9 August 2006

Cuba Striving Hard to Eliminate Persistent Stereotypes, Women's Inequality, Deputy Foreign Minister Says, as Women's Committee Considers Latest Country Report

Sustained Economic Growth, Trade Not Enough to Reverse Grave Impact of Collapse of Former Soviet Union, Eastern European Bloc, United States Blockade

NEW YORK, 8 August (UN Headquarters) -- Cuba, as a small country, poor in natural resources and unjustly blockaded, was striving hard to eliminate persistent stereotypes and all vestiges of women's inequality, that country's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abelardo Morena, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during one of two parallel meetings today to accelerate the pace of consideration of country reports.

States parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, sometimes referred to as the international bill of rights for women, commit to ending discrimination against women, including in the legal, civil, political, economic, social, civil and cultural spheres.  They also commit to periodically report to the treaty's 23-member expert Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention and assesses women's overall situation in the country under review.

Introducing Cuba's combined fifth and sixth periodic reports today, Mr. Morena said his country, which had been the first to sign and the second to ratify the Convention, had experienced a very fruitful five-year period between 2000 and 2005, with sustained economic growth and alliance with new trade partners.  Still, those gains had not been sufficient to reverse the grave impact created by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe, or the opportunistic escalation of the United States' blockade.

Nevertheless, Cuba's will to create and strengthen various mechanisms -- legal, institutional and cultural -- had tackled those obstacles hindering the protection of women's rights and their participation on a equal footing with men in all arenas, he said.  Indicators concerning women's condition had been improving.  Among the key strengths in the Government's policies towards women had been its representativeness and capacity to mobilize, organize and assess the work of the non-governmental organization -- the Federation of Cuban Women -- in its legislative initiatives.

Following the introduction of its report, the 16-member country delegation was beset by experts' comments and questions on such issues as the level of political participation among Cuban women, income distribution, access to education, health care, family and property issues, as well as domestic violence and prostitution.  Experts also focused on the Convention's Optional Protocol, which provides for a petition process by individual women living in countries that are States parties and an inquiry procedure by the Committee in cases of grave violations.

Addressing questions about Cuba's position on the Optional Protocol, Mr. Morena stressed that his country had always given priority to strengthening national mechanisms aimed at protecting women's rights, however, it had not yet committed itself to any international instruments that recognized the rights of individuals in a supra-national context.  As ratification of the Protocol could mark a "qualitative leap" in Cuba's position regarding international protection of human rights, more time was needed for in-depth analysis.

Responding to queries about the re-emergence of prostitution towards the end of the 1990s, country representatives said that the phenomenon had multiple causes, with the underlying foundation resting on the remnants of a patriarchal society.  One direct cause of the increase in prostitution in that period had been the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had resulted overnight in a drop in Cuba's gross domestic product of 35 per cent.  There was also in Cuba, as elsewhere in the world, a link between prostitution and tourism.  The Government was seeking to educate tourism workers about the pitfalls of the industry, and focus it on ecotourism and family tourism.

Despite the progress made in reversing age-old stereotypical attitudes, traces of prejudice still remained, representatives said.  To respond to the problems of a patriarchal society, the Government was working through various channels, including the schools and the media.  Progress was emerging in a shift in mindsets towards masculinity, as the new generation demonstrated more responsible parenting, including by fathers.  In the educational system, changes were being made in the way teachers dealt with children and textbooks were also being changed.  In addition, all Cuban workers completed at least nine years of school.

Experts participating in this meeting were, as Chairperson, Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling (Germany), along with Dorcas Coker-Appiah (Ghana); Françoise Gaspard (France); Huguette Bokpe Gnacadja (Benin); Krisztina Morvai (Hungary); Fumiko Saiga (Japan); Glenda P. Simms (Jamaica); Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia); Anamah Tan (Singapore); and Zou Xiaoqiao (China).

The Committee meeting in Chamber A will convene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to consider the sixth periodic report of Denmark.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Cuba's combined fifth and sixth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/CUB/5-6) on that country's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  The report covers the period between 1995 and 2004.

Cuba was the first country to sign, and the second to ratify, the Convention, and in keeping with that spirit, the necessary and adequate conditions exist in the country to guarantee and protect the rights of women in all spheres of society.

