Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona,
Ambassador & Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to The United Nations
65th session of the UNGA-3rd Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Culture
Agenda Item 64: (a) Promotion and Protection of the Rights of The Child &
(b) Follow up to the outcome to the special session on children
 Assembly on 15th October 2010

“If a society can be built, that considers its children as treasures,
if we adults, could see the world through the eyes of our Children,
and, if we could do what is right for our children,
The world will be a place fit for all of us.”


Mr Chairman,
Distinguish Colleagues,
 
At the outset permit me to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of  UNICEF, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Yanghee Lee, and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat M'jid Maallaon, for their valuable briefings to this Committee and for the remarkable work done  within their respective  mandates.  Their work will contribute to our efforts to create a fit world for our children.

Mr. Chairman,

Since the adoption of the Declaration and Plan of Action of the 2002 Special Session on Children, significant progress has occurred in the four priority areas; promoting healthy lives; providing quality education for all; protecting children against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS. However, as we have heard from the distinguished panelists, much remains to be accomplished. As the Secretary-General’s report on the “Follow-up to the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children” has highlighted, the global economic crisis posed unique challenges, which threaten to halt or reverse progress in realizing the above goals.

Mr. Chairman,
 
We are confronted with the challenge of addressing without delay the future of children living in least developed countries, where half of the population comprises children less than 18 years of age. We need to act with a sense of urgency to halt the over four million deaths of children under five years of age, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. We are challenged to work together to open the doors for education, for over 75 million primary-school aged children in South Asia.  As the UNICEF has highlighted, we are challenged to ensure equity across all regions and sectors in addressing the more pressing needs of our children.  We need to learn from each others’ experience and genuinely commit ourselves to implement what we have agreed. We cannot and must not fail in this endeavour.

Mr. Chairman,

Allow me to quote what UNICEF has to say on one success story from a small developing country - Sri Lanka.  Ours is not only a story from a developing country struggling to improve the lot of its children. It is also the reflection of the determination of a nation to address social issues while successfully withstanding and defeating all odds in a long drawn out conflict against terrorism.


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 of quote
 
Mr. Chairman,

The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets the baseline for our commitments to secure a better world for our children. Since the ratification of the Convention two decades ago, Sri Lanka has undertaken concerted measures to implement its provisions on a priority basis. We have introduced robust social development policies and legal and institutional measures that ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of our children. Children under 18 years constitute 36% of Sri Lanka’s twenty million population. 1/4th of the total population is of school going age. Our aim has been and continues to be to ensure that all our children have equitable access to the full range of opportunities needed to maximize their potential and to provide them a safe, secure and protective environment during every stage of their development.  Schooling has been a priority.

Few weeks ago, we presented our third and fourth periodic reports before the Committee on the Rights of the child in Geneva and the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs is in the process of setting up a CRC Monitoring Committee, in order to ensure early follow up on the recommendations of the CRC. As a further manifestation of our commitment to the CRC and strengthen its work, Sri Lanka has presented Dr. Mrs. Hiranthi Wijemanne, an experienced medical doctor and a social worker with over 40 years experience on child rights,  in the field and with UNICEF, as a candidate for the forthcoming election to the CRC. 

Mr. Chairman

Sri Lanka was among one of the first UN Member States that volunteered to set up a National Task Force in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 1539 and 1612 to monitor and report on child conscription for armed combat.  Sri Lanka closely cooperated with the office of the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict and with UNICEF in implementing a zero tolerance policy on child recruitment. Since the end of our conflict in May last year, the Government of Sri Lanka is pleased to underline that, in post-conflict Sri Lanka, there is no situation of child recruitment for the purpose of combat, in any part of the Country. Also, a new beginning for all former child combatants has been ensured as the Government has begun an intensive rehabilitation and reintegration process for these children on the basis that they were unfortunate victims and not offenders. A total of 667 former child soldiers, 316 boys and 351 girls, have been put through a one year rehabilitation programme involving psycho-social counseling, spiritual guidance, special education and vocational training.  All these children have now been reintegrated with their families and communities. This has been done to put into practice, the concept of “Bring Back the Child”.

Sri Lanka’s commitment to children is reflected in the massive investment that successive governments had made in education since independence in 1948.  Education from Kindergarten to University is state funded and free.  The Government also provides some of the school books, uniforms and a mid-day meal.  As a result, recruitment to primary schools stands around 97.5% and literacy among children between the ages 15 – 24 is around 95%.  The ratio of girls to boys in primary education reached 99% in 2007.  With 20.3% of the country’s population having access to a computer, already our children will be able to freely benefit from the world of knowledge.  3500 schools have computer centres.  Similarly, the Government has invested heavily in the health sector.  Healthcare is funded by the Government and is free of charge from birth to death.  Sri Lanka’s child mortality rate stands around 11.3 per 1000 births and maternal mortality rate according to the Registrar of Births and Deaths is 39.3 per 100,000 births. 

Mr. Chairman

Sri Lanka believes in the implementation of approaches which are practical in the Sri Lankan context, and which are implementable in achieving child rights goals in an incremental and gradual, as well as a sustained, manner, rather than through the introduction of sudden change. It is considered that such an approach would register more concrete and transformational change. A more multi disciplinary approach with the child as the focus is being adopted through inter-ministerial and multi sectoral mechanisms supported by high level political commitment.  In keeping with the above policy, Sri Lanka enacted several pieces of legislation, namely; 
The Penal code (Amendment) Act No 16 of 2006 which, inter alia, makes it a penal offence to recruit and engage a child for use in armed combat, in child labour, child trafficking and child pornography via the electronic medium;

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No 34 of 2005 which provides protection orders to safeguard both children and women.
 
The Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act No 8 of 2003 which increases the minimum age of employment from 12 to 14 years and enhance penalties for violations. This is in accordance with the age of completing compulsory education, which is also 14 years.
The Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act No 24 of 2006 which prohibits the employment of any person under the age of 18 years in any hazardous occupation. 
 
The National plan of Action for Children (2010-2015) to address geographical disparities and meet the needs of care and protection of children in conflict affected areas, as well as improve the overall coordinating mechanism of the plan involving the National Planning Department of the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

The National Policy on Disability in 2001 which promotes an inclusive approach to education for children with disabilities.
 
A single committee termed the “District Child Development Committee”, has been established to monitor the early childhood care and development.

In 2006, Sri Lanka adopted the national plan of action to address child sex tourism as well as the formulation of a code of conduct for the Protection of Children from sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism trade which requires a more active involvement of the tourism industry. The National child helpline set up in 2008 was a result of this. For the purpose of initiating the administration of juvenile justice, Colombo has established one juvenile court and has provided training to judges on the provisions of the CRC.  On August 27th 2010, the Colombo Juvenile court ordered the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) to ban pornographic websites and movies with adult content.

Mr. Chairman

Having explained the initiatives taken by the Government, both at policy and regulatory levels, permit me to highlight a time-tested formula in making a pertinent difference in the life of a child. As the UNICEF has correctly identified, it is by ensuring solid early childhood care and education. This concept is naturally ingrained in some societies which cherish close family and cultural ties. In the Buddhist philosophy which has influenced our society from early times, it is stated “Puttha vasthu manussanam” – which translates as, “A child is a treasure”.

Mr. Chairman,

If a society can be built, that considers its children as treasures,
if we adults, could see the world through the eyes of our Children,
 and, if we could do what is right for our children,
The world will be a place fit for all of us.

I thank you,

 


 

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