oday we celebrate Children’s Day. The day we as a nation renew our commitment to the rights of the country’s children. We use it to raise awareness of the rights of children and search for ways and means to overcome our failure to protect and provide a decent future to the children of this country -irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.
While the United Nations Organisation (UNO) has set November 20 as Universal Children’s Day, we in Sri Lanka, celebrate our children on October 1, probably because Children’s Day was first celebrated world-wide in October 1955.
Today, the government will hold countrywide programmes to raise awareness of children’s rights as well as to stress the steps it has taken to ensure the world becomes a better place for our children. Unfortunately we have as yet not been able to achieve this target. Statistics reveal children between the age 0 to 15 form a little over 24% of our population. This means over 5 million of our population is below 15 years of age. And what is their position? How have our children fared?
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its report has hailed our country for its efforts to eliminate child labour, bringing labour prevalence among children down to 1%. It has hailed the country as a ‘beacon of hope’ in South Asia. But the report carried a rider in that 90% of child workers were engaged in hazardous forms of labour.
Reports of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs show 14.4% of late adolescent girls and 13.8% of late adolescent boys reported having been subjected to some form of sexual abuse.
Studies of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) reveal 23.8% of poor children aged between 15 - 16 years are not attending school, indicating 25% of poor children who should be in school have left without even sitting their O/Level exams.
The British Charity, Christian Aid in 2010, estimated that over 10,000 children aged 6-14 were enslaved in brothels, and 10,000 to 12,000 children were trafficked and prostituted by organized crime groups. While the Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health, 2013 estimated that the number of Street Children in the country stood at 15,000.
Compared to countries in South Asia, children in Sri Lanka are comparatively better off. But we cannot be satisfied when nearly ten to twelve thousand of our children live on the streets, 23% of the country’s poor children are forced to drop out of school, 14% of our children -boys and girls- are subject to sexual crimes and children who are engaged in child labour, are employed in hazardous forms of labour. We need to strategise actions within a fixed time frame to end these failures. At the same time we need to remember the numbers of children living in destitution world-wide.
Palestinians displaced from their homes after the State of Israel was carved out of what was Palestinian territory, are among the world’s largest refugee population (around 5 million), and are the worlds longest standing refugees dating back to 1948.
UNICEF figures reveal Palestinian children in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention; with around 30 Palestinian children each year subject to ‘administrative detention’, which means detention for up to six months without charge or trial.
The Syrian civil war, according to UNICEF, found 2017 to be the worst year for young Syrians. 910 children were killed in 2017; 50% more than the previous year. The UN says of the 6.1 million Syrians internally displaced by the civil war, roughly half (2.8 million) are children.
Since August 25 last year, more than 668,000 Rohingya (Muslim population in Myanmar) have fled the country to camps over the Bangladeshi border. Nearly 400,000 of those are children.
Shocking but true, in the US, the world’s richest country, around 15 million children –21% of all children– live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold! These are, but a few figures on the state of the world’s children.
The reality is, despite having signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of November 20, 1989, to most countries, the children of our world are by-and-large not considered important.
Today children have become collateral damage in the search for power and position.