The report notes that women have become increasingly independent and contribute to the country's development.  By the end of 2002, the female unemployment rate had dropped to 4.5 per cent.  At the same time, women accounted for 44.7 per cent of civil servants, up from 43.9 per cent in 1999.  Women also accounted for 64.7 per cent of university graduates and 66.4 per cent of technical and professional workers, up from the percentages reported in the previous report.

The Cuban Government's policy on the advancement of women, along with the work carried out by the Federation of Cuban Women, has led to significant progress in women's participation in Parliament.  A non-governmental organization, the Federation of Cuban Women is the national agency responsible for the advancement of women and implementation of the Convention.  After the last general election in 2003, 35.95 per cent of the deputies were women, up from the 27.6 per cent of women who had claimed spots in the People's National Assembly in the previous legislature.  The report notes that, at the end of 2002, Cuba had a population of 11,250,979, and women accounted for nearly 50 per cent, or 5,626,954.

Addressing article 2, on administrative and legislative anti-discrimination measures, the report notes that Cuba's national action plan, made as a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, has the status of a decision of the Council of State.  It entered into force on 7 April 1997 and included 90 measures for adapting the areas of interest covered by the Beijing Platform for Action to the circumstances, needs and interests of Cuban women.

Regarding article 5, on the elimination of sexist roles and stereotypes, the report notes that, since 1959, Cuba has implemented its National Development Strategy, which clearly lays down economic and social programmes to eliminate all forms of discrimination and oppression based on class, gender and race.  To help eliminate stereotypes, the training of male and female communicators, for example, has been expanded and intensified, and there are 173 women and family counselling centres.  These have increased the number and improved the quality of activities aimed at strengthening family awareness and fostering quality relations among all family members.

The report also details measures taken on a variety of other articles, including article 6, on the suppression of trafficking in women and exploitation of women through prostitution; article 7, on measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country; and article 11, on equality in employment.

Introduction of Report

The country delegation consisted of: Abelardo Moreno, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba; Nidia Diana Martínez Pití, Member of the Council of State; Yolanda Ferrer Gómez, Secretary-General, Federación de Mujeres Cubanas (Federation of Cuban Women); Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations; Marcia Enríquez Charles, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Security; Ileana Núñez Mordoche, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Maria Cecilia Santana, Director, Department for Maternal Health, Ministry of Health; and Juan Carlos Alfonso Fraga, Director de Poblacion y Desarollo de la Oficina Nactional de Estadisticas de Cuba.

Also: Sonia Beretervide Dopico, Coordinator, Grupo Nacional de Prevención de Violencia contra la Mujer; Tamara Bolumie Matos, Coordinator, Red de la Mujer Rural de la FAO; Yamila Gonzáles Ferrer, Secretary, Junta de la Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba; Isabel Moya Richar, Director, Editorial de la Mujer; Ana Milagros Martinez, International Relations, Federación de Mujeres Cubanas; Luis Amorós Nuñez; Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations; Jorge Luis Bernaza, First Secretary, Permanent Mission; and Jorge Cumberbatch Miguén, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission.

Introducing the report, ABELARDO MORENA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba said that, over the last decade, Cuba had engaged in three constructive dialogues with the Committee to review its combined third and fourth reports, as well as the fifth and sixth, and had made many important changes that had affected the lives of all Cubans, particularly women.

He said that one of the country's primary strengths in its policies towards women was in its representativeness and capacity to mobilize, organize and assess the work of the Federation of Cuban Women in its legislative initiatives.

Right now, Cuba had the advantage of the data provided by the General Census of Population and Housing of 2002, he said.  The National Office of Statistics had carried out an interpretation of the information, which had allowed for an evaluation of the current condition of women in all areas.  Cuba had also included the results of the first version of a comparative research endeavour, which had been implemented to address the advances and challenges of women's equality.  That had been requested by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro and the presidents the Councils of State and of Ministers during the regular session of the Cuban Parliament in 2005.

The drafting process of Cuba's current report had been comprehensive, participative and had integrated up-to-date information on the outcomes, endeavours and experiences of the institutions committed to the fulfilment of the Convention.

Cuba had experienced a very fruitful five-year period between 2000 and 2005, with sustained economic growth and alliance with new trade partners.  But, that had not been able to reverse the grave impact created by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist block of Eastern Europe, as well as the impact of the opportunistic escalation of the United States blockade.

