Democracy & Human Rights | Speeches

Children are Our Future

Launch of the National Action Plan for Children

Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka

September 15, 2004

Honorable Ministers,
UN dignitaries,
Secretaries to the Ministries and public officials,
Distinguished guests,
Our young friends,

I am indeed extremely happy to be here today with you at this very special event when the Government of Sri Lanka inaugurates its National Plan of Action for Children. I remember a little over two years ago, in May 2002, when Heads of state and Government, other world dignitaries, representatives of UN agencies and International Organizations gathered at UN General Assembly for children. At this meeting they all reaffirmed their commitment and obligations to protect and promote the rights of the child. I too had the privilege of being invited to make a key note address to this special assembly together with dignitaries such as Garcia Marshal, President Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates from the private sector and even Harry Belafonte to represent the artists. It was a great and interesting gathering organized under the auspices of UNICEF.

At this meeting it was decided that all member countries of the UN would prepare and implement national action plans for the promotion and protection of child rights. We are indeed very happy and proud that today, my Government has been able to complete the preparation of that action plan under the leadership of the Minister of Finance with the participation of all relevant Ministries and other agencies as well as the participation of children who were consulted, during the preparation of this action plan. This event today reflects the commitment of my Government to the child and the advancement of all that this good for the child. That leads us to reflect upon all the work we have to do and undertake for this purpose. I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Ched Chaiban for enunciating the list of things, we have done and what this Government during the last 10 years has undertaken on behalf of the child- or for the child. We began with education, health and nutrition for the child together with other actions – specific actions that we were able to undertake for the protection of the child such as the sitting up of the National Child Protection Authority, the implementation of the anti alcohol, tobacco, suicide programmes which had some success- considerable success during some years and has now halted for various reasons and has to be commenced again.

We believe that while implementing the action plan for children, we would be undertaking automatically several of my Government’s main development targets. In the sectors of education, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, juvenile justice in addition justice for all, the problems of child labour and so on. We have many special programmes in these areas and the Action Plan envisages many others. Of the 8 main millennium development goals, I believe that about 6 are already covered under the Plan of Action for Children.

As the children who spoke and expressed their thoughts a little while ago have stated it is a very happy arrangement that we the adults have begun to consult the children on programmes which are undertaken for them.

We hope in the implementation of the Action Plan as much as during its preparation that we would be able to, the different agencies of Government; the NGOs that are involved and so on would consult the children and also go further in obtaining their participation at various levels in the implementation of this action plan. I am sure that the children would be only too delighted to participate and give of their best. We know that our youth are committed, extremely talented and would perform well if their given responsibility in the process of national development. As we stated some months ago when presenting to the country, our Government’s vision of development for the next six years we will obtain the participation of our citizenry, not only obtain their ideas, but also their direct participation and leadership to the programmes and guide them in the processes of monitoring the progress and implementation of these programmes.

I know no better agents than young people to lead us adults away from any possible deviations into wrong paths and to show us the way along the straight and narrow path. Because as they say the child has no two agendas- they have little ambitions, they only know what is true and what the truth is. So beginning with all our young friends who are present here today, we know have participated actively in this programme we hope that the relevant Ministries, the Provincial Councils, the International Agencies under the leadership of UNICEF and Non-Governmental Organizations will make arrangements to obtain the full participation of children in this programmes together with us.

The sectoral plans of the action programme have been worked out in detail, I believe by the Ministry of Finance and the cost is estimated at about 14 billion Rupees – 14 thousand million Rupees, of which the Government would invest about 20% for the moment and hope to raise the rest from donor assistance and mainly from that, because a large portion of this Action Plan concerns education. The programmes of which have all some aspects of education, for which we already have obtained donor funding and our own funds and they are already progressing fairly satisfactorily.

Once again I would like to reiterate that the preparation today’s inauguration and the future implementation of the Action plan for Children which extends to the period 2004 to 2008 for the moment, this a definite statement of the commitment of this Government to the advancement of the rights and interest of the child in this country.

