The Situation of Children in Sri Lanka

For sustainable development, we need to accelerate the realization of children’s rights

School children in a classroom

Since gaining independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has made considerable progress in improving the day-to-day lives of its citizens and children. Despite the traumas of a civil conflict, a spate of natural disasters and a legacy of political, legal and institutional change, Sri Lanka has done well to advance the situation of children across the country.

The progress made so far has been consistent and measurable:

  • Millions of families have emerged from extreme poverty.
  • Successful efforts to reduce underfive mortality and improve access to proper nutrition and antenatal care have given children a better foundation for a prosperous future.
  • Improvements in the quality and coverage of water and sanitation facilities have yielded positive health and development dividends.
  • Primary schooling is almost universal and attended in equal measure by both boys and girls.

Important steps are also being taken towards promoting reconciliation and achieving a genuinely inclusive society.

However, children around the country still need support to fully realize their rights and unlock their vast potential. Pockets of extreme poverty continue to exist, particularly in the North, East, hill country and some urban areas. Vulnerable communities still face the challenges of infant and under-five mortality, undernutrition and unequal access to preventative and curative health services. Instances of violence, abuse and exploitation still disturb communities, institutions and homes because poor awareness coupled with a scarcity of coordinated, well-resourced and readily-available child protection services make it hard for children to go about their lives free from fear or discrimination.

Too many children are leaving the education system without the skills and the mindset needed to compete in a dynamic knowledge-based economy and a socially competitive market.

From a national perspective, there remain many institutional, legal and political impediments that have slowed progress. Improvements also need to be made in the efficiency of budgeting and planning so that all social policy is child-sensitive, data-driven and equitable. 

In an era of declining bilateral aid and foreign investment, the ability of Sri Lanka’s communities to design, develop and drive sustainable growth is paramount. Therefore the overarching theme of UNICEF-Sri Lanka’s 2018 – 2022 Country Programme is to contribute to national efforts.

“...to accelerate the realization of child rights for all children in Sri Lanka, including the most deprived, while promoting strategic investments in children and adolescents to enhance Sri Lanka’s cognitive capital as the basis for sustainable development”

UNICEF is committed to building the intellectual, social-emotional and institutional capacities of all children, communities and stakeholders. In so doing, we hope to create an environment that enables child survival, protection and development; a world in which all children are equipped with the skillset, the mindset and the toolset they need to cope with tomorrow’s challenges and seize its many opportunities. In this way, all children will be equipped for the future and will be empowered and enabled to play a key role in driving sustainable national development.