18 February 2022
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of the Czech Republic on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, with Committee Experts commending the policy toward drug users as humane and evidence-based, and asking about paternity leave and gender aspects of the labour market.
The Czech Republic’s policy over the last decades toward drug users was commendable as it was a humane and evidence-based policy founded on the principles of harm reduction, a Committee Expert said. Concerning fathers’ participation in childcare, another Committee Expert asked what was the usage by fathers of paternity leave of two weeks? Was there extended parental leave for fathers? Could the delegation inform about the impact of the Action Plan on the balanced representation of women and men in decision-making positions for 2016-2018 and on other measures to overcome gender segregation in the labour market, the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women at decision-making levels? According to statistics provided, there was a gap in the labour participation between the genders. What was the evaluation of the Czech Republic of the situation, and what measures were being taken to improve women’s participation in the labour market?
Andrea Baršová, Head of the Human Rights Department, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic and Head of Delegation, noted that the Czech Republic had recently adopted complex strategies for the implementation of Covenant rights. The minimum wage had increased in recent years, together with pensions and certain social benefits such as parenting allowances or housing support. Paternity leave had been extended to two weeks. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, vast recovery measures in education, digitalisation, employment, entrepreneurship and healthcare would be set in the National Recovery Plan supported by European Union funds. She reiterated the Czech Republic’s firm commitment to upholding its obligations under the Covenant.
The delegation, in response to a question asked about fathers’ share in caring for children, explained that their share was quite small. There were usually three years of parental leave, but it was usually taken by women. Reasons for the current division of roles included economic reasons. Usually the man earned more, making it an economically sound decision for a family if the breadwinner continued his work activity. In the Czech Republic, maternity had an impact on women’s labour force participation – the largest such impact in Europe, the delegation explained. From age 45 and up, men and women had almost the same employment rate. But women’s labour participation was much lower than men’s between ages 20 and 45, which was clearly the impact of maternity. The reasons were many, including a lack of preschool capacities, and the low availability of jobs offering part-time and flexible working hours. Tradition could also be a reason, as were stereotypes. In 98 per cent of cases, the parent at home with the child was the mother. Measures to address those issues included investments in preschool facilities and support for part-time jobs.
In closing remarks, Peters Sunday Omologbe Emuze, Committee Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, thanked the delegation for the frank, constructive and open dialogue, noting that some remaining challenges included the establishment of a national human rights institution, and the gender pay gap, among other issues.
Ms. Baršová, in closing remarks, said that the topics that were raised and the questions were appreciated, as they allowed the Czech Republic to raise its awareness on various issues connected with the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
The delegation of the Czech Republic was comprised of representatives of the Office of the Government; the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Regional Development; the Ministry of Culture; the Ministry of the Environment; the Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee is scheduled to issue the concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Czech Republic at the end of its seventy-first session, which concludes on 4 March. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public on Monday, 21 February at 3 p.m. to consider the third periodic report of Serbia (E/C.12/SRB/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of the Czech Republic (E/C.12/CZE/3).
Presentation of the Report
ANDREA BARŠOVÁ, Head of the Human Rights Department, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic and Head of Delegation, said the Czech Republic had recently adopted complex strategies for the implementation of Covenant rights. The 2030 Strategic Framework for the Employment Policy reflected crucial trends such as population ageing, and set goals to create an individualised, adaptable and effective employment policy. The Social Inclusion Strategy 2021-2030 focused on combatting poverty and social exclusion and promoted decent living conditions, access to employment, social services, family support, education, housing and health care, ensuring public order as well as tackling over-indebtedness and substance addiction.
The 2030 Health Strategy formulated three strategic goals: improving the health status of the population, optimising the health care system, and supporting science and research. The strategy also aimed at the integration of health and social care and accessible community services, which were also the main goal of the National Action Plan for Mental Health Care 2020-2030. The Educational Policy Strategy 2030+ aimed to modernise education through the adaptation of the content, methods and forms of education, and would enable people to acquire knowledge and skills useful in their personal, civic and professional lives. The Goals of the State Cultural Policy included making culture widely available and accessible for everyone, and developing live arts and the cultural and creative industry.
The vision of the National Policy of Research, Development and Innovation 2021+ was to contribute to the prosperity of the Czech Republic through the effective support of research, development and innovation. Among other aims, it focused on the governance and funding of research, development and innovation, as well as the country’s innovative potential. Specific strategies targeted vulnerable and marginalised groups: the Strategy for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation 2021-2030 aimed at strengthening equal treatment and equal opportunities for Roma people with respect for their identity and allowing for their participation and civic empowerment. Other strategies aimed at groups such as persons with disabilities, children and ageing people. The Czech Republic was working intensively on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and aimed to create a sustainable environment where everyone could lead a life of quality and dignity.
