Statement by H.E. Major General Shavendra Silva, Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, on children in conflict zones at “ The day of the child” seminar organized by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations- 14th June 2011.

I am indeed honoured to be invited for this important forum. I thank the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations and Ms. Ugoji Adanma Eze for organizing this important and timely discussion.

Before I focus on the situation of our children in the former conflict zones and in the country in general, I would like to provide some background to the overall policy and implementation context in the area of the rights of the child.

Sri Lanka was among one of the first State Parties to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990.

However, for six decades since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka sustained a strong sectoral and a holistic approach to providing services for children.  This approach resulted in ensuring more than satisfactory levels of child survival, growth and development as well as protection.  Sri Lanka therefore, achieved child rights goals in an incremental, gradual as well as sustained manner rather than through sudden change.  This approach registered more concrete and transformational  change as evidenced by the country’s excellent social and health indicators.

UNICEF had commended Sri Lanka in its publication entitled, “Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity”, Number 9, September 2010. I quote - “Sri Lanka’s experience is among the most compelling. Since the country gained independence in 1948, successive governments have maintained a focus on primary health care, especially maternal and child health in rural areas, ensuring free provision of basic services and supporting community-based initiatives. High levels of funding, equitably distributed, have resulted in the best indicators for child and maternal health and access to primary health care in South Asia” – end quote.

The institutional framework for implementation of the UNCRC comprise the National Committee on Child Rights, The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Social Services, The Ministry of Health, The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Child Protection Authority. The totality of this institutional framework (inter-ministerial) along with their capacity of services relevant to child rights, provide the multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral mechanisms for ensuring child welfare and protection.

In 2006, a single committee termed the District Child Development Committee was established to monitor the implementation of the UNCRC, which combined child protection with early childhood care and development.

These are Sri Lanka’s key Maternal and Infant Health Indicators:

Over 92.2% of pregnant mothers deliver in institutions, and a further 5% deliver with trained midwifery care in homes. Thus maternal mortality is low.

87% of women are literate.

Maternal mortality is 14.3 per 100,000 live births (2002).

Infant mortality 11.17 per 1,000 live births (2003).

Under five mortality 13.39 per 1,000 live births (2002).

Women live longer than men (men -70.3 years & Women 77.6 years).

Girls marry late (24.6 years) boys (27.9 years).

Polio was eradicated in 1993.

Universal Child Immunization coverage against Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Measles.

I will now provide a Statistical Snapshot of Sri lanka’s Primary Education Indicators:

Over 93% (4.3 million) children, both boys and girls, have access to free primary education. They are covered by a social safety net that also includes free health and provision of free uniforms and school text books.

Drop-outs occur at grade 5 with a higher percentage for boys than girls.

Education made compulsory/mandatory through an Act of Parliament in 1997.

Quality of education is now given greater emphasis.

Corporal punishment is banned in schools.

Remaining Health concerns include low birth weight (one in five new borns), anemia (Iron Deficiency) and acute/chronic under-nutrition (in selected areas)

During almost three decades of combating terrorism in our country, we took utmost care to draw a clear distinction between civilians and terrorists.  Successive Governments had ensured a continuous supply of essential goods and services such as food, free health services and education to the Tamil civilians including mothers and children in the North and the East of the country over the twenty seven years of the conflict.

Sri Lanka engaged closely with the international community and related human rights and humanitarian mechanisms, the UN Agencies, the ICRC and local and international NGOs to facilitate the provision of the needs of civilians in terrorist controlled areas, despite the constraints imposed by logistical and security needs.  This close cooperation has extended to the aftermath of the conflict, in providing for the needs of the displaced population, in their resettlement and reconstruction.

Sri Lanka’s experience in ensuring the overall wellbeing of children in conflict zones in unique. I say this because even during the height of the conflict the Government agreed for a ceasefire to ensure that the national qualifying examinations (Grade 10 Ordinary Level Examination and the Grade 12 Advanced Level Examinations) were held in the conflict zones to enable students to sit for these two examinations every year. This also included the uninterrupted holding of the Grade 5 National Scholarship Examination in these areas.

Sri Lanka is also unique because once again we were able to agree to cease hostilities to ensure that polio vaccinations were given to the in the conflict zones.

In the post-conflict phase, the Ministry of Health has implemented a Nutrition Rehabilitation Programme for the displaced population living in the post-conflict areas.  This has helped to reduce acute under nutrition in children under 5 years from 36% to 13%; and severely wasted    children were reduced from 8.8% to 1.1% due to targeted therapeutic training programmes. 

I will now focus on children affected by the conflict:

The end of the conflict on May 18, 2009 eliminated forcible LTTE child recruitment for combat.

60% of the LTTE’s fighting force from 1983 - 2002 were boys and girls under 18 years.

UNICEF recorded over 5,700 cases of child recruitment by the LTTE from 2003 to 2009. This represents a third of the actual.

Between 1983 and 2002, services for children were provided by the Provincial and District level infrastructure with support from the Central Government and organizations such as UNICEF.

A special Gazette issued by H.E. the President of Sri Lanka on Child Rehabilitation, was based on the UNCRC and the Paris Principles.

594 child combatants (231 girls and 363 boys between 12-18 years) surrendered to Government forces at the end of the conflict. These children, who were placed in institutional rehabilitation received access to education, vocational training, heath care and psychosocial support.

Adopting the principle of restorative justice and not retributive justice, following their rehabilitation process they were all reunited with their families.  These institutionally rehabilitated former child soldiers are continuing community-based rehabilitation and reintegration.

In conclusion I would like to add that in order to make Child Rights a reality -

more than ratification and monitoring, Government’s need to implement child rights and respond to their needs and those of their families, especially among the poor and the marginalized.

Provision of free health care and food subsidies makes a difference in student retention levels. 

Reducing gender disparities and increasing literacy among women, directly impacts on children.

Access to Health and Education and poverty reduction are fundamental.

Domestic violence negatively impacts on the realization of child rights.

Link donor assistance with UN/CRC, Optional Protocols and Concluding Observations.

NGOs/INGOs working with Government institutions need to ensure policy coherence sustainability of interventions.

Linking poverty reduction to Child Protection would be meaningful.

Implementing both the UNCRC and CEDAW in equal measure increases positive dividends for children.

Establishing a child rights data base is critical.

I thank you.

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