For the sake of children and youth in SL

30 July 2015 03:52 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Many Sri Lankans, in particular children and youth, have suffered enough over the last several decades due to political conflict and myopic politics, the  latter often driven by naked self interest and the lack of any vision on the part of many political leaders. Today we are in a position to reflect on our past and recent experiences and decide for ourselves as to how we should manage public affairs in the country in order to achieve our national goals. The lack of good governance in the recent past allowed politicians to take the upper hand in almost everything, often sidelining public officials, experts, intellectuals, civil society organizations, law enforcement officers, etc., in particular those who were not politically aligned with them. The result was the mismanagement or subversion of public institutions, making many of them dysfunctional. In the absence of a clear direction for the economy, public funds were diverted into useless and wasteful projects resulting in many opportunity costs. Many people, in particular youths had to migrate overseas looking for lucrative employment. Expansion of the informal sector often by default helped many to find sources of income but these did not ensure  income or social security. In the absence of parents for extended periods of time due to overseas employment, an increasing proportion of children and adolescents have been exposed to unnecessary risks such as possible abuse and neglect.

 Meanwhile, inadequate public investments in social infrastructure such as education, health and public transport have resulted in a decline in the quality of such services, encouraging the affluent to rely on privately funded services. Increasing income inequalities have made the situation worse over the years. Children and youth belonging to lower income groups, particularly in peripheral areas continue to suffer most due to the above circumstances. While many poor children suffer from malnutrition, compromising their physical and intellectual development, underprivileged youth leave school early to find casual employment in the informal sector or leave the country for temporary employment overseas. This is not what these children and youth deserve in a country that has enjoyed relative peace for over six years following a disastrous war.

As is well known, it is the ethnic conflict that hampered the process of economic and social development in the country in the recent past. The end of the war however has not led to reconciliation among ethnic groups. This is partly due to the absence of any concerted effort to bring about ethnic reconciliation and partly due to persisting resistance to national reconciliation on the part of extremist groups and ethnic entrepreneurs, in particular those belonging to the majority community. On the other hand, if we were to move beyond ethnic politics and get on with a national reconstruction effort, we have no choice but to make every effort to bring about national unity.

 Future prospects of children and youth in this country would depend not just on economic development and regular employment that ensure economic security but also on equitable and easy access to quality education, good health facilities and  social security. Market forces alone cannot create  such conditions. The state has to play a critical role in creating a conducive environment for productive investment and human resource development. In this regard, upgrading the skill base of younger generations is a pre-requisite for the next stage of economic development as labour intensive production is no longer an option for the country.  Cheap labour is a rare commodity in Sri Lanka today.

 Given the above state of affairs, we cannot afford to continue with politics as usual. The country needs a new class of politicians who have the capabilities to make a significant contribution to resolving complex issues in a modern society. Given the devolved system of government that we have in this country today, national level politicians cannot have a provincial mentality and always think about their local ethno-religious communities. 

Such politicians should not be encouraged to go beyond local council politics. National Parliament is a forum where complex national issues need to be taken up for discussion and debate with a view to formulating national policies, strategies and laws to address them in an effective manner. This sort of exercise demands the application of new knowledge derived from diverse sources. A case in point is the impact of climate change on the environment, natural resources and health. There are many other issues which are equally complex. It is high time that the general public is informed by the media of these new realities so that they can figure out what kind of persons they should vote into power. But, the media institutions have not done enough to enlighten the general public on these lines. As a result, many politicians can easily get away with their outdated political rhetoric and hope to garner enough popular support to win parliamentary seats. Unless the people in this country vote to change this situation, many parents will see a bleak future for their young children. 

It is high time that they think about the future of their children rationally and vote for a person who is likely to make a contribution to the betterment of the country. Children deserve a better future in their own country, not necessarily somewhere else. It is the responsibility of the adults not just to bring children into this world but contribute to creating a socio-political environment that is conducive for their advancement and well-being. In modern democracies, they have the opportunity to do so.   

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