Muscat: The Ministry of Social Development has developed legislations and programmes compatible with the social protection system, as represented in the mechanism of targeting families in need of support and social protection and providing financial assistance to achieve adequate standards of living.
Her Excellency Laila Al Najjar, Minister of Social Development, confirmed in an interview with the Oman News Agency (ONA) that the Oman 2040 vision is based on the achievements made over the past decades in various fields, to represent an integrated framework for economic and social policies that must be followed and adopted as a course of action, in order to achieve the aspirations that will paint the image of Oman by the year 2040.
Her Excellency said, “The reality of the Sultanate today is that the people and society are in a great and continuous drive to achieve comprehensive development in various fields, including welfare and social protection. The cohesion and strength of societies, and the achievement of community peace, requires achieving social justice by maintaining the sustainability and quality of social welfare services, such as health services, education, and the provision of social safety nets that provide a decent livelihood with sustainability for current and future generations alike.”
This requires creating an environment that stimulates social responsibility programmes, civil voluntary contributions, and women and youth support programmes that aim at economic and social empowerment. She indicated that the Ministry is working to achieve this through its development programmes and initiatives, and the continuing coordination with relevant government and private agencies.
Her Excellency clarified that the promotion of social protection and social responsibility requires organising the efforts of the concerned institutions and social responsibility projects and their governance, defining their principles and areas, managing them effectively and efficiently, and measuring the impact of results in order to provide advanced social services in a way that contributes to achieving sustainable development goals.
Her Excellency indicated that the Sultanate is keen to provide appropriate and cutting-edge services for persons with disabilities. As such the Welfare Act and the Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities has been issued under Royal Decree No. (63/2008), and the ratification of the Convention on the Rights Persons with Disabilities according to Royal Decree No (121/2008) will be the legal basis to support the governmental and non-governmental agencies concerned with providing all services to persons with disabilities free of charge, including rehabilitation services, the provision of prosthetic devices and aids, vocational training and other services.
Her Excellency said that providing accurate and complete data on persons with disabilities is one of the foundations required to work in the field of disability to monitor the current and future needs of persons with disabilities and to develop them from time to time in order to ensure the provision of comprehensive and widespread services in the various governorates of the Sultanate.
The National Register of Persons with Disabilities was established in the Sultanate as a strategic priority, because of its importance in providing accurate data on the status of cases of disabilities discovered and covered by services in the Sultanate, ensuring that services reach those who deserve it, and supporting the population census project, population surveys or studies related to persons with disabilities, in addition to implementing the Sultanate’s international obligations towards data and statistics and providing international organisations with the necessary periodic reports and statistics.
Regarding the main challenges facing the Ministry in this sector, Her Excellency explained that there are a number of challenges, such as the lack of specialised national cadres in the field of care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, the high financial cost of operating rehabilitation centres and providing services to the centres, and the reluctance of some parents to register their children in the Ministry’s system, as well as the need for developing early detection and diagnosis programmes and the lack of early intervention services in all governorates of the Sultanate with the exception of Muscat Governorate.
Her Excellency pointed out that civil society institutions are one of the pillars of social development in the country, as it is an important sector that contributes to development in all its forms, and that the integration of the three sectors of the state, the government, the private sector, and the civil sector increases the effectiveness of development.
With regard to the next stage of the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in society and the Civil Associations Law, Her Excellency explained that this sector will have a more prominent and effective role. She added, “through our repeated meetings with civil society institutions, we have sensed a firm desire and great ambition to interact with national trends aimed at achieving indicators and great development within the Oman 2040 vision, which outlines courses of action and highlights the desired national goals by contributing to the national economy and real partnership in supporting national development.”
With regard to the law of civil associations, Her Excellency stressed that the Ministry of Social Development, in coordination with the partners, is proceeding with the necessary amendments in line with these ambitions. “The new law is in its final stages, we are hoping that it will be an addition in developing and regulating the work of NGOs.”
