This submission provides an overview of Human Rights Watch’s main concerns with respect to children’s rights in Qatar, submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“the Committee”) ahead of its review of Qatar. We hope it will inform the Committee’s preparation of its list of issues prior to reporting to seek further clarity on Qatar’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This submission includes information on discrimination against children of Qatari women, discrimination against stateless and migrant children, corporal punishment, and the protection of education from attack.
Discrimination Against Children of Qatari Women (articles 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 19, 24, 27, and 28)
- Acquisition of Qatari Nationality
Qatari women are not entitled to pass nationality to their children or spouses. In 2018, Qatar passed a permanent residency law that permits children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men, among others, to apply for permanent residency, allowing them to receive government health and educational services, invest in the economy, and own real estate.
While a step forward, the law limits the number of permanent residencies provided to 100 people per year. More importantly, the law falls short since it does not allow children of Qatari women to obtain citizenship–and therefore access a Qatari passport–on the same basis that children of Qatari men can. Children of Qatari mothers and foreign fathers can only apply for citizenship if they meet a set of strict conditions, including that they must have been a resident in Qatar for at least 25 consecutive years; have a lawful means of income; be of good repute and not have been convicted of any offence impugning their honor or integrity; and have good knowledge of the Arabic language. Even then, people who meet the strict criteria face difficulties in obtaining citizenship, and some have complained that they have not received a response to their application, even after several years.
Qatari authorities have also refused to allow children to benefit from the law in at least two cases in which the authorities stripped the father of his Qatari citizenship but the mother retained hers.
- Guardianship of Children
In Qatar, women cannot be guardians of their own children at any time. They are denied the authority to make independent decisions relating to their children’s documents, finances, travel, and sometimes schooling and medical treatment, even if they are divorced and a court granted them the right to live with their children, or the father of their child has passed away. If the child has no relative to act as the male guardian, the state takes up this role instead of allowing the mother to do so.
Qatar’s Family Law states that, following divorce, the child of a Muslim mother should by default live with her (‘custody’) up to the age of 13 for boys and 15 for girls, unless the court rules otherwise, but the law implicitly assigns guardianship—all decision-making authority—to the father, even when he does not live with the child. A non-Muslim mother may only retain ‘custody’ of the child until the age of seven. Children are required to live in the same country as their guardian, and they can be removed from living with their mothers if their mothers re-marry. The law provides that in ‘custody’ cases the judge can make the final decision in the “best interests” of the child, but this appears to apply only in cases of conflict between the parents, whereas the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that the best interests of the child are given “primary consideration” in all decisions relating to them.
The 2004 Law on Guardianship of Minors’ Wealth provides that fathers have guardianship over a child’s wealth, and then the paternal grandfather, if the father has not chosen an executor. “Amna” said, “I cannot open a bank account for my son, for savings for him. They said that his father needs to open the account for him, and he can take all the money from it if he wants.”
The General Authority for Minors’ Affairs can hold guardianship authority over specific persons including “minors” or fetuses with no male guardian or chosen agnate (heir from the male line). “Nawal,” age 32, said her father passed away more than ten years ago. With no other male relatives in Qatar, she said her mother must go to the General Authority on Minors’ Affairs to approve every financial decision regarding her youngest brother, age 17.
In cases that Human Rights Watch documented between 2019 and 2021, discrimination against Qatari women’s ability to act as a child’s guardian often harmed or increased the risk of harm to the child. Um Qahtan said her ex-husband, who had been abusive towards her children during their marriage, maintained guardianship over her children after the divorce, despite the abuse and even though they lived with her. She said he threatened to kill her children in October 2020:
He was sending death threats to the children that he is the wali [male guardian of] and he can do anything he wants, and there will be no repercussion for him. Yesterday, he sent messages to the girls that if they disrespect him, if they don’t obey him, then he will kill them, and that he won’t be accountable, that he will pay the diya [blood money] and walk out of the police station. He sent me a message with the same thing saying, ‘if they disrespect me, I will kill them.’
Male guardians are responsible for obtaining and renewing children’s Qatari Identity Document (QID) cards and their passports. We documented how male guardians who failed to do so impacted their children’s ability to access services including their health card, schooling, libraries, or higher education, as well as their movements during the Covid-19 pandemic, when QID cards were required to register on the Ehteraz mobile app (track and test app launched in 2020, and made mandatory for people who leave their homes).
