State of the World's Children 2006
Don’t leave Sri Lanka’s children “excluded and invisible”
Colombo, 20 December 2005 - Ms. JoAnna VanGerpen, UNICEF Representative, joined by Sri Lanka youth and experts, launched the State of the World Children Report 2006: Excluded and Invisible in Sinhala and Tamil. The event took place at the Children and Youth Centre in Pettah, Colombo today. The launch opened with a welcome speech delivered by a 13 year-old girl, Duvanicka Harshani.
This centre supports 30-40 children in vulnerable situations including some street children under the guidance of the State Child Protection Authorities. Duvanicka explained: “We get help to do our home work here. We learn dancing, music and computer skills. I’m very happy here. I told other children to come here, too!”
Introducing the report, Ms. VanGerpen explained: “Across the world, due to poverty, HIV/AIDS, armed conflict, weak governance and discrimination, millions of children are excluded from essential services and deprived of protection from abuse and exploitation. We have to pay extra attention and make additional efforts to reach out to children who are invisible to the systems because they lack a birth certificate or the protection and support by responsible parents and the society.”
The situation of Sri Lanka’s “excluded and invisible” children was presented by Sri Lanka experts and a young activist.
The situation of child abuse in Sri Lanka was explained by Dr. Kalyani Guruge, who works with children who suffer from various kinds of abuse including physical abuse, psychological abuse and sexual abuse. She stated: “We adults must make time to listen to children carefully. You can see a child in front of you, but abuse is often hidden and invisible.”
Ms. Nandanie De Silva, who has been promoting inclusive education for the children with special needs for the last thirty years, pointed out the negative attitude towards children with special needs. The lack of awareness about inclusive education among the public, educators, parents and children themselves hinder progress in Sri Lanka. She also emphasized the importance of coordination among service providers, who tend to deliver compartmentalized services.
Mr. J.A.Abdul Manaf, Director-General, Shade explained the difficult environment in which children of internally displaced families have been growing up. At internally displaced persons’camps, it is not rare for children to deal with suicide, alcoholic parents, domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse and even sexual abuse in some cases. Many children feel unsafe and un- cared for. He pointed out: “Parents are not in a good position to look after their children as they are still coping with their bad experiences due to the war. What few coping mechanisms still in place are deteriorating because the internally displaced families have lived in a difficult situation for many years.” He called for empowering children through participation, support to the families and community mobilization against child abuse.
Mr. Rusiru Tharindra Abeyasinghe, a 19 tear-old activist against commercial sexual exploitation of children, quoted the estimated figure of child sex workers in Sri Lanka as between 10,000 and 30,000, according to the regional conference supported by UNICEF held in Colombo in 2004. He explained that a misconception that “boys do not suffer from sexual abuse as much as girls” is behind a large proportion of boys working as sex workers. In order to prevent youth falling into commercial sexual exploitation, he has been promoting youth-to-youth activities in Sri Lanka for the last two years. He stated: “You need not fear about the commitment of us, the youth in working on an issue such as commercial sexual exploitation of children… It is us who will take the country forward into the future and commercial sexual exploitation is eating away our peers. We the youth of this country believe that commercial sexual exploitation is a parasite, which should be permanently flushed out of our country.”
Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, Chair person of the National Child Protection Authority, summarized the report’s relevance to Sri Lanka. She acknowledged shyness, stigmatization, fear and shame cause many children and families in Sri Lanka to suffer silently. She stated; “It is well known that most of the violations of the protection rights of children occur at home by close family members. Abuse occurs at all levels of the social strata. It crosses ethnic and religious boundaries. It also occurs in schools.” She touched upon issues including children in conflict with laws, child labour, children affected by HIV/AIDS in addition to the issues addressed by previous speakers. She recommended the following action points:
For further information, please contact:
Junko Mitani, UNICEF Sri Lanka 011-255-5270 ext. 305 firstname.lastname@example.org