At its session in Geneva this week, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will examine the situation of children in Turkmenistan. It will assess the state of child rights in this highly repressive and isolated Central Asian country under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty whose implementation the Committee oversees.
Information provided to the Committee by Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) shows that the Turkmen government has failed to bring about any substantial improvements in key areas of child rights protection since the UN Committee first reviewed its record in 2006. Major concerns include:
- Broad restrictions on the right of children to seek, receive, and impart information. The media law that entered into force in 2013 formally bans censorship. However, in practice, all national media are subject to close government control and critical voices are suppressed. “Suspicious” websites, such as social media and other sites popular among young people are blocked. A new internet law adopted in late 2014 states that free and universal internet access will be ensured, but also provides for new restrictions e.g. by prohibiting the dissemination of web content among children that “rejects family values” or “foments disrespect for parents.” While expressions such as protecting “family values” and “morals” are used in a number of recent legislative initiatives, no clear definitions of them have been laid down, thus allowing for broad interpretation.
- Failure to implement systematic reforms to improve the quality of education and end its ideological orientation. Most reform initiatives have been haphazard. For example, new curricula have been developed in a hasty and inconsistent manner, and the transition to a 12- year school program in 2013 was enforced at short notice without due preparation. The notorious Rukhnama authored by the previous president has now been abolished in the education system, but classes in literary works devoted to the current president remain compulsory. Students also continue to be mass mobilized for frequent parades and events aimed at praising the regime and its leader.
- Lack of effective measures to ensure re-distribution of the country’s natural resource wealth and ensure an adequate standard of living for all children. Especially in rural areas, many families and children continue to live in conditions characterized by poverty and other persistent socio-economic problems. Among these are also problems of environmental pollution and unsafe drinking water, which contribute to the spread of diseases. Families who have been evicted and whose homes have been demolished due to large-scale government construction projects, such as highways, stadiums and elite apartments, have often not received adequate compensation.
- Failure to safeguard the right to health of children. Basic problems such as misallocation of resources, corrupt practices and lack of qualified staff, supplies and medicines plague the health care sector and endanger the health and lives of both adults and children. The authorities continue to withhold and cover up information on health matters, such as health related statistics and information on the outbreak of infectious diseases. The authorities have also used questionable tactics in the name of promoting healthy lifestyles and “morals” among young people, while neglecting to conduct systematic awareness-raising campaigns on health issues.
- Violations of the rights of children belonging to ethnic minorities. Children from ethnic minority groups have been denied the opportunity to study in their own language due to the closure of schools and cutbacks in instruction in minority languages. There are also concerns about continued practices of discrimination against ethnic minority members in other areas, as well as difficulties experienced by some ethnic minority families in legalizing their status despite long-term residency in the country. As a result of this, they experience problems e.g. with respect to enrolling children in school and exiting the country.
This week’s examination of Turkmenistan by the Committee on the Rights of the Child is the second stage in a review that began in June 2014 with the adoption of a list of questions that the Turkmen government was requested to respond to, in follow-up to an official report it has submitted. This time the Committee will engage in a face-to-face dialogue with Turkmen government officials and adopt concluding observations on the situation in Turkmenistan on the basis of information it has received from the Turkmen authorities and other sources. TIHR and IPHR have provided written information for the review and TIHR Director Farid Tuhbatullin will be present at the session on Turkmenistan in Geneva on 13-14 January.
Comprehensive TIHR report submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (February 2014)
Summary of TIHR and IPHR concerns for the Committee on the Rights of the Child (June 2014)
Other documentation that the Committee will use in its review of Turkmenistan
For more information, please contact:
TIHR Director Farid Tuhbatullin, email@example.com, +43-699-1 944 13 27