But, the country's will to create and strengthen various mechanisms -- legal, institutional and cultural -- had tackled those obstacles hindering the protection of women's rights and their participation on a equal footing with men in all spheres of society, he noted.  Compared to the situation in 2000, the indicators on the condition of women were improving.  For example, women made up 45.6 per cent of the labour force in the civilian public sector, 1.2 per cent higher than the figure reported in 2000.  There had been sustained progress in the female presence in leadership and the decision-making processes, now 36.9 per cent of those employed in that category, up from 31.1 per cent in 1999.  The number of women in Parliament had also increased, from 27.6 per cent to 35.95 per cent, placing Cuba seventh in the world in this indicator.

Adding that Cuba was a small, poor country, enduring an unjust blockade, he said it continued to struggle to eliminate persisting stereotypes and all vestiges of women's inequality, including the unequal distribution of household responsibilities, for the attainment of greater awareness of gender equality.

Interactive Dialogue

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, opened the first round of questions, which was clustered around articles 1 through 6, concerning discrimination, policy measures, guarantee of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, special measures, sex roles, stereotyping and prejudice, and prostitution.

She asked when the Optional Protocol could be ratified, considering the fact that Cuba had been the first country to sign the Convention and the second to ratify it, and that it had signed the Optical Protocol.

She and other experts also posed questions on Cuba's National Action Plan, formulated in response to the Beijing Plan of Action, the incorporation of the Convention in national legislation, the applicability of the Convention into national courts, the number of related cases brought before the courts, and the education of judges and legal personnel about the Convention.  Other questions focused on remedies for discrimination, and the role and tasks of the Federation of Cuban Women.

Addressing questions on the Optional Protocol, Mr. MORENA said that that instrument was now before the Coordination Committee on Treaties, which was a constitutional mechanism dealing with ratification of international instruments.  Stressing that his country had always given priority to strengthening national mechanisms aimed at protecting women's rights, he said it had not yet committed itself to any international instruments that recognized the rights of individuals in a supra-national context.  As ratification of the Protocol could mark a "qualitative leap" in Cuba's position regarding international protection of human rights, more time was needed for study and in-depth analysis.

A country representative explained that the Federation of Cuban Women was a political organization developed in the early years of the revolution and represented a broad range of women in the country, of all ages, religions, professions and races.  More than 86 per cent of women over 14 years old were voluntary members of the Federation.  The organization was self-financed through member contributions.  For more than 47 years, the organization had achieved great influence and recognition in society, because it reflected the needs and views of women.  She went on to describe the work of the Federation through its grass-roots organizations, adding that it was a driving force in all matters having to do with women in society.

She said the 1997 National Action Plan had recognized the Federation as the national mechanism through which women could achieve their rights.  It was a critical partner in all work being done for women's advancement.  The National Plan did not have a set time frame.  It worked on the basis of the Beijing Platform of Action, and many of the targets in that Platform had already been achieved in Cuba.  The National Plan, therefore, had also included other, local issues, such as research and grass-roots action.  After Beijing+5, a second analysis of the National Action Plan had been carried out.  The Council of State had ensured that the Plan's measures were targeted at specific State agencies for implementation.  In conclusion, she said that the Federation of Cuban Women both criticized and commended the efforts made by the Government to deal with the situation resulting from the rigid blockade.  "The Government is a Government of the people, which has given, and will continue to give, priority to the advancement of women," she said.

Another country representative addressed the links between the Convention and the national legislation, saying that Cuba adhered to the principles of the United Nations Charter and other international treaties.  The Civil Code stipulated that, when national legislation did not take up matters addressed by international treaties, international law applied.  The Family Code and Penal Code also dealt with crimes against equal rights, underscoring sanctions on discrimination against women.  The Penal Code also allowed for bringing charges of discrimination, and women could file complaints before any State agency, which were obliged to respond within a set time frame.  Giving many examples, she said that, from the very first phase of complaints, women were entitled to an answer.  Anyone preventing someone from lodging complaints with the authorities would be punished according to the Penal Code.  Many cases had been decided in favour of the women.

As for the training of judges and legal personnel on the Convention, she said that much had been done, but a great deal of work still had to be carried out, not only with judges, prosecutors and lawyers, but also with the body of law students.  The National Union of Jurists and the Federation of Women had a joint work agreement focusing on gender-sensitizing.  In that regard, gender-related meetings on legal issues had been organized.  There were also efforts under way to disseminate information on the Convention to women.  A brochure with the text of the Convention and explanation of its articles had been sent to grass-roots organizations.

