Statement by the delegation of Sri Lanka to the United Nations on Agenda Item 60, Promotion and Protection of the rights of children At the United Nations General Assembly 63rd Session - Third Committee
At the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children in 2002 we all pledged to further strengthen our national action plans and to co-operate globally to build a better and secure world for our Children. Sri Lanka ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it’s optional protocols nearly two decades ago. We have since been very proactive and consistent in taking measures to implement its provisions expeditiously and they remain among our top national development priorities.
Mr. Chairman, Sri Lanka has continued to implement robust social development policies and legal and institutional measures that ensure the promotion and protection of the Rights of Our Children. 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. Children under 18 years constitute 36% of Sri Lanka’s population. One fifth of the population is of School going age. Consistent investments in free education and policies conducive to universal access to education from the primary to university levels have resulted in a literacy rate of 93%, comparable with much higher GNP scenarios. We are on track in reaching the target of universal primary education well before the MDG target dates as we have been steadfast in our commitment to the policies and the system of free education since independence. We are already on par with the MDG’s for primary education, school gender parity and reproductive health services. There has been a sustained decline in child and maternal mortality rates. Universal child immunization is already a reality in Sri Lanka. Once again our free public health system which includes the provision of supplementary food for infants, disease control, access to safe drinking water, sanitation and health education has enabled us to achieve progressively higher levels of child health.
Mr. Chairman, Sri Lanka remains fully committed to ensure the rights of children with disabilities. Priorities in this field include the provision of opportunities for special as well as inclusive education and special health care. Continued efforts are being made to provide greater protection to such children from abuse and neglect. We became a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it opened for signature last year. A comprehensive law is under preparation to enable full compliance with its provisions and to address the particular concerns of all disabled persons.
Several programmes are underway to combat exploitation and abuse of children. The Children and Young Persons Ordinance create offences and imposes heavy penalties for exploitation of children for pornography, sexual exploitation, begging and trafficking. The Penal Code has also been recently amended to provide for enhanced punishments in respect of offences involving sexual exploitation of children. A strict legal regime also exists to protect childrens’ rights upon adoption, in particular with respect to inter-country adoptions. Sri Lanka as a State Party to the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoptions has put in place the necessary substantive and procedural safeguards to prevent any abuse of the Inter-Country adoption process.
Our criminal justice system is geared towards the rehabilitation of child offenders. The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) was established a decade ago to serve as the apex body that would focus attention and provide institutional leadership to the efforts on preventing child abuse, prosecuting offenders, fostering national awareness of children’s rights and providing advice to the Government and in assisting victims of abuse.
The plight and circumstances of Children affected by armed conflict continues to be a matter of grave concern to us all. We noted with appreciation the report of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for children and Armed conflict and welcome the progress achieved by her office in fulfilling its mandate.
The Government of Sri Lanka was instrumental in sensitizing the United Nations to the abhorrent practice of child soldiers some years ago. However, our collective efforts to promote and protect the rights of our children continues to be thwarted by the terror group the LTTE. Notwithstanding the pledges made to the families, the United Nations and others, the LTTE, continues systematic and forcible recruitment of child soldiers. Since 2002 they have recruited 6,273 children. According to UNICEF there are 1415 outstanding cases of Child soldier recruitment by the LTTE. A breakaway faction of this group, the TMVP which has since renounced terrorism and entered the democratic process, has agreed to cooperate with a view to eradicating this abhorrent practice among the non-state groups. This group has already released 39 children and is working with the office of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation to help release the remaining 127.
The Government of Sri Lanka has declared a policy of zero tolerance on Child recruitment by anyone. A national task force has been set up with a mandate to effectively implement this policy through specific and concrete action. The Task Force is working actively and constructively to implement the recommendations of the Special Representative, the Security Council Working Group and the Paris Principles and Commitments. As noted by the Special Representative in her Report to this Session, there has been progress in Sri Lanka in implementing the Action Plan and we hope to build on this work.
Mr. Chairman, the terror group LTTE, however, has not ceased recruitment of Children, nor have they taken steps to release those conscripted despite the usual commitments given to the United Nations. We have often found that this terrorist group’s previous promises to release Child conscripts have been without substance and merely cynical attempts to deflect condemnation. The Government is making every effort to ensure children who have been illegally and forcibly conscripted by this group are afforded avenues of rehabilitation and re-integration.
We also welcome the Special Representatives initiatives in relation to children in post conflict situations. In this context the Government is implementing a comprehensive programme to cater to the re-integration of former child combatants following the clearance of the Eastern Province of LTTE activities. Rehabilitation programmes have been established to facilitate re-integration through family unification, access to education, vocational training, and livelihood generation. Health and psycho-social care have also been introduced to enable the children to resume their normal activities in society. The Government expects that the remaining child conscripts held by the LTTE will also very soon be freed and provided with such facilities by the Government.
In keeping with Sri Lanka’s Long-standing tradition of economic advancement in parallel with social development and social justice, we will continue to ensure the promotion, protection of childrens’ right and welfare, as a key element of our national development plans and strategies.
We stand committed to continue our cooperation with the United Nations in the enhancement of the promotion and protection of rights of children.
Thank you Mr Chairman