The Sultanate’s interest in human rights is not only an international obligation but also a religious commitment and national duty rooted in Oman’s values and identity. The interest of the Sultanate’s human rights embodies the whole, over the decades past five, gradually, and occupied the economic rights, social and cultural priority after the renaissance. At this stage, the rights of children and women is of special importance in development programmes, through building schools, hospitals, and roads, and qualifying women to work in various fields.
This interest developed in the 1990s, with the Sultanate’s accession to many international conventions and treaties, including the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), to which the Sultanate joined by Royal Decree No. 63/90, and years later it joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and then a number of international conventions on human rights. Up until 2020, Oman has acceded to seven of the nine conventions on the protection of human rights, and this puts it in the first ranks in the Gulf and Arabic world.
Speaking about the special attention being given to child rights, especially juvenile care, Her Excellency said, “The Ministry of Social Development is keen to achieve the vision of Oman 2040 within the axes of human beings and society, which seeks through its programmes to achieve care concepts and social protection in all terms of reference assigned to it, including juvenile care and their problems and their issues. So a competent department has been created in this regard providing them with staff specialists to take care of them, and also seeks to establish integrated buildings in one place dedicated to juveniles in order to apply the best means, tools with international standards and the findings of the experiences of other countries, including the best interest of juveniles as children, starting from the stage of collecting inferences until sentencing them by the competent juvenile courts. Attention will be given to the proper social, psychological and legal care, protection from the causes that lead to their delinquency, and development of their abilities during their placement in the care of the Ministry.”
The Ministry and all other partner agencies, whether governmental, private, or civil society institutions, are harnessing all their efforts to protect children in implementation of the Basic Law of the State issued by Royal Decree No. 6/2021, specifically in Article (15) and that the Child Law issued by Royal Decree No. 22/2014, which is concerned with the child, the general Sharia considers this an important category in terms of rights in all aspects (social - health - educational - cultural - economic - civil), and in turn created protection measures and strict mechanisms and penalties for anyone who abuses or exploits children, stressing that children can be subjected to violent abuse and exploitation at any time and in places that are supposed to be a source of security and protection for them, and often such abuse is at the hands of people they trust and are supposed to provide the necessary protection and care; adding that the most widespread and observed forms of abuse are the excessive neglect of the basic needs of children, but whatever the type of abuse, all of its forms leave long-term psychological scars and wounds.
She also referred to the child protection line that was launched at the beginning of 2017, “There are other ways to report, such as the direct attendance of the concerned parties to the headquarters, departments and divisions of the ministry, in addition to that some cases are monitored through representatives of the child protection committees, especially the cases observed in health and educational institutions and cases that they are monitored through social media, whether their content is intended to report cases of child abuse, or practices that endanger and exploit children.”
Her Excellency clarified that the Omani Human Rights Committee is concerned with receiving complaints related to human rights in general, and in the case of reports of child abuse, it coordinates with the Ministry to refer the matter to the competent authority for appropriate action, and temporary accommodation is one of the many measures taken within the framework of dealing with cases of child abuse, and it is often an agreed decision among specialists, when necessary, in light of the conviction that transferring the child to reside outside his family environment is an emergency measure, and does not replace the family environment, whatever the level of care. So specialists and authorities unite to support the family, improving the family environment and providing it with the elements possible for a normal life, and ultimately return the child to live safely under it.
Her Excellency pointed out that work in this field is carried out within the framework of enlightened laws and legislation, and the goals and strategies regulating the field, and that the Sustainable Development Goals (2030) is one of those directions that have been fulfilled and the child is empowered and developed in a sustainable manner that meets international standards, and keenness on development and capacity-building through the continuous training of workers in the field, training of new graduates on fieldwork, and keenness to benefit from efforts and experiences in the field of child protection, and exchange them between specialists working in the field, and those with competence in related fields, parents, caregivers, and others, through events and on the ground and virtual meetings, as specialists are interested in contributing to the preparation of field studies that deal with social and family problems, and aspects of social work in general.