(i) Access to Education
The Education Ministry wrote to Human Rights Watch that “[c]hildren are registered in educational institutions (admissions and transfers) at the request of one of the parents (father or mother) or whoever acts on their behalf if neither parent is the legal guardian.” While most divorced or separated women interviewed by us between 2019 and 2021 said in practice they were able to enroll their children in school without needing their child’s father’s permission, some schools expect women to have the child’s father’s documents in order to enroll the child. In addition, schools may require the child’s passport or QID card for enrollment, which the father may hold.
The father, moreover, can decide to transfer children from their school to another at any time. Um Qahtan said her husband withdrew three of her children from international schools and registered them in poorly performing government schools as retaliation for her starting divorce proceedings. In a February 2021 hearing, she said, a judge rejected her petition to transfer her son to a different school on the basis that he could not interfere with the father’s “God-given right to decide where his child goes to school.”
(ii) Access to healthcare
The Qatari government wrote to Human Rights Watch in 2021 that all individuals under 18 “require a parent (whether mother or father) or authorized legal guardian to accompany them to hospital appointments and consent to any medical treatment provided.” Most women also said they are able to get health treatment for their children. However, “Amna” said around two years ago she took her then 9-year-old son to the hospital and needed his QID card to admit him, but her ex-husband held the card. She said her ex-husband refused to answer her calls, so she had to ask the receptionist to call him. “He said [to receptionist] ‘I will send [a photo of the boy’s QID] via WhatsApp but please don’t show this to her.’”
Women and girls are required to show a marriage certificate and their husband’s QID to access certain forms of sexual and reproductive healthcare, including for prenatal, obstetric, and postnatal health care. Even where unmarried women and girls are experiencing reproductive health issues that do not relate to past sexual activity but for which they need examinations or birth control, they may also need to get guardian permission or show a marriage certificate to access such care. Abortion is illegal except in specific circumstances such as to save a mother’s life or in cases of fetal abnormality, but, in case of the latter, both parents are required to consent.
Women and girls over 16 years old are impacted disproportionately, particularly migrant domestic workers, by Qatari laws that criminalize consensual sex outside marriage. Women and girls can be prosecuted if they report rape or other assault, and because pregnancy serves as evidence of the so-called crime.
In its written communication to Human Rights Watch in March 2021, the government claimed that the “the patient will not face any legal action” in cases of “suspected unmarried pregnancy,” and that they will only inform police “[i]n case the patient’s safety is threatened after discharge.” However, we continued to receive reports that health officials are still requiring that staff report unmarried pregnant women to the authorities.
(iii) Freedom of movement
Children are also impacted by discriminatory rules against women regarding their travel. Qatar’s Family Law provides that a male guardian can keep their child’s passport. A mother can travel with her child and can appeal to a judge if the guardian prevents her from traveling with her child. But in practice, exit permit requirements mean women cannot travel abroad with their own child since the male guardian must either accompany them or grant an exit permit for the child. Men however can travel with their children without requiring the mother’s permission. “Amna” said she has not been able to travel abroad at all with her son, now 11, since she divorced his father, despite a settlement that allowed her son to live with her.
Qatar’s Family Law provides that fathers can apply to the courts to intervene and stop the travel of foreign national women who have ‘custody’ of their child if they suspect they will not return. However, in practice, Qatari women have reported that their ex-husbands have requested travel bans on their children as a form of harassment. Some women have not been able to travel with their children because they need to obtain three different court orders to travel with their child, including a one-year exit permit for their child; to require their child’s father to give her their child’s passport for when they travel; and to lift a travel ban imposed on their child.
We encourage the Committee to ask Qatar about steps taken to:
- Allow Qatari women to pass nationality to their children on an equal basis to men, and in accordance with children’s right to be treated without discrimination under citizenship laws;
- Ensure that decisions concerning guardianship are primarily based on the best interests of the child, in line with international standards, and that current laws on guardianship do not undermine children’s access to education and healthcare as well as their freedom of movement;
- Ensure that decisions concerning children during separation and after the dissolution of marriages are primarily based on the best interests of the child;
- Repeal legislation that criminalizes consensual sex between adults and children of similar ages including article 281 of the Penal Code; and
- Ensure that women and girls have access to all forms of sexual and reproductive healthcare without needing to prove their marital status.
Discrimination against Stateless and Migrant Children (articles 2, 7, 8, 24, 27, and 28)
Qatar’s decision to arbitrarily strip families from the Ghufran clan of their citizenship starting in 1996 has left some members stateless to this day, depriving them of key human rights including access to education and healthcare.
