Sri Lanka’s adolescents are often under considerable stress. Most enjoy the comfort, safety and security of a parental home within the traditional family structure. But outside the home, they face highly competitive examinations, and limited employment opportunities. Ultimately they have to find their place in an increasingly complex society that has been marred by decades of violence.
Adolescents today face distinctive problems, notably access to education, the difficulty in finding employment, concerns over reproductive health and the need to participate more fully in decision making.
As Sri Lankan children enter their teens, it becomes clear that they have poor knowledge of life skills, for example, the ability to stand their ground when faced with exploitation in any form, to possess the courage of conviction not to succumb to peer pressure when it involves the use of drugs, alcohol or unprotected sex; and to develop negotiating skills. UNICEF works with adolescents to empower them to achieve success as they enter adulthood.
A national survey in 2005 showed that despite attempts to improve awareness among young people on HIV/AIDS and STDs, the majority know very little about HIV infection, modes of prevention, common symptoms and signs. Given low levels of awareness, there is an urgent need to build the knowledge, skills and capacity of young people and educators who work with, and influence, the attitudes and behaviour of adolescents.
For children and adolescents living in the North and East of the country, armed conflict has been a regularly disrupting and threatening fact of life. Despite the 2002 ceasefire, boys and girls under 18 continue to be recruited and trained by the LTTE. The average age of child recruits in 2005 was 16 years. Child soldiers who have been captured or who run away are particularly vulnerable to further psychological stress and trauma. Moreover, former combat areas are infested with landmines and pose a great risk to well-being and safety.