Her Excellency emphasised that child protection is an integrated system, not the work of a single individual, or a single entity, but rather that the system is integrated by coordinating efforts between agencies within the ministry, and coordinating with other governmental and private institutions and agencies, in developing the child and his family, and improving the social environment. Briefly, it can be said that this integrated system enables us to provide protection for the child based on: meeting their needs, development, treatment, guidance, giving direction, empowerment, social support, and legal support, for being a victim as stated in the law.
Regarding the percentages of cases and reports in child protection, HE explained “Since the inauguration of the Child Protection Line from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2020, the numbers witness a discrepancy in their trends between rise and fall, and this can be explained by looking at a set of tangible factors by dealing with these issues. They can be divided into three stages: the first stage covered the period from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2018, in which it is noted that the number of complaints dealt with by the Child Protection Committees amounted to 442 complaints in 2017, and 1412 in 2018, meaning that the number has tripled, and it may be due to the inauguration of the Child Protection Line, and its spread, media praise, and community awareness.”
The second phase covered the period from the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2020, during which the number of complaints dealt with by the Child Protection Committees decreased, reaching 1350 reports in 2019, and 1040 reports by the end of 2020, a decrease that has not happened suddenly, but its signs began to appear since the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, which are indications of “the nature of awareness between the two periods.”
The third stage covers the second half of last year to the first half of this year. HE said that the numbers indicate a continuation of the decline, which is the period of the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the increase in infections, accompanied by precautionary measures, social distancing rules, reducing various activities, work and distance education, and many other measures that it can be said that commitment to these rules was one of the reasons for reducing the number of abuse reports dealt with by the Child Protection Committees.
Despite this, the Child Protection Line continues to receive reports of abuse against children, where reports are received that require quick intervention and urgent filing for a number of cases; Her Excellency pointed out that the number of children who are placed in the temporary care home tends to increase in general, but they represent a small percentage compared to the percentage of children whose cases are dealt with, without the need for placement.
She added that the Omani society pays attention to women’s issues and needs and interacts with the issues, as women constitute half of the society. She mentioned that Article (15) of the Basic Law (6/2021) in Social Principles affirmed that “The family is the foundation of society, based on religion and national morals, and the state will work on keeping it together and its stability and consolidate the values.”
The state guarantees the achievement of equality between women and men, and is committed to child care, persons with disabilities, youth and juveniles, so as shown by law “and reflected interest automatically by asking many issues related to women through various media and try to find appropriate solutions to it and informing public opinion about it.
Regarding the resonance of the agreements on women and children and their repercussions on society, she said that the Sultanate, since its accession to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, has worked on preparing a number of policies, plans and programmes, during the past three decades, to advance the rights of children and women, which has helped spread the culture of human rights in general and the rights of both children and women in particular, as well as the media and the various means of culture, whether directed to society in general or to the groups concerned, in forming a positive image of these two conventions, on which periodic reports submitted to international committees received a high appreciation for what the Sultanate has accomplished. These efforts were reflected in the society through the advanced level of indicators for both children and women in aspects related to health, education and social welfare.
Her Excellency indicated that the Ministry of Social Development, as a body concerned with women’s affairs, focused on advancing the women’s sector by creating mechanisms that target women and work to empower them and develop their capabilities in all fields. The Women’s Affairs Department in the Ministry of Social Development is also considered the technical secretariat of the Committee to Follow-up on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. Against Women (CEDAW) through following up and monitoring the progress achieved by the Sultanate in the field of interest to women in various areas of the Convention, preparing periodic reports on the measures taken in the Sultanate regarding the implementation of its provisions, and enhancing societal awareness of this Convention.