In 2019, we interviewed nine members of three stateless families of the Ghufran clan living in Qatar and one person from a fourth family who lives in Saudi Arabia. Altogether, there were 28 stateless individuals in the four families.
Birth registration of children requires a marriage certificate of the parents, and valid passports and residency permits of non-Qatari parents. Children who are left unregistered because their parents are not married or have legal residency in their country cannot access healthcare, education, and other services. Children born outside of marriage can also be imprisoned with their mothers. Such laws and policies can also lead to women being forced into giving birth and even abandoning babies in precarious circumstances for fear of imprisonment. In October 2020, a premature baby was found abandoned in an airport bathroom, following which airport officials removed multiple women off planes and subjected them to forced gynecological examinations in an attempt to track down the mother.
- Access to Healthcare
Qatar provides free or heavily subsidized health care to its citizens and legal residents, but they must apply for health cards to use the services.
Each of the 10 stateless people interviewed said they struggled to access health care because they lacked valid identity documents. Members of the three stateless families in Qatar said they had to use relatives’ or friends’ health cards to get critical treatment at government hospitals or to pay higher fees in private hospitals and clinics.  In one case, a woman was unable to obtain essential vaccines for her infant because she and her child are stateless. Access to healthcare for children of migrant workers can also be adversely impacted when workers are subjected to salary delays, a widespread practice in Qatar. Children who are born out of wedlock and lack proper documentation or whose parents are undocumented also cannot access healthcare.
- Access to Education
Both free government schools and private and international schools in Qatar require valid coidentification documents to enroll. In Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, where many of those interviewed lived for a portion of their lives stateless, both private and public schools also require valid identification. Families interviewed said they had to rely on connections and sympathetic people, including school administrators aware of their predicament, to enroll their children.
None of the interviewees whose citizenship was revoked before age 18 had been able to secure gainful employment, marry, start a family, or pursue higher education, even if their families could pay the higher international fees.
Children of migrant workers also face barriers to obtaining an education, including high costs associated with enrolling in schools tailored to their needs and limited school enrollment capacity. Some of these school fees are “high in relation to the possibilities of some families,” which impedes the families’ ability to send their children to school at all.
Qatar’s Law No. 25 of 2001 on Mandatory Education guarantees free education for all children starting in primary school through secondary school; however, in practice, the right to access a quality, free education applies only to Qatari children and “certain” categories of non-Qataris. Additionally, migrant workers sometimes have their salaries delayed to the point where their children are pulled out of school because they are unable to pay the fees, as documented by rights groups.
We encourage the Committee to ask Qatar about steps taken to:
- Rectify the stateless status of members of the Ghufran clan, including by providing them a clear path towards regaining Qatari citizenship, and providing them access to education and health care, among other key rights;
- Ensure that a parent can register their child’s birth without a marriage certificate or needing to have legal residence in the country;
- Ensure all children, Qatari and non-Qatari, have access to high-quality education without discrimination, including free primary and secondary education, or higher education without fees so high that they constitute a barrier; and
- Ensure all children, Qatari and non-Qatari, and those with or without documents, have access to health care.
Corporal Punishment (articles 6, 19, 24, 28, and 37)
No law explicitly prohibits corporal punishment of children in Qatar. The government wrote to Human Rights Watch in January 2021 that “all forms of assault are illegal in Qatar, including corporal punishment,” citing article 309 of the Penal Code, which punishes assault less severe than cases causing “sickness or incapacity to work for more than twenty days.”
Qatar accepted a recommendation at the 2019 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to “explicitly prohibit corporal punishment of children in all contexts and ensure that the prohibition is properly enforced and that offenders are brought before the competent authorities.”
The government informed us that in 2019 and 2020, two incidents of corporal punishment or psychological abuses were reported to authorities: a teacher who harmed a student with a pen, and was fired and deported from the country, and a school employee who “physically harassed a student” and was fired and criminally prosecuted. We are not aware of other recent data on the prevalence of violent discipline in schools. The low number of reported cases suggests the need to improve the effectiveness of the mechanism to report complaints. In a survey of 300 parents in Qatar conducted in 2017-2018, one-third said hitting a child’s hands or buttocks was acceptable, one-third said that yelling is not a form of abuse and does not affect a child’s development, and one-quarter said that hitting a child was acceptable if it does not cause physical harm.
