Rights of children: More needs to be done
On December 14, 1954, the United Nations General Assembly recommended
that all countries institute a Universal Children's Day, to be observed
as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children.
The date November 20 marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the
Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 while the Convention on
the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989. In Sri Lanka, World
Children's Day was celebrated on the October 1, 2015.
The Convention, which is the most widely ratified international human
rights treaty, sets out a number of children's rights including the
right to life, health, education, play, and the right to family life,
protection from violence, discrimination and to be heard. As such, it is
the responsibility of all adults, especially of the parents to ensure
that children's rights are protected and to build up a conducive and
friendly environment for all children.
Can Sri Lanka be satisfied that the aforementioned children's rights
are protected and every child in the country has the right to education,
health, play, and to live in a friendly environment? The answer to this
question is 'yes', to a great extent compared to most developing
countries. But there is a lot more that needs to be done, especially
regarding the children of poor families.
Right to education
Sri Lanka has almost achieved Universal Primary Education, with the
net enrolment rate reaching 99.7 percent, indicating that almost all
children in the age range of 5-10 years attend school. Over 98 percent
of children aged 10-14 also attend school, which confirms the
effectiveness of making education compulsory for all children up to 14.
However, after 14, some children, especially from poor families, drop
out of schools. It is estimated that 16 percent of children in the 15-17
age group drop out of school and do not attend any other educational
These children are mainly from poor households headed by
'agricultural, forestry and fishery labourers', 'skilled agricultural,
forestry and fishery workers', those engaged in 'household work',
'non-agricultural labourers and similar workers' and those who are
'unable to or too old to work'.
As such, the attention of the authorities is essential to ensure that
every child will have an education at least up to the GCE (O/L), which
means the compulsory age for schooling need to be increased.
There are a few other factors which may need the attention of
authorities, and parents. Although Sri Lanka can be proud of achieving
significant progress in the basic indicators on education, the quality
of education needs priority attention.
There are regional variations in the quality of education, and in the
Lack of qualified teachers and facilities, especially for science
education, in schools in remote areas and in the estate sector, are a
major concern. Children in these areas are deprived of a quality
education especially in science and technology, even if they have
aptitude and abilities, because the facilities are not available close
to where they live. Of the 10,012 government schools, 28 percent have
classes up to Grade 13, of which only one-third have a science stream.
Right to play
As specified in the UN declaration, children's right to play is as
important as the right to education. However, some children in Sri Lanka
are deprived of this right, as many parents are keen on sending their
young children to tuition classes after school. Because of this
practice, some children are totally deprived of time to play, with their
entire childhood devoted only for education.
Playing is equally important as education for a child. Playing helps
children to develop social skills, to work as a team, learning to be
patient, and improving creativity. It is not only education which
prepares the child to take up the challenges they may have to face in
later life, when they go out to society and work with others.
It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that children have
sufficient time to play with other children, and on their own, which
helps to improve imagination and creativity.
In child health too, Sri Lanka has done well, except for nutrition
which is puzzling, as most of the other health indicators show steady
Under-5 Mortality Rate (U5MR) has declined from 21 in 1990 to 10 per
1000 live-births in 2012 and Infant Mortality Rate has declined from 18
in 1990 to 8 per 1000 live-births in 2012.
Almost 99 percent of the children have received all the basic
vaccinations, which includes BCG, measles, three doses each of DPT and
polio vaccine, before reaching the age of two.
Over 98 percent of the births are attended to by a skilled health
worker, of which more than 74 percent are doctors.
These achievements are mainly due to free education and health
services provided by the State for over five to six decades.
However, under-nutrition of children under-5 is still a major
concern. According to the latest estimated statistics of the Family
Health Bureau (FHB), 17 percent of children under-5 are underweight.
Statistics show that under-nutrition starts to increase after the
period of exclusive breast feeding, especially after the age of around
seven months, with the commencement of complementary feeding. The
problem of under-nutrition needs the continuous attention of the health
authorities, as it is a major health concern for children.
It is the responsibility of all adults to protect children from any
form of violence or maltreatment. Child maltreatment includes physical
abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Parents need to ensure
their children are protected from any form of violence or abuse.
Media reports show that in Sri Lanka, the number of reported cases of
sexual abuse of children is increasing, which needs the attention of
everyone, especially that of the parents, to take preventive measures.
It is always better to take measures in advance to prevent any form
of abuse, rather than taking action after the abuse.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) was set up in 1998 for
the prevention of child abuse and the protection and treatment of
victims of such abuse.
It is also mandatory for the NCPA to co-ordinate and monitor action
taken by the law enforcement authorities, on all forms of child abuse.
Any parent could contact the authority if they feel any of their
children are being abused or has been abused by anyone.
Children themselves could also contact the authority, if they need to
talk to any official, regarding any form of abuse they may be
The writer is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Policy
Studies of Sri Lanka. To view this article online and to share comments,
visit 'Talking Economics' - ips.lk/talkingeconomics