Next to the adopted strategic documents, Ms. Baršová raised some other specific issues, noting that the minimum wage had increased in recent years, together with pensions and certain social benefits such as parenting allowances or housing support. Paternity leave had been extended to two weeks. While the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively influenced the exercise of many economic, social and cultural rights, the Government had tried to alleviate the negative impact of restrictive measures for the protection of public health by facilitating the application for social support, introducing distance education, and supporting employers, employees and business owners whose premises were closed. Support for victims of domestic violence was also put in place. From early 2021, the Government had focused on the wide availability of vaccines for all with accessible testing and treatment. In the future, vast recovery measures in education, digitalisation, employment, entrepreneurship and healthcare were set in the National Recovery Plan supported by European Union funds. Ms. Baršová concluded her remarks by reiterating the Czech Republic’s firm commitment to upholding its obligations under the Covenant.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert welcomed the delegation of the Czech Republic to the session, and expressed expectations that the dialogue would be constructive. Turning to questions about the domestic application of the Covenant, could the delegation inform whether the Czech Republic was examining the possibility of joining the Optional Protocol to the Covenant? Could the delegation provide information on additional steps taken to establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles? As for the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, could the delegation provide information on how the Czech Republic planned to ensure that detention was applied only as a measure of last resort, and end the detention of all children?
What measures could be taken to ensure access to the national pension scheme for refugees and asylum seekers who did not meet the eligibility criteria to become beneficiaries? What steps were being taken to guarantee the economic, social and cultural rights of stateless persons? Were any steps being taken to introduce provisions facilitating access to citizenship for stateless persons, and to encourage parents of stateless children to lodge citizenship applications on their behalf? How many stateless people were living in the Czech Republic? The delegation was requested to provide information on the 2018 bill to allow same-sex marriage. Could the delegation also inform about the impact of the action plan on the balanced representation of women and men in decision-making positions for 2016-18 and other measures to overcome gender segregation in the labour market, the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women at decision-making levels?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the ratification of the Optional Protocol was being considered, but that two years ago, an analysis had concluded that there were some lacunae in the compliance of Czech law, and thus a decision on ratification had been postponed until 2025, with the intention in the meantime to try to fill the lacunae and improve compliance. In response to the question about the human rights ombudsperson, it was a recurring question in treaty body reviews and dialogues; the Government had studied the possibility. A final decision had not been taken, but the new Government was expected to decide shortly on the matter.
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to speak about measures taken by the Government to implement the European Parliament resolution of 2014 on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality; were those standards relevant? Did the Czech Republic plan to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention of violence toward women and domestic violence?
A Committee Expert noted that the Czech Republic had plans and strategies in almost all areas of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as for all major groups such as children, women, and people with disabilities. When developing those plans and strategies, had the Czech Republic consulted with civil society and groups? If so, what kind of procedure had it been, had there been online consultations or meetings? What challenges had been seen in implementing those strategies and plans?
Another Committee Expert asked what the position of the Czech Republic was regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution?
One Committee Expert suggested that the Czech Republic could adopt the Optional Protocol first and close potential loopholes afterwards, benefiting from input from the review process.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the strategy on gender included both legislative and non-legislative measures. The availability of childcare was an important feature. Also foreseen in the strategy were amendments to labour legislation to promote wage transparency. The strategy had a lot of measures, but also specific action plans in some areas, such as the prevention of gender-based violence, and an action plan on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.
In response to questions asked about detention and stateless persons, the delegation explained that the principle that detention was a measure of last resort was laid down in international treaties as well as European Union law, to which the Czech Republic was party. The police were obliged to assess whether alternatives to detention could be applied, before detention decisions could be issued. Detention was not used regularly, and was used as a measure of last resort. When it came to the detention of children, it was an exceptional measure, and actually forbidden by the Asylum Act. Detention or accommodation of children accompanying their parents who were detained could be done only under the Foreigners Act, and detention was limited; such groups could only be placed in a dedicated facility equipped for children’s stay. Accompanied minors were only accommodated there, so leisure time coordinators could organize activities outside the centre for such children. Unaccompanied minors were not detained.
