73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Item 70 (a, b): Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child
Insaf Bakeer Markar
Youth Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
10th October 2018
Madam Chairperson and fellow delegates,
I begin by wishing you Ayubowan, Wanakkam, Assalamu Alaykum and Good Afternoon!
Let me express our Government's appreciation to the Secretary-General and his office for the reports on this agenda item.
Approximately 30% of Sri Lanka's population are children. As such, the conventions on the Rights of Children bears major relevance and importance for Sri Lanka. As one of the early signitaries to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, and the two ILO Conventions (No. 138 and 182): we take our international obligations seriously and responsibly. In line with conventions, the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees equality to all its citizens, with the addition of special provisions to be made for the advancement of children, women and disabled persons, reflecting the recognition for positive affirmative action in the case of vulnerable communities in our societies. (Articles 12 (10, (12, (3) and (4) and 27 (6)).
Globally, more children than ever before are living in conflict areas and are at risk of death and violence. That is 357 million or one in six children worldwide. I'm speaking to you as a youth representative of a country which had seen thirty years of conflict. I had the privilege of visiting a few significant places of interests over the weekend here in New York. Let me share with you a profound experience. Whilst visiting the 9/11 memorial, as I was looking at the names inscribed of those who were killed, a lady beside me tapped me and she said, this is my 4 year old daughter's name who was at the WTC at the time of the attacks. I was left speechless. Later in the day, I visited Times Square where I witnessed an unusual sight of a protest where close to a hundred were protesting against unjust wars around the world. There I saw wide cheers when a child from within the protestors picked up the mic and delivered a prepared narrative of his story where he had to leave behind relatives of his age, unknowing about what fates hold unto them. These two experiences were profound and it will remain with me for a lifetime.
What do we take away from these real-life expreiences affecting our children?
We take away that the need for a safer, peaceful and just future is incumbent upon ensuring the Rights of Children, everywhere and anywhere. The wars and conflicts which we ourselves have entangled into, must and needs to stop. Children are our future. If the future is living in unsafety, what reckons our future?
Children living in conflict zones has seen an increase of 75 percent since 1990's.
Children in Sri Lanka are protected by a well-connected child protection network: starting from a traditional deep-rooted family network, to a widespread accessible health care system to providing free education from primary to university level. The government continues the policy of a fully-fledged scheme of student welfare measures such as free healthcare, mid-day meals, free textbooks, uniforms and books.
We would like to echo a sentiment made by a distinguished Sri Lankan, Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne, the Vice Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. That is, the importance of giving children priority in matters which affect them. That is, providing opportunities for the freedom of expression and the access to appropriate information. Access to leisure, recreation and play is a right of a child. This is denied in modern families where there is an over-emphasis on academic qualification. Children should be encouraged to participate in decision making processes which affects their lives with accurate information and care.
Today, there are new concerns arising for the Rights of the Child. The spread of and the access to fake news, hate speech and misinformation on new and social media is affecting the day-to-day lives of our children. What is seen and what is instilled in young minds can stay and go a long way.
I would like to conclude Madam Chair, by reiterating Sri Lanka's unwavering cooperation and support for the initiatives and work of the United Nations in this area and applauds the efforts by various UN agencies to uplift our future, that is of children around the globe.
Every child has the right to be protected from neglect. In the words of the Buddha, uttered more than 2600 years ago, "what is done to children is done to society".