Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

Published on - 10/19/2007

Lanka Faces Challenges in Protecting Young

SPEECH BY MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights at the \'Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children\', held at the 62nd Session of the General Assembly of the Untied Nations, New York on October 17, 2007 is as follows.

Since Independence, Sri Lankan Governments have consistently accorded priority to investment in a better future for our children. Sound social policies and legal measures have been introduced for the promotion and protection of the rights of our children.

Our aim has been, and continues to be, to assure that all children in Sri Lanka have access to the full range of opportunities needed to maximise their potential; and to provide them a safe, secure and protective environment during every stage of their development, from early childhood, through learning years and adolescence.

Consistent investment in universal access to education from primary school through university has resulted in high rates of enrolment and literacy in Sri Lanka. We are already on par with the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, school gender parity, and reproductive health services. Net primary school enrolment ratio for both boys and girls is over 95 per cent the proportion reaching grade five has exceeded 95 per cent the literacy rate for 15 to 24 year olds is over 95 per cent for both males and females. Sri Lanka is on track in reaching the target of universal primary education well before 2015.

Sri Lanka has already eliminated gender disparity in both primary and junior secondary education, the parity index being nearly 100 per cent. In senior secondary and tertiary levels, the share of girls is even higher than that of boys. There is no disparity in literacy between men and women, the parity being 100.9 per cent.

Child mortality and maternal mortality in Sri Lanka have recorded reductions to levels that are considerably low and comparable with those in some developed countries. Immunization coverage has been sustained over 80 per cent. About 96 per cent of births occur in health institutions and are attended by skilled personnel.

The system of free education and an effective public health system introduced in the 1940s have resulted in Sri Lanka continuing to record considerable progress in social development during the post independence years, and despite being a lower middle income country, Sri Lanka ranks above most countries in HDI ranking at similar levels of income.

Although we have made significant strides in improving the lives of our children, our achievements have been undermined by the forced recruitment of children by a terrorist group which has been banned by several member States of the UN including the member States of the European Union, USA, Canada, and India. More recently, breakaway factions of this terrorist group have also reportedly engaged in this shameful practice.

We are appreciative of the efforts of the Secretary-General\'s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and UNICEF, for their efforts in helping children in Sri Lanka, and for their Reports and Recommendations in relation to the recruitment of children.

We continue to work closely with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, as well as the Working Group of the Security Council established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1612 in addressing the issue of the recruitment of children.

The Government, in keeping with its commitment to the zero-tolerance policy on child recruitment, is taking all possible measures to stop this practice in accordance with the recommendations made by the Working Group of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict. We are fully committed to the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child combatants who have escaped from the captivity of armed groups.

A Committee under the leadership of a senior Government official has been established to take measures to initiate inquiries on, and monitor investigations into, allegations regarding the recruitment and abduction of children.

The Committee, which reports to me, is also mandated to recommend measures necessary to ensure the smooth functioning and timely completion of any investigations, and monitor and recommend steps to assure that released children have access to facilities and procedures aimed at their protection, rehabilitation and reintegration.

In addition, the Committee will make recommendations relating to educational programmes for members of the Security Forces on the domestic implementation of Sri Lanka\'s international obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. I am pleased to report that this Committee has already met three times and its work is well under way.

Terrorist groups operating in my country, however, have not ceased recruitment of children; nor have they taken steps to release children held in their custody despite commitments given to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, and to UNICEF.

Moreover, some children who are released by these groups are re-recruited by them once again. We have often seen the main terrorist group promising to release child combatants only to find that these promises are without substance and merely cynical attempts aimed to appease the international community and to gain positive media exposure.

Sri Lanka has a strict legal framework to protect children from forced recruitment, but as you will appreciate, terrorist groups function outside this framework in blatant disregard of national and international norms. The key challenge for us, therefore, is to ensure that all children of Sri Lanka are protected from predation by armed terrorist groups.

Sri Lanka\'s children have suffered for long years due to this detestable practice. Recruitment of children for use in armed combat undermines our best efforts towards the welfare and protection of children.

We urge the international community to initiate a process to find ways and means of taking resolute action to arrest the practice of recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. We also call upon the international community to seek ways to assist initiatives taken at national level by countries like mine to rehabilitate and reintegrate children who are released from the clutches of terrorist groups.

The Government of Sri Lanka is fully committed to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children. A legal regime has been introduced in this regard, and pursuant to these regulations, a rehabilitation camp has been established. However, the rehabilitation and reintegration of children whose innocent minds have been abused and brainwashed for years by ruthless terrorists, is indeed a challenge for us.

The task becomes even more challenging as it also entails ensuring a protective environment for the reintegration of children through successful family reunification, access to health, education, vocational training, income generating activities and psycho-social care.

This also involves livelihood support and the upliftment of the standard of living of people who live in areas afflicted by conflict. Towards this end, the Government has launched several projects, in particular in the Eastern Province.

The situation in Sri Lanka presents us with a great deal of challenges, but at the same time provides us with an opportunity to guarantee the protection of all our children from all forms of violence and exploitation, wherever it may occur.

(Courtesy : Daily News)