Turning to the matter of statelessness, the delegation explained that a new procedure of 2021 determined whether a person was stateless or not. Stateless persons stayed under different legal regimes in the Czech Republic, there were around 500 such persons; 400 of them had permanent residence and had access to all rights as Czech nationals did, while 92 persons were under a temporary stay regime. Currently, there were 11 persons in the specially dedicated stateless determination procedure. So the numbers of people in the stateless determination procedure were very low. The outcome of the procedure was a decision granting the status followed by an identification document which was valid as a travel document, and a national long-term visa. The status enabled access to healthcare, housing, education, or employment at the same level as that of foreigners with the same type of visa, meaning without discrimination. Such people could change the visa into a residence permit after one year, and then into a permanent residence permit. The Citizenship Act regulated the possibility of easing access to citizenship for stateless persons by lifting certain requirements. The law also regulated easier access for children born stateless.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked the delegation to elaborate on measures taken on by the State party to ensure the protection of jobs and income of workers in the context of the pandemic, the scope and the percentage coverage of those measures, and which, if any, were still in force. What measures was the State taking to guarantee the protection of people working in the informal sector? Had the Czech Republic considered initiating any measures that would allow it to have statistical data on the percentage of workers in that sector? That would make it possible to assess the situation and, therefore, to make decisions in terms of protection. On the subject of just and favourable conditions of work, were fines enforced against violations of minimum wage regulations? When it came to sexual harassment in the workplace, how was a manual against that being implemented?
On the subject of the right to social security, a Committee Expert noted that many refugees and asylum seekers could not receive retirement benefits, and would continue to be dependent on minimum subsistence support programmes. Had the Czech Republic considered any measures for bringing those systems into step with current standards? Access for persons with intellectual disabilities to social security was also an issue raised by the Committee Expert; what measures had the State party taken or planned to take, including legislative modifications, to ensure that any person with a psychosocial or intellectual disability was not restricted in their legal ability to access social security regimes, and to ensure that they had the reasonable accommodations and procedural modifications they needed to access social services and social security regimes?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that while the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had been felt, it had been mitigated by Government measures. With regard to the impact of labour policy measures on specific groups, in general, the unemployment rate remained low, and the labour market was characterised as “tight” with a lack of workers. National indicators of unemployment were 3.6 per cent, which was very low, and had been the lowest in Europe for years. Vulnerable groups which were given special attention in the labour market were young people, graduates of schools at all levels, persons with disabilities, parents with small children, older workers and people who were long-term unemployed, among others. The Czech Republic did not collect data on the Roma on the labour market, as they were covered in the previous groups, probably under categories of people from socially excluded localities and the long-term unemployed. In data, it could be seen that interventions by the State in the labour market led to better results than expected.
A question had been asked about informal employment. In general, there were no initiatives to formalise informal employment en bloc, and there was no reliable data on the informal economy. Positive steps that were taken, however, included controls by labour inspection bodies, which showed that illegal employment had decreased. Another question had been asked about minimum wage. The current Government had a plan to introduce an automatic indexation mechanism of the minimum wage, so it would no longer be disputed each year under the tripartite. It would provide better transparency and expectation for the workers. Pension reform was one of the priorities of the new Government, and expert opinions had suggested that the rules for getting pension entitlements should be changed; it was possible that current thresholds would be lowered.
In response to questions about the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that new legal regulations on legal capacity no longer allowed for the full deprivation of legal capacity, but only its limitation. The Ministry of Justice had been monitoring statistics on the use of those measures for a long time.
Combatting all forms of gender-based violence was part of the new gender equality strategy, approved in 2020 and running until 2030. A chapter of that strategy on security had three strategic goals: the prevention of gender-based violence, improving access to assistance for victims, and developing systemic solutions to gender-based violence. Tackling stereotypes was also a goal.
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked about persons with disabilities and their access to justice, noting that for persons with disabilities to have equal access to justice, two things were necessary: reasonable accommodation, and decision-making by persons with disability not in substituted form, but supplemented decision-making. Was there a common understanding among the judiciary and the general public that supplementary decision-making was important to recognising the legal capacity of persons with disabilities?
Another Committee Expert asked whether the Czech Republic had considered the ratification of two instruments in the labour sector: the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and the International Labour Organization Convention 169 on domestic workers?
A Committee Expert asked about the participation of men and women in the labour market. According to statistics provided, there was a gap in the labour participation between the genders. What was the evaluation of the Czech Republic of the situation, and what measures were being taken to improve women’s participation in the labour market? What was the reason the Czech Republic did not have statistics on Roma people in the labour market?
One Committee Expert requested further information about the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities. Were steps being taken specifically to provide for adequate staffing of the medical assessment service to avoid delays in proceedings in cases of allowances for care contributions and issuance of disability cards?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the question asked about access to justice, the delegation explained that the Czech Republic was aware that there was a lot of work to be done in the field of supplemented or assisted decision-making for persons with disabilities, thereunder that it should be the norm and should function in practice. A working group had been composed in 2020 which had representation by non-governmental organizations and all involved ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. The main aim of the working group was focused on awareness-raising. It would produce an easy-to-read information leaflet which would be distributed.
