Created: Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Statement by Hon. MahindaSamarasinghe
Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the H.E. the President on Human Rights
67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Agenda Item 65 (a, b): Promotion and protection of the rights of children
Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
Children have always had an important place in the socio-cultural life of Sri Lanka and the current focus is on building a succeeding generation who are ready to take over the reins of a new Sri Lanka free from the fear of terrorism. To achieve this, we have integrated into our national development plans several programmes that deal with children, their protection and safety, their health and physical welfare as well as their education and personality development.
On the international plane, we are a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the two Optional Protocols to the CRC. We are also a State Party to the two ILO conventions No. 138 and 182 dealing with child labour. We take our international obligations as seriously as we do our domestic responsibilities – especially with regard to the key area of children and the protection of their rights.
Foremost among our achievements were the rehabilitation and reintegration of child combatants into society following the successful humanitarian operation against terrorist forces,who held nearly 300,000 persons captive – using them as human shields and attempting to create a humanitarian catastrophe. With regard to the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, out of approximately 12,000 persons this Committee will note that as of 1 October 2012, 10,985 persons, which included 594 LTTE child soldiers have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Not a single child combatant remains in rehabilitative care or legal custody today. The GoSL adhered to a policy of not subjecting ex-combatant children to legal proceedings based on the rationale that they were victims and not perpetrators. It must be noted that all child soldiers released were afforded the opportunity of a formal education and that they were reunited with their families. We note with pleasure that Sri Lanka has now been delisted by the UN Secretary-General from Annex II of the UN Security Council Resolution 1612, on Children and Armed Conflict. This is a result of the efforts taken by the GOSL to inquire into several cases on child recruitment and comply with the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and those of the UNSG’s Special Representative. Moreover, 212 former combatants, who were previously pursuing tertiary education were re-inducted into the university system to follow their undergraduate studies. They will be enabled to seek a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.
In the complex situation during and after the last phases of the conflict a number of children among the IDPs were separated from their families. Families displaced from the conflict have been filing tracing requests and reporting missing children to a number of authorities at the District as well as at the national level. In December 2009, in response to the many tracing requests received, the District Secretary/Government Agent of Vavuniya and the Probation and Child Care Commissioner for the Northern Province jointly established a Family Tracing and Reunification (or “FTR”) unit for unaccompanied and separated children, with UNICEF support.
Sri Lanka is continuously updating its legal and regulatory framework to better respect, safeguard and protect the rights of children. Section 358A of the Penal Code has criminalized the worst forms of child labour in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No.182 including debt bondage and serfdom, forced or compulsory labour, and slavery. Women & Children’s Bureau desks were established island wide at Police Stations to provide protection to women and children who have suffered from acts of violence. In areas where such desks are not in existence, arrangements have been made at each Police Station to assign female officers to cater to the needs of women and child complainants. In 2008, a Bill titled “The Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses” was drafted, approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, and was presented to Parliament. A new Bill has been redrafted incorporating the recommendations made. The proposed law contains separate and special provisions pertaining to child victims of crime and child witnesses.
In conformity with Article 28(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, strict instructions have been issued to schools, via Circulars in 2001 and 2005, to prohibit the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary method. Such punishment may also give rise to legal sanction for subjecting children to cruelty under section 308(a) of the Penal Code. School Child Protection Committees (SCPC), Village Alert Groups set up by The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and Village Committees set up by Department of Probation and Child Care services are used to focus on issues relating to offences against children. The NCPA has commenced pilot activities in this connection including training for teachers in counseling on a pilot basis and, thus far, 447 SCPCs have been established and 1,200 teachers have been trained.
Legislation was also passed on a number of areas to strengthen children’s rights and enhance their protection. New laws include the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No. 34 of 2005 which provides for protection orders to be urgently obtained to safeguard those suffering and at risk of domestic violence, including bothwomen and children and the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act No. 8 of 2003. This Act strengthened child labour laws by increasing the minimum age of employment from 12 to 14 years, and prohibiting the employment of children under 14 while enhancing the sentence for violation of this provision. This is in conformity with the compulsory age of education for children which is 14.
Several other measures have been taken with regard to the prevention and punishment of trafficking in persons and their exploitation. The Attorney General’s Department maintains a separate unit called the Prosecution of Child Abuse Offenders Unit to expedite the institution of criminal proceedings against persons accused of having committed all forms of abuse of children. A new National Project has been launched to enhance the efficacy of the criminal justice response to child abuse to better protect the rights of children in the country. The resources for the project are provided by the GoSL and UNICEF.
The overarching National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (NHRAP) has a specific thematic section on children. This is a plan devised as a result of our engagement with the Universal Periodic Review Process, our engagement with treaty bodies and special procedure mechanisms of the UN system. Most importantly this plan is a consolidation of Government responses and initiatives to implement national policy priorities. Our plan ranges from focusing on health and nutrition, protection of vulnerable children, juvenile justice, children affected by armed conflict, adolescent health and wellbeing, early childhood care and development, education, child labour and alternative care. It also addresses macro-issues such as discrimination, right to leisure, coordination among stakeholders and duty bearers and constitutional recognition of child rights. Going forward, we need to build on our considerable successes of the past and ensure that our most precious resource: our children are protected, empowered and equipped to face the future and take ownership and leadership of Sri Lanka’s collective future.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.