20 November: World Children’s Day – Practices and Laws that violate children’s rights in Oman
In 1954 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution designating 20 November as Universal Children’s Day (now called World Children’s Day). Its objective is to affirm and highlight the importance of protecting children’s rights to live, grow, and develop mentally and physically without discrimination. It coincides with the date on which the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.
One of the first obstacles to children’s right to develop as strong, healthy individuals is gender-based discrimination. In many countries, including Oman, both girls and boys are strongly moulded from an early age to conform to harmful gender stereotypes, with girls being conditioned to see themselves as future housewives and mothers, while boys soon learn that their role when they grow up as men will be to go out to work and support the family.
In Omani society girls are bound by a stricter dress code from an early age, both at home and at school. In school, small girls are obliged to cover their hair with a white covering, which some conservative Islamists consider a religious duty for young women once they become adults. This example shows how girls are subjected to greater pressure to conform to religious rules even before they reach adulthood. In the home, girls are taught that not doing housework is a form of disobedience to their parents, and so they are forced to work in the home unpaid.
Omani girls are sometimes forced to marry before the age of 18, creating a situation in which they may experience marital rape or early pregnancy, exposing them to various forms of ill-health, as well as domestic violence if they try to resist decisions being taken for them by others. Such problems commonly prevent girls from completing their education or getting a job, thus diminishing their self-respect or obstructing their intellectual development. This is all supposedly prohibited by the country’s Personal Status Law, Article 7 of which sets 18 years as the minimum age for marriage, although Article 10 of the same law allows judges to authorise the marriage of underage girls if this is deemed to be in their best interests.
Human Rights Watch estimates that globally one in five children suffers from a mental health condition, with depression being the most common. The Omani authorities are failing to implement laws designed to protect children from abuse within their families, and children who are physically and emotionally abused are often left without emotional support.
There is supposed to be a helpline they can call, and there are homes where they can be temporarily taken into care, but in practice the issue is not taken seriously and such services are found wanting. Staff are not professionally trained to deal with children’s disclosures of abuse, according to testimony received by the Omani Centre for Human Rights, and the authorities treat child abuse as a family matter, in most cases a form of discipline. In Part Five (Exemptions from Penal Liability) of the 2018 revised Omani Penal Code, Article 44 stipulates that:
“There shall be no crime if the act is committed in good faith in the exercise of a right or in the performance of a duty prescribed by law. The following is deemed an exercise of a right:
(a) the disciplining by parents, or those in loco parentis, of minor children within the limits of what is prescribed by Sharia or the law…”.
On the occasion of World Children’s Day, the Omani Centre for Human Rights urges the Omani government to stringently enforce the child protection laws in Oman and address family violence seriously.