|At the Commemorative High-level Plenary Meeting Devoted to the Follow-up to the Outcome of the Special Session on Children by H.E. Prasad Kariyawasam,Permanent Representative and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Delegation|
|Wednesday, 12 December 2007 13:20|
At the historic Special Session of the General Assembly in 2002 our leaders adopted an outcome document – “A World Fit for Children”, setting specific goals and targets for the next decade. Five years on, we meet here to ensure that we do not lose focus in creating that world truly fit for children.
Since Independence, successive governments of Sri Lanka have consistently accorded priority to investing in a better future for our children. Sound policies and legal measures have been introduced for the promotion and protection of the rights of our children. Our aim has been, and continues to be, to give children the best start in life, and ensure that all children have access to the full range of opportunities needed to maximise their potential from early childhood, through learning years and adolescence.
The system of free education and an effective free public health system were introduced during the early post-independence era with the primary aim of benefiting our children. As a result, Sri Lanka continues to record considerable progress in social development despite being a lower middle income country, ranking far above most countries at similar levels of income.
Investment in free access to education from primary school through university has resulted in high rates of enrolment and literacy in Sri Lanka. We are already on par with the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, school gender parity, and reproductive health services. Net primary school enrolment ratio for both boys and girls is over 95%; the proportion reaching grade 5 has exceeded 95%; the literacy rate for 15 to 24 year olds is over 95% for both males and females. Sri Lanka is on track in reaching the target of universal primary education well before 2015. Sri Lanka has already eliminated gender disparity in both primary and junior secondary education, the parity index being nearly 100%. In senior secondary and tertiary levels, the share of girls is even higher than that of boys. There is no disparity in literacy between men and women, the parity being 100.9%.
Child mortality and maternal mortality in Sri Lanka have recorded reductions to levels that are considerably low and comparable with those in some developed countries. Immunization coverage has been sustained at over 80%. About 96% of births occur in health institutions and are attended by skilled personnel.
Despite our best efforts, in cooperation with the international community including UNICEF, to ensure our children a safe and secure childhood, we are faced with formidable challenges arising out of an unbridled violent campaign by a terrorist group. Forced recruitment of children by this group is a major cause of concern. Moreover, larger disruption of the social fabric of Sri Lanka as a result of terrorism has led to the displacement of children and their families giving rise to problems such as increased malnutrition, low birth weight, and anemia, as well as widening regional disparities in access to education, and health.
The Government of Sri Lanka takes these problems very seriously and is taking all possible measures to address them. With resolute commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on child recruitment, steps are being taken to help former child combatants who have escaped or have been released or rescued. Rehabilitation and reintegration of children whose innocent minds have been abused and brainwashed for years by ruthless terrorists, is indeed a challenge for us. The task becomes even more challenging as it also entails ensuring a protective environment for the reintegration of children through successful family reunification, access to health, education, vocational training, income generating activities and psycho-social care. This also involves livelihood support and the upliftment of the standard of living of people who live in areas afflicted by conflict. Towards this end, the Government has launched several projects, in particular in the Eastern Province, and we need continuous support of the international donor community for this objective.
Children are our future. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that we create a safe and secure environment for them to enjoy their childhood. We must therefore, recommit to create a world fit for children that is based on sustainable commitments to provide an environment with security, social justice and economic well being. Such a world can only be created through partnership of all stakeholders all over the world.