The delegation explained that the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers was not being considered for ratification by the Czech Republic, but the other Convention, on domestic workers, had been deliberated. An analysis had shown that the number of people working as domestic workers was quite limited, maybe 1,400 people. Most were self-employed. As the legal changes that would need to be made might include a change of Constitutional law, the result of the deliberation had been that the Czech Republic would not ratify the International Labour Organization Convention on domestic workers.
In response to the question asked about the degree of participation of men and women in the labour force, the delegation said that in the Czech Republic, maternity had the largest impact in Europe on the labour force participation of women. Women had almost the same employment rate in the age group above 45 as men. But their labour participation in the ages between 20 and 45 was much lower, which was clearly the impact of maternity. The reasons were many, including that women on average stayed at home with one child for three years, due to a lack of preschool capacities for children under three years, and the low availability of jobs offering part-time and flexible working hours. Tradition could also be a reason, as well as stereotypes. In 98 per cent of cases, the parent at home with the child was the mother. Measures to address those issues included investments in preschool facilities and support for part-time jobs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was much broader use of home office and other flexible schemes. The situation was far from being good, but it was being addressed by the Government, and it was one of the priorities.
It was true that reliable data on the Roma in the labour market would be a great boost to the efficiency of public policies. But historical experience showed that if there was administrative data on ethnicity, it could be abused, as the situation had been in the 1930s and 1940s when the country was occupied, and also during the Communist regime. There was reluctance by the State and also by the Roma themselves, who often did not identify their ethnicity as such on the census.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked questions about the situation of children in institutional facilities, noting that the Czech Republic was known to have the highest number of institutionalised children in Europe. How many foster homes were there now, compared to the needs? What steps was the Government going to take to ensure an adequate number of foster parents? Regarding persons with disabilities, was there any plan or strategy to support people with disabilities’ independent living in the community? Turning to the right to family for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons, the Expert noted that they, as well as children brought up by same-sex couples, faced prejudice and discrimination. What were the measures to raise the awareness of law enforcement authorities, teachers and the general public about the right to family for same-sex couples? When it came to intersex persons, had there been research or collection of data such as the percentage of births of intersex persons? When it came to fathers’ participation in childcare, what was the usage by fathers of paternity leave of two weeks? Was there extended parental leave for fathers?
Turning to issues around an adequate standard of living, the Committee Expert noted that according to reports, there was no extreme poverty in the Czech Republic, and the basic social protection system fully covered all vulnerable groups. How many people were living below the subsistence minimum? How would the Government secure a decent standard of living for persons living in poverty? Could the delegation provide some examples of measures to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change? When it came to access to health, it was noted that foreigners encountered problems in accessing healthcare in the current health insurance system. What were the measures to ensure that foreigners also had access to health insurance?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation explained that for children under three years of age, an important amendment had been made to the law on the social and legal protection of children. It limited the age of children being placed in any kind of institutional care. There had been an important decrease in the number of the youngest children in institutional care in the last years. The decrease had occurred naturally as such young children had been placed in foster care or returned to their families, if it was safe for them. Support for foster families had proved to be a good measure, and there were currently around 5,000 foster parents in the Czech Republic and about 18,000 children placed in foster or kinship care. More foster parents were definitely needed. It was hoped that new people would be motivated to become foster parents.
In response to questions about the right to independent living as it was mentioned in the national plan, it recognised that the provision of adequate housing, appropriate assistance services and compensatory aids was a prerequisite for independent living for persons with disabilities, and that it would help people with disabilities to stay in a home environment, and enabled their full participation in public, social and cultural life. In the area of support for independent living, measures were aimed at the possibility of staying in the natural home environment as long as possible, through the support of outpatient social services and the support of education of carers. Other important tools included expanding the coordination of support within social work, and subsidy programmes for the construction of barrier-free flats. There were a number of programmes financed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs which provided social services which were very important for independent living.
