On the International Children’s Rights Day

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR): Bahrain’s Children Face Political Reprisals

Earlier this week, the world celebrated International Children’s Rights Day, which is held annually on 20 November to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and to ultimately improve children’s welfare.

Legal background

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), all confirm the necessity to protect children’s rights and provide a safe environment for them. Bahrain is a signatory to all three.

Children’s rights are covered in more detail in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Although Bahrain acceded to and ratified the UNCRC in 1991, signed it without reservations in February 1992, and it indeed came into force in March 1992, legal loopholes regarding children remain to this day in Bahrain. For example, Bahraini laws do not prohibit employers from employing children. Article 7 of the law stipulates that “a child’s employment shall not affect their safety, health or the essence of their rights provided for in the law, and as per the Bahrain Labor law”.

At the same time, Bahrain Labor Law states in Article 24 that “it is prohibited to employ anyone who is less than fifteen years of age”, while Article 4 of the Bahraini Child Law states that “the term “child” shall apply to all persons under the age of 18.” This is something which is against the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) signed by Bahrain and which its eight principles state that the child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty, and exploitation. The convention all states that children shall not be the subject of human trafficking, in any form, nor be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age.

In the Bahraini legislation, there is no financial assistance given to children of low-income families. In addition, children of families whose fathers or mothers face long prison terms are forced to work, often in dangerous conditions. Many children also have to leave school because their parents are prohibited from work because they have not been able to obtain work permits from the security authorities. The system of work in the private and public sectors obliges the employer not to employ the job seeker if they have not obtained a certificate of good conduct from these agencies.

Additionally, a child born to a Bahraini mother who is married to a non-Bahraini cannot obtain Bahraini citizenship. Bahrain in fact has reservations, such as in Article 9, Paragraph 2, of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which provides “equality to the rights of men with regard to the nationality of their children”. This is in contravention to the Bahraini Nationality Code.

Children facing political reprisals

In addition to legal shortcomings, the Bahraini authorities have actively used the children of political and human rights activists, and opponents as forms of blackmail and reprisal. For example, arbitrary deprivation of nationality has been used against children born while their parents are in prison, imprisoned for their demands for political and civil rights and democracy. Such examples include Sara, the daughter of Sheikh Ali Salman who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment, the child Hadi Wafi Kamel Al-Majid, and the child Hussein Mortetha Abdul Jalil Al-Meqdad.

The Bahraini authorities have also used the punishment of revoking nationality against children directly. For example, in 2016, a Bahraini court in absentia sentenced Mehdi Farhan, aged 17 at the time, to ten years’ imprisonment and the revocation of his citizenship. The Bahraini authorities have also refused to grant citizenship to children who were born following the citizenship revocation of their parents, including Zahraa Saber Al-Salatneh, Ruqayya Yousef Imran and many others. These children are deprived of the right to treatment in public hospitals because they do not have the basic documents such as a passport or national ID card, and as such are denied the right to study, travel and many other basic civil rights.

The juvenile prison in Bahrain includes hundreds of children arrested on political charges and sentenced on the back of confessions extracted under torture. For example, on 14 August 2018, Salam DHR published a report on 108 cases of torture and ill-treatment, including a child in the juvenile prison, Mohamed Issa al-A’adab from al-Daraz, who was beaten and severely harassed by the prison administration. They are also deprived of the right to adequate education and medical care, the full opportunity to play, to build capacity and self-confidence.

“While many countries are quick to implement and respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), we see that Bahrain is lagging behind, and children are still being subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations, including enforced disappearance and torture, sexual harassment, denial of education and the deprivation of many basic rights guaranteed in the constitution and international treaties ” said Salam DHR’s Vice-President Yousef al-Muhafdah.

Recommendations

Salam DHR urges the Bahraini authorities to enact legislation that protects children from the dangers of poverty or labor. We also call upon the authorities to respect the charters and treaties that have been ratified, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and not to discriminate between children on sectarian or regional grounds. We call for the full realisation of children’s rights, including their rights to life, development, education, and care, and to refrain from engaging them in political conflicts. Finally, we call for the immediate release of children in detention and for full compensation for all the suffering they have endured.