In a further round of questions, experts focused on the households headed by women, the trafficking of women and Government policies and programmes that might be inadvertently supporting sexual stereotypes.  With regard to article 4, which dealt with temporary special measures, experts questioned if the Cuban Government understood how those measures could be used to curb discrimination in various spheres of life, including employment.  They also asked how numerical goals, such as timetables, were being used.  Another expert questioned whether the report addressed the root causes of domestic violence and the patriarchy that caused violence in the family.  She said that men's positions of authority and privilege must be addressed.

Country representatives said that census showed that 40 per cent of heads of household were women.  While that showed progress, some inequality persisted.  Women heads of household might be married or living with a man, divorced or separated, and their situations varied.  Another country representative talked about the societal value of the housewife and how housewives worked in the home and carried out many social functions, such as volunteering in the organizations of Cuban society, noting the major shifts in attitude towards housewives that had taken place in Cuban society over the years.

Another representative said that her Government had full respect for international conventions.  Regarding article 4 and special temporary measures, she said that, when the women's employment commission was created in 1980, a parallel need had arisen to create a new employment policy.  During changes in labour conditions in the 1990s, Cuba had wanted to ensure that the achievements of the female workforce would not be undermined and that the quality of women's employment would be enhanced.  She said numerical goals did not always yield the greatest results because achievements were part of a whole process.  Special temporary measures had been taken at various times, when necessary.

Regarding domestic violence within the family, a country representative said that the report had reviewed the topic and showed that the basic cause of violence remained rooted in the patriarchal society.  Cuba had taken measures to deal with domestic violence, by creating, for example, working groups within Government agencies and ministries.  The Government had undertaken measures through the media, its public health ministry and the national statistics office, as well as through the judicial and legislative systems.  It had also developed a cohesive approach to combat stereotypes and practices that might lead to discrimination and violence against women.

The representative added that the Government was aware of the need to work outside its institutions and was working to train police, among other authorities, to increase their sensitivity to domestic violence.  Education was necessary to empower women, so they had all the tools possible to help them document complaints of violence.

With regard to article 5 and gender stereotypes, a country representative agreed that there were still traces of prejudice, despite the progress made in reducing stereotypes.  To respond to the problem of a patriarchal society, the Government was working through various channels, including schools and the media.  Progress was emerging in a shift in the attitudes towards masculinity, as the new generation demonstrated more responsible parenting, including by fathers.  In the health system, for example, fathers would increasingly stay with a sick child in the hospital, to provide emotional support.  Domestic chores were also increasingly being shared, although that change was not always visible.

In the educational system, changes were being made in the way teachers dealt with children in the classroom, as well as in the textbooks, themselves, as both father and mothers worked to improve the educational system, overall.

Addressing the issue of prostitution and trafficking in persons, experts asked why Cuban women, who were healthy and well-educated, were turning to prostitution.  Were there studies on the causes of prostitution?  Were prostitutes forced?  Questions were also raised regarding legal provisions on domestic violence, provision of opportunities for prostitutes, sanctions against pimps and progress in an educational approach to addressing prostitution.  Information was requested on special rehabilitation centres for prostitutes, as well as on support measures for victims of domestic violence

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, put a regional perspective on the issue, saying that Cuba, like other countries in the Caribbean, had become the "new playground for sand, sea, sun and, perhaps, sex".  Although the tourism industry brought foreign investments, women should not be seen as sexual tools for that industry.  The Government had to address the issue.  Women in the region had low self-esteem.  Child prostitution was flourishing in the Caribbean region.  The issue of sanctions on the prostitutes' clients should also be addressed.  Trafficking of Cuban women in the region had become an issue, she noted.

A country representative replied that prostitution had many causes, but that the underlying foundation consisted of patriarchy and exploitation of women.  There had been many studies on the subject in Cuba.  The economic situation in Cuba at the end of the 1990s was one factor contributing to the re-emergence of prostitution.  Another factor was that, often, prostitutes had been abused in their youth.  Cuba offered free education for all, but education should be complemented by a greater sense of values and self-esteem.   Cuba gave fee and universal access to education.  Education, however, should provide insights on the value of women's rights.  Just having a college education did not prevent someone from turning to prostitution.