Questions by a Committee Expert
A Committee Expert asked about the Czech Republic’s Plan for the Development of the Educational System in 2022. Were there similar plans for the preschool system and higher education? Paragraph 103 of the replies referred to the Czech School Inspectorate report on the quality and efficiency of education and the educational system. What were the criteria for quality of education? Did they apply equally to State and private educational institutions? Information was sought on measures taken to ensure equal access to all levels of education by children of migrants, irrespective of their migratory status, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons. Was there a new State cultural policy, and what were the challenges it addressed?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to a question asked about fathers’ share in caring for children, the delegation explained that their share was quite small. There were usually three years of parental leave, but it was usually taken by women. Following the European Union directive on work-life balance being implemented into national law, that would introduce a right to four months of parental leave, of which two months could not be transferred to the other partner. That would give a father the right to two months of paternal leave, if he asked his employer. Figures showed that the number of fathers taking paternal leave was stable. Reasons for the current division of roles included economic reasons. Usually the man earned more, making it an economically sound decision for a family if the breadwinner continued his work activity. Many measures aimed to deal with the situation, such as expanding the capacity of pre-school facilities, efforts to increase the number of part-time jobs in the economy, and awareness-raising campaigns aimed at fathers.
In response to questions about the poverty indicators, the levels were stable. The subsistence minimum - a threshold used for the calculation of some benefits - had not been increased since 2012, but it had been increased in 2020. Consumer prices were now increasing quite sharply, which would perhaps necessitate another increase in the near future.
In response to questions about access to public healthcare insurance, the delegation noted that there had been a recent amendment to the Act on Public Health Insurance. Permanent residents and people employed in the Czech Republic were entitled to public healthcare insurance, as well as other groups such as persons under international protection or applicants for the same. The healthcare of European Union citizens was governed by European Union law based on the principle of equal access to health care.
In response to questions about the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons, the delegation explained that the Government had a plan to revise the regulation of civil unions. The revision would probably address family relations and marriage status. It was true that the process of gender reassignment or recognition was subject to a legal regulation which made mandatory a medical diagnosis and medical interventions. It was also true that that was not in line with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. The new Government would need to take action on the issue and make necessary amendments, but there was no plan at the moment for when and how that would happen. The issue of intersex persons was a new one in the Czech Republic; academic experts had made a survey last year and the outcome had been some recommendations of the Ombudsperson concerning the collection of data, awareness-raising, and cooperation among medical practitioners related to the treatment of intersex children.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert took the floor to thank the Czech Republic for the high quality of its responses, which had been direct and very concrete, and which had provided detail in a succinct way, adding that the delegation was full of good, positive spirit.
Another Committee Expert also thanked the delegation for its very precise answers to the Committee’s questions. The Czech Republic’s policy over the last decades toward drug users was commendable as it was a humane and evidence-based policy founded on the principles of harm reduction. It had had very good results, for example that the prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users was very low and there were almost no cases of deaths by overdose in the consumption of heroin, thanks to the provision of the drug Naloxone and other treatments. Yet some studies said those good policies might not be sustainable, due to the lack of clear mechanisms for their funding. What measures were being taken to ensure the financial sustainability of the harm reduction policies which had shown such good results?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the question about financing of the anti-drug policy, the delegation explained that it was correct that there were ongoing discussions on the proper way of financing it, as it was a system of subsidies. In response to questions about education policy, the delegation explained that the main strategic document was called the Strategy for the Education Policy of the Czech Republic 2030 Plus. Its objectives included focusing education on the acquisition of competences necessary for an active civic, professional and personal life. For higher education and universities, there was a strategic plan for the period from 2021 with no end date in the document. Schooling in the Czech Republic included elementary art schools.
In response to questions about cultural rights, the delegation explained that they were mainly dealt with through the competence of the Ministry of Culture. A new State cultural policy had been adopted last year; the new strategic document was from the years 2021-2025.
PETERS SUNDAY OMOLOGBE EMUZE, Committee Rapporteur for the Czech Republic, thanked the Czech delegation for the frank, constructive and open dialogue, and welcomed developments regarding implementation of the Covenant by the State party. Some remaining challenges included the establishment of a national human rights institution and the gender pay gap, among other issues. It was critical to intensify efforts to address the situation of children and persons with disabilities in institutional facilities. The State party was encouraged to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
ANDREA BARŠOVÁ, Head of the Human Rights Department, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic and Head of Delegation, thanked the Committee for its consideration of the report of the Czech Republic and for the constructive dialogue. The topics raised and the questions were appreciated, as they allowed the Czech Republic to raise its awareness on various issues connected with the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. All those issues would be reflected upon, and the Czech Republic would research ways to improve the situation where necessary, further working on protection against discrimination, and the creation of the national human rights institution, among other goals.
MOHAMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONEIM, Committee Chairperson, thanked the head of delegation for her closing remarks, also thanking every member of the delegation who had contributed to the discussion. He also thanked the country rapporteur and the Committee’s task force on the Czech Republic. Closing the meeting, he wished everyone a nice evening.
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