Created: Monday, 17 March 2014
The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York in collaboration with the government of Sweden, The UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision, and The Child Fund Alliance, hosted a panel discussion on the sidelines of the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women on the topic “Prevention of Violence against Girls and Boys”. The discussion focused on the impact of violence against girls and boys.
The Panelists included the hon. Ms. Maria Arnholm, Minister of Gender Equality of Sweden, H.E. Dr. Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, the Hon. Bess Nungarrayi Price, Northern Territory Minister for Women (Australia) and Mr. Mark Canavera of the Child Protection in Crisis Network of Columbia University.
In his remarks, Ambassador Kohona said that “The guiding philosophy of Sri Lanka has been to place children at the center of policy making” and that successive governments of Sri Lanka considered young people to be the “Agents of Development”. “They are a precious asset to be protected and fostered.” He also highlighted that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the world to become party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Before concluding, Ambassador Kohona invited the participants to attend the World Conference on Youth 2014 in Sri Lanka which aimed to ensure that youth, adolescents and children were mainstreamed in the development policies for decades to come.
(The following is the complete statement by Ambassador Kohona)
Statement by Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
12th March 2014, Church Center, New York
“Violence against Girls and Boys”
Nelson Mandela once said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." Nelson Mandela’s words are a profound guide to all of us. Countries have undertaken many measures to ensure the future of their children. But we have a long way to go. Sri Lanka, as a developing country, has done much to ensure a safe and sustainable present and future for all our children.
The guiding philosophy of Sri Lanka has been to place children at the center of policy making. We consider young people as the “Agents of Development” in our National Policy framework. They are a precious asset to be protected and fostered.
As a country that has always emphasized education and skills development, Sri Lanka has one of the highest literacy rates in South Asia at 92.3 per cent for males and 90 percent for females. The country has achieved gender parity in primary schools and gross enrolment rates at primary level is close to 100 per cent. The completion rate in primary education is 89.9 per cent and the survival rate is 99.5 per cent for both girls and boys. Many schools provide the books, uniforms and the mid-day meals to students. Sri Lanka introduced a state funded free education system in 1945. As a result, we have a good track record on the Millennium Development Goals. (MDGs 2 and 3)
Similarly the country also has a state funded free health care system contributing significantly to the well being of our children. Tremendous gains have been recorded in reducing the number of children who die from preventable causes. The country is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals related to child mortality, maternal health and HIV and AIDS. The infant mortality rate (under 1) stands at 8 deaths per 1,000 live births (2012). Almost all children are immunized. HIV prevalence is under 0.1% and the maternal mortality ratio is 35 per 100,000 births (2010). This compares well with the rest of South Asia and in, some cases, with developed countries. Challenges relating to quality and the equitable distribution of human resources and services between districts still exist, however, the government is acutely conscious of these needs. UNICEF has been an active partner in addressing these issues.
In addition, the number of underweight children under the age of five has decreased from 34% in 1987 to 13% in 2012. Malnutrition continues to be a cause for concern, with one out of seven children below the age of five suffering and five children out of 100 at risk of acute malnutrition. In addition, 17 in 100 babies born in the country have low birth weight, and out of these, 50% are underweight.
The Government’s November 2010 Budget highlighted the need to address poor nutrition among vulnerable children and women as a priority. Nutrition improvement is a priority for achieving social equity. The president himself overseas the task force on child nutrition.
In terms of water, sanitation and hygiene, over 90% of the country’s households have access to potable water and 91% to adequate sanitation, but there are disparities between regions and urban /rural areas. Universal hygiene education and access to water and separate toilets for boys and girls in schools is also an issue, along with the quality of water.
In terms of protecting children’s rights, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the world to become party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The National Child Protection Authority is responsible for the welfare of children. Mechanisms to ensure justice for children, prevention of child sexual abuse and violence against children, along with building a systemic approach to child protection, continues to be strengthened. As a result of the low age (8 years) of criminal responsibility, children are often caught up in a justice system that has limited diversion programmes for minor offences and makes them wait on average six years before their cases are heard.
Sri Lanka went through two IDP related experiences in recent years. In 2003, the Indian Ocean Tsunami displaced over a million people. The Government took extensive care to ensure that tsunami orphans were protected, including by strengthening the laws relating to adoptions designed to dissuade any trafficking in children. In 2009, over 297,000 were displaced at the end of the internal conflict. Addressing the humanitarian needs of IDPs and returnee communities in conflict affected areas in the North and East has been a priority for the Government, the UN and other civil society partners. The government addressed the needs of the IDPs, in particular, the children, through a range of mechanisms.
