national human rights institution [that] should be empowered to receive and investigate complaints of violations of child rights in a child?sensitive manner, and address them effectively.”
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OP-CRC-SC)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
CRC Initial State Report (CRC/C/61/Add.5)
CRC Concluding Observations on Initial State Report (CRC/C/15/Add.219)
UPR State Report – 1st Cycle (A/HRC/WG.6/6/BRN/1)
UPR Summary of Stakeholders Reports (A/HRC/WG.6/6/BRN/3)
UPR Working Group Report (A/HRC/13/14)