Corporal punishment has been linked to increases in suicidal thoughts, anxiety, aggression, criminality, and other harms that impact the right to health, development, and education, including school avoidance and drop-outs, as well as difficulty with concentration, cognitive problems, and increased aggression in school.
We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:
- What steps is the government taking to implement the 2019 UPR recommendation it accepted to prohibit all corporal punishment of children?
- How have recent cases of corporal punishment been monitored and reported? Please provide recent data on the prevalence of violent discipline in schools.
Protection of Education from Attack (article 28)
The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. Qatar endorsed the declaration in May 2015.
In May 2020, Qatar played a leading role in establishing resolution 74/275 adopted by the General Assembly, establishing September 9 as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack and aiming to garner global advocacy to ensure accountability for attacks on education.
We encourage the Committee to pose the following questions:
- Do any Qatari laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools from military use during armed conflict?
- What steps has Qatar taken to implement the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration?
 Rothna Begum, “Qatar’s Permanent Residency Law a Step Forward but Discrimination Remains,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, September 11, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/11/qatars-permanent-residency-law-step-forward-discrimination-remains.
 Law no. 38 of 2005 on the acquisition of Qatari nationality, October 30, 2005, https://www.almeezan.qa/LawPage.aspx?id=2591&language=en (accessed January 27, 2023).
 Rothna Begum (Human Rights Watch), “Gulf Crisis Shows How Discrimination in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar Tears Families Apart,” commentary, Newsweek, July 21, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/21/gulf-crisis-shows-how-discrimination-saudi-arabia-bahrain-uae-and-qatar-tears.
 Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship,” May 12, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/12/qatar-families-arbitrarily-stripped-citizenship#:~:text=Qatar%3A%20Families%20Arbitrarily%20Stripped%20of%20Citizenship%20Basic%20Rights,key%20human%20rights%2C%20Human%20Rights%20Watch%20said%20today.
 Human Rights Watch, “Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man”: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules (Human Rights Watch: New York, March 2021), https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/03/29/everything-i-have-do-tied-man/women-and-qatars-male-guardianship-rules.
 Family Law, arts. 171 and 173.
 Ibid., art. 175.
 Ibid., arts. 168(1) and 180.
 Ibid., art. 169; Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, art. 3. Qatar ratified the convention in 1995.
 Law no. 40 of 2004 relating to Guardianship of Minors’ Wealth, art. 4.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with “Amna,” Qatari, June 2, 2020.
 The General Authority for Minors’ Affairs, reorganized following Emiri Decree no. 41 of 2014 organizing the General Authority for Minors Affairs, https://bit.ly/3nwl00t (accessed January 27, 2023), art.4.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with “Nawal,” Qatari, June 15, 2020.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Um Qahtan, Qatari, September 29, 2020.
 Human Rights Watch, “Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man”: Women and Qatar’s Male Guardianship Rules.
 The Ministry of Education and Higher Education response to questions in a written communication provided by a government official to Human Rights Watch, on March 9, 2021.
 Human Rights Watch follow-up phone interview with Um Qahtan, Qatari, February 4, 2021.
 Compiled written response provided by the Qatari government to Human Rights Watch on March 1, 2021.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with “Amna” (pseudonym), Qatari, June 2, 2020.
 Women can face up to three years of imprisonment for abortions without official approval, and anyone who administers abortions can face up to seven years imprisonment, or even up to 10 years imprisonment if they are a medical professional. See Qatar Penal Code, arts. 316-317.
 Article 281 of the Penal Code stipulates that “whoever copulates with a female over sixteen without compulsion, duress or ruse shall be punished with imprisonment for a term up to seven years. The same penalty shall also be imposed on the female for her consent.” Muslims can also be sentenced to flogging (if unmarried) or the death penalty (if married).” “Low Income Expat Women Pay the Price for Unmarried Sex in Qatar,” Pulitzer Centre, October 7, 2017, https://www.anapsantos.com/woman-cp-blog/2019/3/28/low-income-expat-women-pay-the-price-for-unmarried-sex-in-qatar.
 Human Rights Watch, “Submission to the CEDAW Committee of Qatar’s Periodic Report for the 73rd Session,” July 1, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/01/human-rights-watch-submission-cedaw-committee-qatars-periodic-report-73rd-session.
 Compiled written response provided by the Qatari government to Human Rights Watch on March 1, 2021. See Human Rights Watch, “Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man.”