We believe as one of our young friends said that children are our future, and as one young child said, I was also present that day, at the UN Special Sessions, and they are also the present. Sri Lanka has a special problem, we believe, concerning the children. We have the majority part of our population who are young people, defined as those less than 35 years of age. At one point it was about 65% of our population that was under 35 years of age I believe it’s likely to be less now, because we have fast aging population due to some achievements of the health sector such as birth control, but we have large portion of our population which is defined as young below 35 years of age. It is this sector of our population that in the last 35 years –nearly 35 years that has suffered most, as victims but some time as perpetrators of the terrible violence that has shaken the very fabric of our nation. From the South to the North, from the North to the East and today right through the country we see violence -terrible violence of all types. Perpetrated by young people against other young people, perpetrated by young people against adults, who they consider their opponents and often perpetrated against themselves through suicide, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. I am told that Sri Lanka is one of the countries that figures in various international indices as one of the world’s most violent countries. And as far as I know this violence has been practiced by young people against others. The violence has been indulged in either against young people or by them, for various reasons. In 1971 in the South, since 19th July 83 in the North and East now right through the nation. As a fall out of the civil war situation we suffer the consequences of this various types of violence today right through our society. They say we have an increase in grievous crime. Alcohol and drug abuse is very high, we still have a fairly high rate of suicide, even though we have managed to reduce it from the top position in the world in 1994 to about 10th position as far as know but I do not know what happened in the last 2 or 3 years when this programmes were halted. I don’t have recent figures. With alcohol abuse it was a same - Sri Lanka was the most alcoholic nation in the world by 1994. We beat some of the world’s largest alcohol manufacturing countries which were at the top of alcohol abuse at one time and we are aware that these things have happened as a consequence of the traumas that our young people suffer .Due to the excessive violence that has shaken our nation to its very roots in the last 30 odd years. All this to say that it is our youth… our young people, our students like you, who are here today who have been the subject and the object of this situation. So I believe that quite apart or in addition to what UNICEF and the UN expects of various countries to be implemented as part of the decisions of building a world fit for children as we decided in 2002 at the UN. Sri Lanka has a very special responsibility and we will have to undertake very many special programmes of action to address these special problems that have arisen out of this very specific situation.

We have touched on some of the possible solutions as I said with the programmes, special programmes we had against alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse, suicide and the Child Protection Authority, but I think that is only skimming the surface. We do not have the human resources to undertake some of these programmes. For example we do not have the psychologists, the physiatrists, the counselors to handled the tens of thousands of children who are definitely suffering from various levels of trauma because of the violence they have directly suffered or seen, leave alone the adults who are in that situation. This is just to flag the kind of problem that we are facing which could reach crisis levels, if we do not begin to manage them very fast. This government is fully aware of its responsibilities towards the child in every one of these areas. But we cannot by ourselves undertake to successfully implement all the required programmes by ourselves.

We need the full support of our friends of the international community, we do have it for which are very thankful but we need continued support and advise and encouragement. We need the support and full participation of all important, interested non governmental organizations, the private sector and all other leaders of society. For our part the government stands to undertake, initiate and do whatever we can to the best of our ability with the participation of all of you and your support. I would finally wish to thank UNICEF first, for the excellent work they have been doing during the past decades for our children in Sri Lanka in many fields, even under very difficult circumstances, during military conflict in the North and East and in the South many other ways.

The Ministry of Finance for taking the leadership in preparing and doing what is necessary to begin implementation of this Action Plan for children and all the relevant ministries, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Justice and all the other Ministries and the Provincial Councils and their officials and agencies for the support and encouragement they gave in this process.

My government and I personally will remain committed to doing our best in little Sri Lanka to add whatever we can to create a world fit for children and in the process build a nation that would be fit to produce good and successful citizens for Sri Lanka.

Thank you.