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This oil-rich country is located on the Persian Gulf peninsula and has a single land border with Saudi Arabia to the south.Since gaining independence from Britain in 1971, Qatar has been ruled by an Emir. Despite being the home of global news network Al-Jazeera, freedom of expression is heavily restricted. Major children's rights concerns include juvenile justice,discrimination against girls and violence against children.
Qatar is located on a peninsula on the Persian Gulf, and has a single land border with Saudi Arabia to the south. Sand dunes and flat desert plans dominate much of the country. The capital city is Doha.
Population and language
The population of Qatar has risen dramatically, more than 800 per cent, over the last 30 years to its current level of 1.9 million. Of this population, less than 250,000 people are Qatari nationals, while the vast majority of the population are migrants from a variety of backgrounds, including those from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Philippines, Europe, North America and other Arab States.
The country's official language is Arabic, but English is also widely used.
History and politics
Qatar took its first significant step towards becoming a separate and independent country after the 1867 territorial war with Bahrain, which led to a treaty in which the country was recognised as a separate entity for the first time. From 1916 until 1971, the country operated under an agreement with Britain in which it signed control of its foreign affairs over to Britain in exchange for guarantees for its protection. Oil was first discovered in the country in 1939 and, though exploration was delayed by the Second World War, oil revenue rapidly transformed the country by funding modernisation and the development of infrastructure. Qatar officially gained its independence in 1971, following the British withdrawal from the middle-east. After a period of infighting amid the royal family, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani emerged as the Emir (King and Head of State).
In 1995 the current Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, replaced his father in a bloodless coup and quickly established himself as a reformer. In 1996, the Emir established Al-Jazeera as an independent TV station, which has become known for its news coverage of controversial issues, and launched the country's first democratic polls in 1999's municipal elections. The country's first written constitution entered into force in 2005, and requires the election of 30 members of the newly established Advisory Council by male and female citizens on an equal basis. National elections are expected in the latter half of 2013.
Qatar has been a notable ally of western democracies in regional politics, and played an instrumental part in the two gulf wars both as a staging post and in providing troops. The country also played a role in the Libyan uprisings as part of the joint military action and, reportedly, has engaged in supplying weapons to opposition Libyan and Syrian groups.
The Qatari economy is highly dependent on oil and natural gas exports which have made the country highly prosperous and endowed the country with the the seventh highest GDP per capita in 2009. The country is OPEC's fifth largest petroleum exporter despite being the smallest nation in the organisation, and exports more than half of the natural gas accounted for by member countries. Liquefied gas is contributing an increasing proportion of the nation's GDP, and Qatar has invested substantial funds and infrastructure in extracting gas from the North Dome gas field which is expected to contain a supply that would last more than two hundred years at the current rate of extraction8. Economic diversification has a been a persistent theme of Qatari financial management in recent years, and the country has made substantial investments, particularly in Europe, to provide for non-hydrocarbon related income.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 114 out of 179 in its Press Freedom Index 2011/12 making the county one of the highest rated States in the middle-east. Journalists, however, face serious obstacles in their work. The majority of journalists in Qatar are foreign nationals, and so commonly subject themselves to self-censorship for fear of deportation for publishing articles on taboo subjects, particularly criticism of the State or its economy. Qatari press legislation dates back to 1979, and provides for a range of potentially draconian powers, including the imprisonment of journalists for “denigration” or “defamation” and the ability of the Prime Minister to extend a list of “forbidden” topics at his discretion. Foreign media and the internet are both subject to filtering of content deemed contrary to the country's political, religious or moral values, as well as for publications critical of Qatar. This censorship of domestic issues is in stark contrast to the government's staunch defence of al-Jazeera's foreign coverage, which has drawn criticism of the country in the region.
Human rights and children's rights
Of Qatar's 1.8 million residents, only 225,000 have Qatari citizenship, with the vast majority of the remaining population residing as migrant workers. These migrant workers are subject to discrimination and violations of their rights in a number of areas. Migrants have no right to strike or form unions, as opposed to their Qatari counterparts. Migrant workers are also subject to the Kafala (sponsorship) system, through which workers are tied to a single employer and cannot change jobs without their employer's permission subject to detention and deportation should they leave their employer, even if fleeing abuse. Steps have been taken towards improving respect for the rights of women and girls, including granting women the right to vote, but discrimination in family law remains pervasive. Women do not have the same rights to nationality for their spouses and children as men, nor with regards to inheritance and child custody. The country is also home to 1,200-1,500 stateless Bidun people, including children, who do not have access to health, education or employment benefits, nor the right for their children to be registered. Corporal punishment, capital punishment and life sentences are all lawful penalties for persons under 18 years.
- UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Qatar Country Profile" 7 February 2012
- Middle East Policy Council, Jennifer Lambert, "Political Reform in Qatar: Participation, legitimacy and security"
- BBC, "Qatar launches first constitution" 9 June 2004
- The Guardian, "Qatar to hold first national election" 1 November 2011
- The Economist, "Pygmy with the punch of a giant: The burgeoning influence of Qatar in the Arab world arouses admiration, suspicion and puzzlement. But its motives are mainly pragmatic." 5 November 2011 a The Guardian, "Qatar crosses the Syrian Rubicon: £63m to buy weapons for the rebels" 1 March 2012
- World Bank "Data: GDP per capita"
- OPEC, "Annual statistical bulletin 2010/11" Edition, p. 12
- The New York Times, "Qatar shows faith in Europe" 14 September 2011
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Qatar"
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Qatar"
- BBC, "Middle East election defeat for Qatar women" 9 March 1999
- See Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Qatar" and Amnesty International, "World Report 2011: Qatar"
- CRIN, "Inhuman sentencing of children in Qatar" September 2010
- OHCHR, "Qatar homepage"
- The World Bank, "Data: Qatar"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Qatar Country Profile"
- BBC, "Qatar Profile", "Qatar timeline" and news items (see footnotes)
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012"
- Amnesty International, "World Report 2011"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12" and news items (see footnotes)
- The Economist, news items (see footnotes)
- The Guardian, news items (see footnotes)
- The New York Times, news items (see footnotes)