She said that approximately 87 to 90 per cent of women who had had some experience with prostitution, had received some attention from their community, through employment opportunities and training.  Rehabilitation centres, where the remaining 10 to 13 per cent were sent, were not exclusive for prostitutes, but for women with a so-called "danger index".  The women there received job training, as well as instruction in child rearing.  There were also centres for men with a "danger index" for certain behaviour.  Those centres also offered rehabilitation programmes.

The relationship between tourism and prostitution existed worldwide, and her Government was actively engaged in addressing the problem, with measures to educate people employed in the tourist industry.  The Government focused, in particular, on child prostitution.  It was also trying to create an infrastructure geared towards ecotourism and family tourism.  Trafficking was not a problem in Cuba, and legislature prostitution and trafficking were of a preventive nature.  Tourists were not exempted from prosecution for alleged sexual exploitation, especially of children. 

Mr. MORENA stressed that the country had assigned a priority to prostitution and related issues.  That phenomenon had re-emerged at the end of the 1990s, because of the difficult economic situation that had resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union.  There had been an overnight drop of 35 per cent in the gross domestic product (GDP).  The adverse economic situation had also shaken societal values.  That complex situation had been one of the causes for the re-emergence of prostitution, child prostitution and pornography.  Those phenomena were being eradicated, however, through preventive measures, tough sentences, new educational programmes and improvement of the economic situation, as well as through special economic and social measures for vulnerable groups.

Turning to the legal aspects of those problems, a country representative added that severe penalties existed for trafficking in all persons, including in minors.  Corruption of minors had also been criminalized in the Penal Code.  There were no provisions that criminalized clients, but that matter was under discussion.  The question of domestic violence should be addressed in the context of the rights of all involved, including the children.  The Penal Code stipulated as an aggravating factor the kinship between offender and victim.

Afternoon Meeting

During questioning at the afternoon session, experts raised a variety of issues concerning article 7, on politics and public life, article 8, on representation, as well as on article 9, concerning citizenship.  One expert wanted more information about Cuba's efforts to erase some of the sexist roles in society.  She noted that women held 35 per cent of the political posts, but that percentage could increase with greater effort by the Cuban Government.

Another expert noted that women held only 15 per cent of the ministerial positions and 23 per cent of the political positions locally, which were important vehicles for women entering politics.  She wanted to know what efforts Cuba was making to increase that percentage, as well as the number of women holding diplomatic positions.  Concerning the nationality of a child, one expert wanted to know how the child's nationality was determined if one parent was a foreigner.

In response to the questions, Mr. MORENA noted that the overall quest to achieve gender equality had begun only 47 years ago, or a few generations ago, and a centuries-old mentality could not be changed in just decades.  He said his Government had always striven to place women in the diplomatic corps, but the primary factor behind a diplomat's posting was qualifications.

A country representative noted that the country was working to advance women in all professions and to encourage their promotion and empowerment.  The Government was aware that women should occupy more posts with decision-making powers.  Women held 15 per cent of the ministerial posts and the Council of State had five women.

She acknowledged that Cuba had work to do to expand the 23-per-cent level of women in local politics, and the Government was working to ensure women had access to power through the educational system.  Since the 2005 elections, women held 28.19 per cent of the political posts at the local level.

In response to the nationality of a child with one foreign parent, a country representative said that the child would be considered a Cuban citizen if the foreign parent was not working for a foreign Government.

The Committee then turned to issues of education, employment and health.  More data was being requested on the new maternity leave regulations.  Experts also addressed the issue of a "culture of abortion", asking what the Government was doing about the high abortion index.  Experts also asked about the wage differences between men and women.

Ms. SIMMS asked about the ratio of male and female teachers in elementary education, given that, in many countries, women traditionally taught in primary schools.  She said that men should also teach young children, especially boys, and that it was up to men to "deconstruct masculinity".

In response, country representatives said that the Family Code of 1975 provided for shared responsibility of father and mother in caring for the children.  Cuba had worked systematically to achieve integration of women in social life.  It was true that in other countries, men did not take paternity leave, as that would lower family income.  In Cuba, however, salaries were assigned to positions, whether they were filled by men or women.  All positions were equally open for men and women, at the same salary.

The State had worked continuously on earlier Committee recommendations regarding abortion.  Abortion was always performed in accredited institutions by specialized personnel.  That had resulted in a high level of confidence among women.  Of the half million women who had died from unsafe abortions worldwide, only two had died in Cuba.  The incidence of abortion had steadily been decreasing over the last five years, from 23 per 1000 pregnancies in 2000, to 19 per 1000 in 2005.  Cuba tried to promote the responsibility of women and their partners regarding pregnancy. 

