Every minute counts! | Daily News
Protect children today and tomorrow will fall in place:

Every minute counts!

At the outset, I congratulate AYAVEC, a collective of seven volunteer youth organisations that has been campaigning against child abuse in Sri Lanka. This group has set an example for others by carrying out an island-wide door to door campaign raising awareness and amassing public support for child rights. Recently they presented a petition consisting of 100,000 signatures to the Minister of Women and Child Affairs with a concrete proposal to fight against child abuse in the country. This is commendable. We need more of such socially responsible youth organisations across the globe that can stand in support of the most vulnerable and marginalized children who can’t speak for them-selves.

For some, children are the future; for me, they are the present - the reality which we live in. How we treat them now will shape the tomorrow of our society, our country and the larger world. In fact the world has come a long way realizing this. Due to collaborative efforts of governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector, the number of child labourers over the last 15 years has fallen from 260 million to 152 million. The number of out of schoolchildren has also fallen from 130 million to 60 million. While these statistics are seemingly encouraging, we must not forget that 73 million children are still trapped in slavery, trafficking, sexual exploitation, armed conflict and are subjected to unabated violence.

Sri Lanka has shown exemplary resilience in the face of the 27-year-old civil war that ended in 2009 and is heading towards becoming a competitive knowledge based economy. This will be possible only when all children of the country are taken along, nurtured well and their free, safe, healthy and educated childhood is ensured. According to the child activity survey conducted in 2015/2016, number of child labour has reduced by 60% in Sri Lanka as compared to the previous survey conducted seven years ago-- a fact which perfectly corroborates that Sri Lanka is one of those progressive nations that has increased the age of compulsory education from 14 to 16 years. In doing so, Sri Lanka has increased the budgetary allocation for education nearly by four times. The country’s commitment towards ensuring education of its children will go a long way in building a stronger, inclusive and productive nation.

National Policy of Elimination of Child Labour in Sri Lanka

The work doesn’t end here. We have a lot of ground to cover. According to the National Policy of Elimination of Child Labour in Sri Lanka (2017) there are around 100,000 child labourers out of which almost 40,000 are in undeniably worst forms.

There are reports of children from tea estates being trafficked internally to perform domestic work in Colombo; their payments are withheld and their movements are restricted. They have been reduced to slaves. Children, predominantly boys, are also forced into commercial sexual exploitation in coastal areas as part of the sex tourism industry.

A high number of cases of sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of children, child prostitution and online child sexual exploitation and abuse, including child pornography have also been reported in Sri Lanka. In a civilized world even a single child in such danger, trapped in slavery and violence is one too many. Emancipation of these children is a social emergency that cannot be procrastinated. These children cannot afford to wait.

I am in Colombo on August 28 and 29 for the 2nd Asia Meet of my initiative “Parliamentarians without Borders for Children’s Rights” where lawmakers from several Asian countries will discuss tangible ways of protecting the rights of such vulnerable children.

While the world stands committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in my opinion, none of these goals can be accomplished by 2030 until and unless the world invests enough in its children.

It is imperative for governments to step up their individual and collective efforts to eliminate modern slavery, trafficking and child labour. Equally important it is to accelerate peace building and financing efforts fostering a child friendly world. Just about 40 billion USD is required to ensure that every child in this world gets access to education. This is barely one week of global military expenditure. Is the world so poor that it cannot foot its children’s education bill? I refuse to accept this. Governments must adequately invest in education, health, nutrition and achievement of all international children related commitments including the SDGs particularly no. 8.7; 4.7; 5.2; 5.3 and 16.2 among others.

The day and age of Information Technology that we live in is marred with precariousness of children falling prey to child pornography and sexual abuse. While it is important to impart training to children and youth for responsible usage of the internet, it has become more important than ever to have a legally binding global convention against online child sexual abuse backed by a dedicated Global Task Force.

Human traffickers

Human trafficking is an organised crime that ranks globally third after illicit arms and drugs. It generates over 150 billion USD of black money every year world over. Elements of force, compulsion, deceit, coercion, temptation and false promises are common denominators in trafficking of innocent children. Huge syndicates have their skin in this game. Therefore there is an emergent need for the national police and Interpol to coordinate their efforts to combat this crime by systematically dismantling its complex modus operandi. Governments have to crack the whip on human traffickers and bring them to books.

Businesses must pay their fair share of tax in time to help enable governments discharge their duties effectively. Further businesses must also ensure that their supply chains that span across the informal segment of the economy particularly in the developing world are free of human rights violations like forced labour, slavery and child labour. The international community must fulfil its promises on aid and assistance, particularly for education.

Strengthened, coordinated, and holistic inter-ministerial and inter-departmental initiatives for the protection of child rights remain at the core of the fight to end violence against children. The rate of prosecution and conviction in the child rights violation cases world over continue to be abysmally low. Governments, judiciary and international organisations must do everything it takes to ensure that timely justice is delivered in cases of crimes against children serving as a tough deterrent.

One of the beacons of hope for Sri Lanka in expediting its interventions to end violence against children is the youth of the country. Sri Lanka is young. Close to a quarter of its population is estimated to be youths between the ages of 15 and 29. Almost 98% of these youths are literate. This is a very big dividend any nation can possibly have. It kindles a ray of hope for the vulnerable and marginalized children. The youth can lead from the front in freeing children from exploitation and ensuring that they are educated in good quality schools. Youth can become champions of child rights asking the Government to shape national and international development policies, programmes and financing keeping in mind the very last child in need.

Children in dire need of care and protection; children who are trapped in slavery; children who are in difficult situations; children who are facing violence cannot wait and so can’t we. We cannot afford to fail our children; we cannot afford to fail a whole generation. Come what may, we have to protect all children, because each day lost in the life of a helpless and vulnerable child is irrecoverable. The sooner we put our act together and protect our children the better would be our prospects for a brighter tomorrow!

(The writer is internationally acclaimed child rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate 2014.)


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