• Nearly 400,000 people, including those who had not been displaced, were reached on mine associated risks through community-based dramas, school activities and media awareness-raising. Unlike in many other post-conflict countries, mine related injuries were minimal in Sri Lanka.
• People in IDP camps were provided with safe drinking water, including children attending schools in the camps. The Government took measures to ensure that the children continued their schooling in the camps while their own schools were being restored.
• Internally displaced children have now been returned to their own schools. 1630 schools in the former conflict affected areas have been restored.
• Nearly 50,000 children are supported through community-based structures, such as children’s clubs, safe play areas, and village child rights monitoring committees. Women’s and children’s Police Desks, staffed with women police officers, have been established in the former conflict affected areas. They are linked to the Child Protection Authority.
• Nutritional status of returnee children under five years of age has improved and is now similar to the nutritional status of children elsewhere.
• 594 child combatants were taken into custody by the Security Forces at the end of the conflict. These were all that remained of the 5700+ children recruited by the LTTE. All those who were taken into custody have been rehabilitated and returned to their families. 273 attended high school at the Colombo Hindu College of which 35 opted to continue studies there. Others have returned to their own villages.
Children, growing up without adequate parental care, is also an emerging issue of concern in Sri Lanka. It is estimated that there are also over 12,000 children who are in institutional care.
As a result of the armed conflict, there are many female-lead households in the country, especially in the North and the East. Providing those widows with support to self-employment and empowering them with entrepreneurial skills remain a challenge to the government. They are also required to care for their children.
More than a million people, half of them women, are reported to have migrated from Sri Lanka to find work abroad and concerns exist about adequate care for their children left behind. A study in 2008 revealed that nearly 48% of women who migrate abroad in search of work, leave behind children under the age of six.
The children left behind are vulnerable to issues such as negligence, violence and abuse in the absence of their mothers. They experience emotional problems and are more likely to drop out of school. There are reported cases of child abuse and violation of child rights in the country, and it is plausible that this is associated with the phenomenon of mother migration which cannot be ignored. Sri Lanka abolished child labour many years ago and has been complemented by the ILO for adopting a strict policy on child labour.
Under the supervision of the National Child Protection Authority there are three categories of public officers contributing together in legal interventions related to child protection in Sri Lanka, Police Officers, Investigators and Legal Officers. They,
• Provid legal advice and support in the following areas:
o victims of child abuse
o tsunami affected children
o child victims of Domestic Violence
• Coordinate legal support in child labour issues,
• Raise awareness through the dissemination of knowledge and skills on child rights and child-related legislation, issues on compulsory education, etc. IT is compulsory for children to attend school till the age of 14.
• Record the statements of victims of child abuse to be submitted to the Courts as evidence.
There is a Special Investigation Unit in the Department of Police designated to enforce the laws to protect children island wide. They are handpicked officers, well trained and sensitized in the field of child protection attached to the National Child Protection Authority. These officers are not in uniform in order to approach children in a friendly manner. They investigate and enforce the law based on complaints received. The Special Police Investigation Unit has special powers to investigate complaints relating to child abuse in any part of the island.
They also monitor the progress of all investigations and criminal proceedings relating to child abuse. In Sri Lanka, child trafficking is a crime subjected to a mandatory jail term.
We now have “ No 1929” - The telephone helpline for children in Sri Lanka. It can be used free of charge through any telecoms provider, from anywhere in the country, at any time of the day, any day of the week, in the Sinhala/ Tamil/English languages. It receives information on child abuse and maltreatment and refers complaints to the appropriate law enforcement agencies for necessary action. It also offers confidential telephone counseling services to children with any problem. “1929” responds not only to the emergency needs of the children but also links them to appropriate services for their long-term care and rehabilitation. Information gathered through ’1929′ is referred for investigation and appropriate relief provided by various government offices dealing with child protection. The progress of these relief mechanisms is closely supervised by the sensitive and well trained staff of the NCPA, ensuring that the best interests of the child are kept uppormost.
Sri Lanka is now preparing to host the World Conference on Youth 2014 in Colombo this May, with the participation of over 1500 young people and policy makers. Consistent with GA resolutions 66/121 and 68/130, the main objective of the conference will be to provide an inclusive platform for young people from all over the world to come together, share their concerns and experiences and develop a consensus on how youth should be incorporated in designing, implementing and following-up the Post 2015 Development Agenda. The anticipated outcome document of the Conference, the “Colombo Youth Declaration”, is expected to create the basis for an inter-generational dialogue through its joint endorsement by young people and policy makers.
I would like to invite all of you to this unique event and ecpress support for a strong outcome which will ensure the participation of youth, adolescents and children in the development of policies in the decades to come.
I thank you.