There are six serious problems affecting the six million children of Sri Lanka, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In a dialogue with the media held in Colombo recently, UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative Tim Sutton outlined the six major issues confronting our children, in the fields of nutrition, education, poverty, physical punishment, peace and inclusion and of course, climate change. However, the UN agency does not intend to stop at just detailing these critical issues. Instead, the event was a call for action, urging all 35 presidential candidates to commit to addressing and resolving these issues.
As the battle for presidency rages, dominating dialogues across the country, UNICEF attempts to shine light on the rights of our children and make it one of the central issues at the heart of this discussion. Launching the campaign titled “Ara Wade: A vote for children” the UNICEF country representative highlighted that the forthcoming presidential election is a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka to ensure that children are at the centre of its vision for the future.
“We hope to support and encourage the people to focus on the rights of children, the issues that are holding our children back, encouraging them to discuss and ask our leaders to take these issues forward, as we move forward with a new president and a new government, eventually in 2020,” Sutton explained.
2019 marks 30 years since Sri Lanka pledged to protect and fulfil the Rights of Children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Sutton noted that Sri Lanka had a proud history of prioritising the needs and rights of children embodied in its commitment to the CRC, which the government of Sri Lanka has reviewed since July, signing up to the global pledge to recommit itself to the CRC.
“We’ve made real gains for the children in healthcare, education and poverty, over the years by many different governments, in times of war, conflict and peace. Yet we know, there are still many children who aren’t able to lead a happy healthy life and aren’t able to live to their full potential,” he said.
UNICEF officials present at the event elaborated that the national presidential election provides the country’s leadership with an opportunity to recommit to addressing these needs. It also provides the public an opportunity to understand the challenges facing our children and to commit to addressing these challenges. They have the power and the responsibility to ensure that action is taken, they noted, adding that their message is not targeted at any particular political party.
1. Nutrition is a fundamental building block of a child’s life and the cornerstone of each child’s development as a healthy and productive adult.
Yet, Sri Lanka is one of the ten worst lower-middle-income countries in the world for childhood wasting.
Sri Lanka ranks below its neighbours in Nepal, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan. 15.1 percent of Sri Lankan children under age five suffer from wasting. One in six children experiences stunting and
2. Sri Lankan students spend more time in school than any other country in South Asia.
Yet 11 percent of students drop out between grades 5 and 9. Some 80,000 students fail O/L exams while another 70,250 students fail their A/L exams.
70 percent of employers do not believe that the general education system produces young adults with the skills that they need to succeed in the modern workplace. Sri Lanka invests less than 2 percent of its GDP annually on education, lower than most middle-income countries.
3. Despite lifting millions of people from the clutches of extreme poverty, varying poverty levels from across the country limit the opportunities for millions of our children. In 16 out of 25 Sri Lankan districts, child poverty rates are higher than overall poverty rates. People in rural areas are twice as likely to be poor as opposed to those in urban areas, rising to five times in the estate sector.
4. Indisputable scientific evidence shows that corporal punishment is extremely damaging to the development of children who suffered from it and also to children who witnessed such punishment. Yet corporal punishment is still common and legal in homes, schools and communities across the country. A study in Galle, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa and Colombo districts revealed that 74 percent of the parents use some form of corporal punishment. 80.4 percent of schoolchildren have experienced at least one episode of corporal within the last 10-12 weeks in 2017, according to the National Child Protection Authority.
5. Peace and cohesion are integral to a prosperous and stable country. Yet schools continue to be segregated along ethnic and religious lines 91.8 percent of schools offer instruction only in Sinhala (62.2%) or Tamil (29.6%). The majority of the children does not learn a second national language although or English as a link language.
Education can be used so much more effectively to promote peace and build the national Sri Lankan identity.
6. Sri Lanka is ranked the second most vulnerable country in the world to the effects of Climate Change. Yet 30 percent of the population suffers the most from the direct impact of extreme weather which impacts their health, education, future life prospects.
According to the UNICEF representative, anecdotal evidence exists, that the last major drought particularly across the dry zones, has caused an uptick in child marriage, simply because families cannot afford to feed their female children. The 2016/17 droughts were the worst in 40 years, reducing the national agricultural output by 53 percent. Preparing communities to be more resilient is a critical challenge for the children of the island.
Making your vote count for every child Six million children of Sri Lanka cannot vote. But you can make a difference by visiting the website dedicated to this campaign www.arawade.lk.
The website allows you to ask all 35 presidential candidates via an online letter, to commit to resolve these issues faced by the future generation of Sri Lanka if they are elected to the highest office of the country.