Bahamas Ignoring Some UN Charters
Even though The Bahamas has not implemented all of the UN charters it signed to protect women against discrimination, the country agrees with the charters in spirit, said Alfred Sears
Mr. Sears, Attorney General and Minister of Education, was addressing the official opening of a Judicial Colloquium at the Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino Monday.
The two-day forum, hosted by the government in conjunction with the United Nations and partly funded by the German government, is focussing on the application of international human rights law at the domestic level.
Mr Sears said The Bahamas became a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in October 1993, committing itself to a "Bill of Rights" for women as enshrined in that Convention.
However, on accession to the Convention, he said The Bahamas was placed in the unenviable position to enter reservations with regard to the provisions of four Articles: Article 2 (a); Article 9; paragraph 2; Article 16(h) and Article 29; paragraph 1.
Article 2 (a) requires that national constitution not discriminate against women; Article 9 paragraph 2 requires that States Parties grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children; Article 16 requires States Parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters pertaining to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure; on the basis of equality of men and women... the same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property; whether free of charge or for valuable consideration. Article 29 requires States Parties to submit to arbitration or to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where a dispute concerning interpretation or application of the Convention cannot be settled by negotiation.
Mr Sears said The Bahamas' reservations to the mentioned aspects of the Convention were necessary at the time because even though the country committed itself to the spirit of the Convention in totality, it was still bound by certain laws or rules inherited from Great Britain.
One such law, he said, relate to the rules of inheritance, which were passed by the imperial parliament of Great Britain and colonies in 1833 and applied to The Bahamas in 1844. But even though Britain changed its inheritance laws in 1926, some 93 years after promulgation, those rules remained applicable to The Bahamas and the colonies.
All Commonwealth Caribbean countries have now abolished the 1833 inheritance rules and Mr Sears added "I am proud to announce to this body that The Bahamas joined the ranks of these countries when in January 2002 it passed into law the Inheritance Act, which has brought it into full compliance with the Convention. The Bahamas will now consider removing its reservation to Article 16 (h)."
The Attorney General said there have been other notable legislative inroads in discriminatory practices and violence against women, pointing to the July 1991 passing of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, which incriminates various sexual practices against females of varying ages and empowered the courts to impose severe penalties where an infringement is proved.
On the thorny issue of the Affiliation Act, Mr Sears admitted that the law is not perfect but said in its present form, it still makes provisions for the maintenance of children born out of wedlock along with the Status of Children Act, which seeks to eliminate the concept of illegitimacy.
"But there is no disguising the fact though that The Bahamas has a lot more to do to eliminate all forms of discriminatory practices against women. The citizenship provisions in The Bahamas Nationality Act are perceived to reflect a male gender-bias as is the Immigration Act," Mr Sears added.
Looking ahead, he said the discussion on the advancement of women could not have come at a timelier period since The Bahamas is already engaged in debate on issues relating to the proposed amendment to the Constitution.
"I am confident that the high level of discourse and exchange of ideas that will emanate from this Colloquium and workshop will further increase and enhance the awareness of our people," he said.
Other speakers included Melanie Griffin, Minister of Social Services and Community Development and Ms Christine Brautigam, Chief of the Women's Rights Section, Division for the Advancement of Women at the United Nations.
Mindell Small, The Nassau Guardian