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    Child abuse, child labour major issues in S. Asia says Speaker

    September 03, 2019

    Speaker of the House Karu Jayasuriya yesterday said that the future of South Asia will depend on how best it takes care of its children who make up 36 per cent of the population. Speaker Jayasuriya made these observations officiating in the annual South Asian Parliamentarian Platform for Children which was held in Parliament yesterday (02).

    The Parliament of Sri Lanka, together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is hosting parliamentarians from across South Asia to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

    At the meeting, Parliamentarians will take stock of the situation of children in the region and discuss the key challenges towards realization of all rights of all children to ensure further progress.

    The South Asia Parliamentarian Platform for Children being held in Colombo from September 2 and 3, will also provide Parliamentarians the opportunity to make fresh commitments to push the national agendas for the realisation of child rights.

    Addressing the discussion, Speaker Jayasuriya expressed confidence that the Colombo Declaration, emanating from the deliberations at the South Asian Parliamentary Platform for Children, will help renew the commitment of policy makers, for ensuring that our children have all their rights fulfilled, which will empower them to face the challenges of the 21st century.

    “I am very pleased that the South Asian Parliamentarian Platform for Children is meeting in Colombo, for renewing its commitment to Children in our region. I am happy to join the distinguished invitees for encouraging the participants for taking further measures to keep your promises to our children. I must specially thank UNICEF for taking the lead, with the support of other stakeholders as well as my team in Parliament, for arranging this event at this 30th Anniversary landmark year of the near universal Convention of the Rights of the Children. In the next two days, you will discuss and plan, ways and means to protect and promote the rights of every child, including those yet to be born, not only in your own countries, but in the whole of South Asia. Your agenda and the menu for work are vast and multi-faceted. It covers traditional issues such as access to education, childhood primary care and development, as well as sensitive and critical issues such as ending early and forced marriages, child-friendly procedure for the juvenile justice system, protecting children from gender related abuse, and how to assist children who are differently-abled. Child labour and abuse of children traveling unaccompanied are still issues of concern in some regions in South Asia,” Speaker Jayasuriya said.

    Jayasuriya also observed that, given the profound diversities inherent in South Asia, both within and among countries, it is not a straightforward task to address several ongoing challenging issues with regards to children, especially since one prescription may not fit all situations.

    He further said, “We can readily observe, if we remove our national boundaries, out of our mind, that our region has differently endowed localities, villages and cities across the South Asian lands. Some localities, like gated communities, are as affluent as developed nations. Some are middle or lower middle class communities and cantonments. Then we have poor and extremely poor localities and villages. To make situations even more diverse, we also have conflict affected localities with different challenges. We are aware that a child living in a conflict prone or post-conflict region has very different challenges than a child who lives in an affluent neighbourhood. And you may agree that each of these situations require specialized, targeted and tailor-made approaches to realize initiatives for the protection and welfare of children. It requires specialized skills of policy makers and civil society actors, and most importantly understanding and support of the people’s representatives, like Parliamentarians. All must be involved in these efforts with a commitment, sensitivity and without prejudice to any ethnic, religious or political considerations.”

    Speaker Jayasuriya pointed out that Sri Lanka have been commended for taking care of its children in conflict situations in the bygone years, “For instance, during the armed conflict with the LTTE, with the assistance of UNICEF and the United Nations, observed cease fire for child immunization programmes and to hold public exams for students in areas affected by military confrontations. UNICEF, the government and the LTTE acted with sensitivity for the sake of children. Moreover during armed conflict, people, government, civil society leaders and international community were in the forefront against the recruitment of children as soldiers by the LTTE and subsequently for their rehabilitation,” he said.

    The Speaker also said that modern technologically advanced society in its interaction with age-old social traditions has engendered new complex challenges in relation to our children. “For instance, effects of social media on our children are one such matter that requires our careful attention. Although cyber space and social media itself are excellent domains for children to acquire knowledge, yet children can fall victims unwittingly and can be led astray by misuse of social media tools by adults and children themselves.” he pointed out.

    The Speaker also pointed out that the imposition of social conduct based exclusively on aged old religious and communal traditions which could affect children who live in modern day socities. “Some such practises can sometimes negatively affect their education and social well-being. Sri Lankan authorities and this Parliament are making efforts to carefully examine such situations in my country with a view to evolving acceptable solutions without prejudice to individual and community identities. In this context, we all need to eschew extremism and promote tolerance and moderation with a view to finding lasting solutions for communal practices that affect children, especially the girl-child,” the Speaker pointed out.

    Meanwhile, UNICEF South Asia Regional Director Jean Gough observed that the Convention of the Rights of the Child has helped to transform children’s lives for the better and has ensured that Governments have favourable policies, changed laws, and made investments so that more children get the chance to thrive and have a good, protected childhood.

    “Nevertheless, the Convention is still not fully implemented everywhere, and millions of children continue to suffer violations of their rights when they are denied adequate healthcare, nutrition, education and protection from violence,” Gough pointed out.

    “We see new threatsfor children, but also manynew opportunitiesfor children to realise their rights. That is why we are content to be working with Parliamentarians from all over South Asia to ensure that we speed up positive actions for children to ensure a healthy and educated young generation across the region.” Gough added.

    Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella, Women and Child Affairs Minister Chandrani Bandara, Chair of the Parliamentary Caucus for Children UPFA MP Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Chair of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women & Gender Dr. Thusitha Wijemanne, Regional Director of UNICEF Jean Gough, Director, Social Affairs of SAARC, Secretariat Rishfa Rashid, Country Representative of UNICEF Tim Sutton, Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake, Ministers, MPs and delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan were present at the event.

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