Within its framework, a comparative study was prepared for the CEDAW in Omani legislation in 2019 in cooperation with local experts. Her Excellency stated that within this framework, (51) awareness workshops on the CEDAW were implemented for various segments of society in all governorates of the Sultanate, and (11) training workshops on the CEDAW. It targeted members of the committee, judges, members of the public prosecution, lawyers, and specialists in the ministry and workers in the Women’s Affairs Department with the aim of raising the level of legal awareness of women’s rights through awareness of national legislation in the legal aspect.
She affirmed that the Sultanate received honourable appreciation for its efforts in following up on various human rights conventions, including those related to the efforts of the Ministry in submitting periodic reports on the rights of children, women and persons with disabilities, on their specified dates, indicating that “There is no international pressure in the field of human rights in general or on the rights of children and women, in specific issues,” noting that there are mechanisms at the United Nations to follow up on states in implementing the provisions of international conventions and treaties on human rights. These mechanisms are represented in the preparation of these periodic reports by these states and then discussed in the framework of international treaty committees on which it makes observations and recommendations, and states take them into consideration and follow up their implementation according to their available circumstances.
Her Excellency stated that the commitment to achieving equality, justice and non-discrimination between citizens in applying the provisions of the laws in force in the Sultanate derives from the Basic Law of the State, issued by Royal Decree (6/2021), which emphasised that the state guarantees the achievement of equality between women and men in various fields and that citizens are all equal before the law, and they are equal in public rights and duties, and there is no discrimination between them in terms of gender, origin, colour, language, religion, religious sect, domicile or social status, as confirmed by Article (15) of the Basic Law (6/2021) in social principles.
Her Excellency also referred to the Sultanate’s interest in promoting and protecting human rights, through its participation in discussing some human rights conventions and protocols in the plenary sessions of the United Nations, or by ratifying or acceding to many international human rights conventions and the protocols attached to them, as well as fulfilling the international obligations arising from it, such as preparing initial and periodic reports on the level of implementation of those conventions and protocols, discussing them in dialogue sessions with the international human rights treaty and convention committees, and following up on the implementation of the observations and recommendations issued by these international committees.
The Sultanate has worked to implement these rights in national legislation and laws and to harmonise national legislation with the contents of the conventions it ratified or acceded to.
Her Excellency confirmed that the Sultanate ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the issuance of the Royal Decree (42/2005), and the accession document was deposited in February 2006, and in light of this international commitment, a national committee was formed to follow up on the implementation of the Convention by Ministerial Resolution No. 348/2005 It was reconstituted by Ministerial Resolution (56/2009) and Ministerial Resolution (297/2012), adding members from the legislative and judicial authority, the Omani Human Rights Committee, representatives from civil society, Omani women’s associations, and other specialized and private associations, and reconstituted by Ministerial Resolution No. (25/ 2021), to be chaired by the Minister of Social Development.
She said that the functions of the Commission is to follow up on the implementation of the CEDAW and the preparation of periodic reports on the implementation of the Convention, and dealing with all issues related to women, whether at the local, regional or international level through international organisations, and is considered the Department of Women’s Affairs at the Ministry of Social Development as the technical secretariat of this committee, and that as part of the follow-up to the implementation of this agreement, the Sultanate submitted its first report in 2009, and it was discussed on October 4, 2011, and presented its second and third reports in 2016, and they were discussed on November 3, 2017, and these reports were praised by the UN for achievements of Omani women. Preparation of the fourth report of the Convention is currently underway, and it is hoped that it will be delivered to the International Committee in the November of this year.
At the conclusion of her speech, the Minister of Social Development indicated that the Sultanate was not satisfied with joining the CEDAW in 2005, but also worked to follow up on the procedures introduced to the Convention later on in Paragraph (1) of Article (20). The Sultanate ratified the withdrawal of the reservation to paragraph (4) of Article (15), which stipulates that the states parties shall grant the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their place of living and residence related to the meetings of the International Committee. With the issuance of the Royal Decree No (3/2019) the document ratifying the withdrawal of the reservation to paragraph (4) of Article (15) of the CEDAW was deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations on February 5, 2019.