Stop separating children | Daily News

Stop separating children

Some migrant children are being allowed to stay with family while their immigration status is considered.
Some migrant children are being allowed to stay with family while their immigration status is considered.

The issue of separating children from families has dominated headlines globally due to the “zero tolerance” policy on migrants in the United States. Since rescinded in Washington, the numbers are around 2000+.

What are some of the long-term issues these children might face?

The younger you are when you’re exposed to stress (the longer, more prolonged stress), the more likely you will have negative health outcomes caused by dysregulation of the stress response. If you’re confronted with danger your body produces cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine—inflammatory hormones to protect and help you deal with danger—essentially allowing a fight-or-flight response. So your heart rate goes up, certain cortical areas shut down and you are able to fight back. When that happens over long periods of time and a child is constantly exposed to a threat, it leads to dysregulation of the stress response. The hormones are elevated and stay elevated, meaning they don’t go back down to normal levels once that threat has gone away. So if you remove a child from a parent there’s a constant threat for who knows how long, and that change in the dysregulated stress response leads to architectural changes in the brain—which means that in the future children might end up with serious learning, developmental and health problems.

There’s a famous, 17,000-patient study called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which shows that adults who had more adverse childhood experiences are much more likely to have chronic medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, higher rates of cancer and a decrease in longevity. We don’t know if these are going to happen to these children. But there’s no reason that it wouldn’t, so it’s really worrisome that the government is actually endangering the lives of children.

Child Rights Convention (CRC)

The Convention declares that children should not be separated from their parents against the will of the parents, except when there is a judicial decision that such separation is in the best interests of the child. This can occur because of abuse or neglect, or because of separation of the parents.

In the latter situation, the child should have access to both parents, even if in the care of one. The provision that this can be foregone if such is the child’s best interests should be applied only in the event of a judicial decision.

The child has the right to have his or her views heard in respect of all matters affecting him or her, which would include the above. The Convention also asserts that the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child should be recognized.

What are we doing?

A survey of Child Care Institutions (CCI) and the institutionalized children in Sri Lanka was undertaken by the National Institute of Social Development (NISD) for the Department of Probation and Child Care Services, sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 2013.

There has been a similar survey conducted ten years ago but it is clear that the reasons for the institutionalization of children have been drastically changed in today’s social, cultural and economic context of the country. It states, “it has become clear that children are institutionalized unnecessarily as a result of not considering institutionalization as the last resort for care and protection of children. However, since institutionalization of children does not ensure the best interest of children and have a negative impact on their development, well-being and future, it is important to provide care and protection for them within a family environment in all situations possible”.

We have callously and recklessly without sensitivity pursued a practice in violation of our obligations under the CRC to institutionalize children using the Courts. If 2,000 was sufficient to upset a majority of citizens in the United States, 14,000+ being the second highest number after those in prisons in this country should make us feel ashamed of ourselves.

The medical answer to what we do to children having separated them ostensibly in the best interest of the child is in this article. The reality, therefore, is at 18 we release to society adults we have damaged due to apathy and gross lack of sensitivity to the emotional needs, thousands of children. Without naming and shaming several of our rights based institutions it suffices to say the State if needed can be asked to pay in the millions by way of damages.

The solution is not to separate but rather to mend relations, heal wounds and address the issues which cause grief and chaos within families.

Our officers in the Women and Children desks of the Police entrusted with marching to Courts with children and parents or probation officers tasked with reporting on family circumstances have the required expertise to reconcile and or find many of non-institutional options to stop separating children from families.

It though is not an alibi for our incompetence and failure to act in the best interest of the children in most instances. We have at the periodic under the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UN stated, “the ‘Back to Home’ programme now covered the whole country”, which is confirmation we have taken children away from homes.


Key findings

* There are 14,179 children in 414 institutions located in all nine provinces in Sri Lanka.

* Out of the total number of children residing in institutions at the time of the survey, 8,538 were females (60.2per cent) and 5,641 were males (39.8 per cent) indicating an overall sex ratio of 153.4 girls for every 100 boys.

* Although the children are referred to CCIs for a maximum period of three years, the majority of the children, both boys (40 per cent) and girls (37 per cent), have stayed on an average of 2-5 years in the CCIs. It is also required to make arrangements to send the child back to his or her family within three Years.

* 50 per cent of the children had a single parent whilst 32 per cent of them had both parents. However, 18 per cent (2,562 children) of children in CCIs had no parents and therefore were orphans.

* The percentage of abandoned children and abused children are 22 per cent and 14 per cent respectively which were the main two types identified in this category.

* Among 414 CCIs, 33 per cent had children with special needs.

* 23.9 per cent of male children and 20.7 per cent female children reported mental health and hearing difficulties.


We could do well to follow these recommendations given to us at the periodic review in 2018 which states:

Committee on the Rights of the Child Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Sri Lanka, February 2, 2018.

Children deprived of a family environment

The Committee, drawing the State party’s attention to the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (see General Assembly resolution 64/142, annex), emphasizes that financial and material poverty should never be the sole justification for removing a child from parental care, for receiving a child into alternative care or for preventing a child’s social reintegration, and recommends that the State party:

(a) Ensure that families who are destitute are provided with the necessary means to provide care for their children;

(b) Support and facilitate care for children in their families of origin, including single-parent families, establish a system of foster care for children who cannot stay with their families, with a view to reducing the very frequent institutionalization of children, and implement mechanisms to expand and stimulate the reintegration of children into their families


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