 Family Law, art. 176 provides that “the guardian of the child may retain the passport of the child save for when traveling when it shall be delivered to the female custodian of the child. The judge may order that the female custodian shall keep the passport of the child if he considers that the guardian may not hand over the passport timely when needed. The female custodian may keep the original birth certificate of the child and any other evidential documents of the child, or certified copies thereof in addition to his identity card.”
 Family Law, art. 185.
 In practice, male guardians provide the exit permit for their child, and where they do not, a woman must appeal to a court to have the court issue an exit permit.
 Family Law, art. 185 provides “Fathers and grandfathers of male children may travel with male children who are seven years of age for a reasonable period of time. Should there be a dispute regarding the period of travel the child may undertake with their fathers and grandfather, the judge shall intervene and determine an appropriate period. Only fathers, grandfathers and the agnate relatives may travel with the child in custody.” However, in practice men can and do travel with their children without needing permission.
 Human Rights Watch phone interview with “Amna,” Qatari, June 2, 2020.
 Family Law, art. 185.
 Human Rights Watch, “Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man.”
 The Ghufran clan is a branch of the semi-nomadic al-Murrahs, who span the Gulf region and are among the largest tribes in Qatar. Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship,” May 12, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/12/qatar-families-arbitrarily-stripped-citizenship.
 Hukoomi Qatar e-Government, “Request to Issue Birth Certificate,” 2022, https://hukoomi.gov.qa/en/service/request-to-issue-birth-certificate.
 Article 42 of Law No. 3 of 2009 on the Regulation of Penal and Correctional Institutions provides that children can be imprisoned with their mother until 2 years old. However, other reports suggest in practice women have had children up to 5 years old imprisoned with them. See “Filipina expat: Being jailed with baby in Qatar ‘blessing in disguise,’” Doha News, January 13, 2016, https://dohanews.co/filipina-expat-jailed-baby-qatar-blessing-disguise/ (accessed January 30, 2023); “Imprisoned: Raising my baby behind bars,” Rappler, October 23, 2017, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/184052-ofws-doha-prison-raising-baby-behind-bars/.
 Rothna Begum, “Women Reportedly Subjected to Forced Gynecological Exams in Qatar,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, October 27, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/27/women-reportedly-subjected-forced-gynecological-exams-qatar; “Qatar 'identifies parents of baby abandoned at Doha airport',” BBC, November 23, 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-55049678.
 Human Rights Watch news release, “Qatar: Families Arbitrarily Stripped of Citizenship.”
 “Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Ms. Koumba Boly Barry, following her visit to Qatar, 8-16 December 2019,” December 16, 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25427&LangID=E (accessed January 19, 2023).
 Ibid.; Law No. 11 of 2001 on Mandatory Education, art. 2.
 Human Rights Watch, “How Can We Work Without Wages?”: Salary Abuses Facing Migrant Workers Ahead of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 (New York: Human Rights Watch, August 2020), https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/08/24/how-can-we-work-without-wages/salary-abuses-facing-migrant-workers-ahead-qatars; Amnesty International, “Qatar World Cup of Shame,” March 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/.
 Corporal Punishment of Children: Human Rights Watch’s Index for the Middle East and North Africa, May 10, 2021, https://features.hrw.org/features/features/corporal-punishment-of-children/index.html.
 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Qatar, 22 June 2017, CRC/C/QAT/CO/3-4, para. 21, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fQAT%2fCO%2f3-4&Lang=en.
 Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Qatar, A/HRC/42/15, 11 July 2019, recommendation 134.225.
 Hendaus MA, Al-Khuzaei AM, Samarah O, Hamad SG, Selim BA, El Ansari W, "Child abuse and neglect in a rapidly developing country: Parents' perspectives," J Family Med Prim Care 2020, 9:3053-9, doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_971_19. PMID: 32984172; PMCID: PMC7491849.
 US Society for Adolescent Medicine, Position Paper: Corporal Punishment in Schools, 32:5 J. Adolescent Health 385, 388 (2003).
 Ronald Sege, “AAP policy opposes corporal punishment, draws on recent evidence,” American Academy of Pediatrics, November 5, 2018, https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/6955?autologincheck=redirected.
 Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed January 18, 2023).
 Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed January 18, 2023).
 The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements,” 2023, https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/endorsement/ (accessed January 18, 2023).
 The international day provides an annual platform where the international community can review progress and new data and make commitments towards effective mechanisms to end impunity for those who attack schools.