Abortion was not considered a contraceptive measure, however, contraceptives in Cuba required approval.  Cuba's strategy was based on education of the at-risk population, and greater quality and coverage of contraceptives.  Women had the basic right to determine the number of their children.

Addressing the question on primary school, a country representative said that 60 per cent of elementary school teachers were women.  Even though primary schools had a majority of women teachers, salary was not a factor.  An old cultural stereotype was the reason more women were teaching.  Cuba was working intensively to develop the "culture of all citizens".  All Cuban workers had at least nine years of education.  Cuba had also exported a programme, developed by a woman, called "I Can", which had taught 5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean of all ages to read and write.  The programme was so flexible, it could be used in several languages, including in Maori in New Zealand.

An expert wanted to know why women made up only 9.3 per cent of the landowners and what measures the Government was taking to increase women's access to land and agricultural services, such as credit and technical assistance.  She also questioned what training was provided to women working outside the sugar industry, and whether it helped women and girls obtain better paying jobs.

Another wanted more information about the situation of women in rural areas, such as women living in poverty and the policies to help them, as well as their access to medical care and family planning services.

More information was also sought about women working in sugar plantations.  Another expert said that 47 years was not enough time to deconstruct sexual or racial stereotypes.  She wanted more data on Cuban women of African descent in rural areas to show the intersection of race and gender.

In response, Mr. MORENA said the country had come a long way since 1959 in alleviating racial discrimination, which was more obvious than sexual discrimination.  Another country representative noted that most Cubans lived in urban areas and only 24.4 per cent resided in rural zones.  Poverty was indicative of a lack of opportunity for both men and women.  One speaker noted that contraception was practiced more frequently in the rural areas, where women had greater access to family planning.

Regarding Cubans of African descent, the representative said that 65 per cent of the population was white, 10 per cent was black and 24 per cent of mixed descent.  In response to questions on land ownership, a representative said that an agrarian reform law passed many years ago had addressed the concerns in that regard.  Women had assumed ownership under the wave of agrarian reforms, which had distributed property to people working the land.  Since then, women had also enjoyed the right to land ownership through inheritance.  In the sugar-growing industry, both Cuban and Haitian women enjoyed many of the same educational and other benefits, while each maintaining their own culture.

Turning to articles 15 and 16, regarding law, marriage and family life, HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, expressed concern about the fact that the Family Code had opened the door, in exceptional cases, for marriage for women of 14 years old and boys of 16 years old, even though the legal minimum age for marriage was set at 18.  Why had that exception been made? she asked, noting that, generally, the motive behind those provisions originated in the idea that women were more precocious than men.  She added that, at the age of 14, a child did not necessarily make free or responsible determinations on such important matters.

She and other experts also posed questions about the courts' responsibilities in family conflicts, about property rights in case of divorce and about incidents of domestic violence.  One expert referred to an article on the Internet about the murder of 20 women and the wounding of 16 more in one village alone, as a result of assaults.  Questions were also asked about the protection of victims of domestic violence, and the treatment of perpetrators of such violence.

Regarding the report on the murders, Mr. MORENA said that not everything in the press should be believed, especially if it was meant to discredit Cuba.  If that number of murders in such a small village had occurred, it would have been big news in the country and abroad.

In response to questions about the legal aspects of marriage and family life, a country representative said the Family Code was in the final phases of revision by the Cuban Government.  One aspect of that revision concerned marriage and the age for which exceptional cases of marriage were allowed.  The revised code would set that age at 16 for both sexes.  It was now at 14 years of age for girls, and 16 years of age for boys.

The representative said that the change was being made because, at 14 years of age, human beings were not in a position, physically or psychologically, to deal with the creation of a family.  Before 1975, the age for exceptional cases of marriage had been 12.

Regarding revisions to the family court system, the Government was working to set up special legal mechanisms, such as tribunals composed of professionals and laypeople with special training, to handle family matters, a speaker explained.  Community property laws applied from the start of a marriage.  At the time of divorce, couples had the option to make decisions concerning the liquidation of community property.  But, a man could not evict a woman with underage children from a house because the children would be left unprotected.

In response to another question, Mr. MORENA noted that the country's political structure did allow a woman to become President.

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