The first ever Children’s Parliament was held at the BMICH Tuesday afternoon. Around one hundred very articulate children challenged decision-making adults to solve what they felt were the most burning issues for children in Sri Lanka. Among them were economy, educational reforms, drugs, ethnic conflict and the condition of children in institutions meant to care for them.
On par with the United Nations Special Session on Children, originally scheduled to begin on Wednesday in New York, the first Children’s Parliament in Sri Lanka was held with approximately 100 children from all over Sri Lanka presenting the Children’s Challenge to key policy and decision makers in the country.
The UN Special Session on Children has been indefinitely postponed after the bombings in New York and Washington. When it is held, it will be one of the biggest meetings ever to take place for the purpose of discussing children’s issues.
To ensure that the voice of Sri Lankan children would also be heard at the Special Session, Save the Children, the largest international NGO promoting children’s rights across the world, conducted a research. The responses from approximately 10,000 children from all over Sri Lanka will be presented to the national delegation at the Special Session.
The Children’s Parliament consisted of a core group of child representatives who presented the Children’s Challenge to the decision makers of this county. The children representing many areas of the country, were selected by their peers.
Presentations at the Parliament included dramas, poetry, songs and discussions.
An expressive group of children voiced their dilemmas and their concerns about key issues directly affecting their lives. The children identified economic problems and education as the two main challenges they face. Some very specific issues were collectively presented:
· Inability to cover the syllabus (in the new educational reforms) for those unable to attend private tutors and hence being at a disadvantage at examinations
· Being prone to child labour due to lack of jobs for parents
· Lack of facilities for rural schools
· Hardships of children with parents addicted to drugs
· The need for peace
· Condition of institutionalised children
“The main problem we face is the war. There is no protection for children. It is so unfair,” said V. Nithyakala from the eastern town of Batticaloa where children are forcibly recruited by the LTTE, which is fighting government troops in the north and east of the country.
“The biggest challenge I face is the competitiveness of the education system. Because of this, we have little time to do anything else,” said Anoja Priyadharshini from Kandy in Central Sri Lanka.
“Due to high cost of living we no longer have enough money to spend on our education. My parents don’t have steady jobs,” said Lakmal from the southern city of Galle.
“Because of the war many children stopped going to school. I work at home and help my family,” said Vignaraj from the northern city of Jaffna.
Politicians, leading members of the business community, civil society, media and religious leaders were among the representatives of the ‘adult’ decision-making sector of society. Among the adults who spoke were former Secretary to the President Bradman Weerakoon, Member of Parliament Jayalath Jayawardene and Supreme Court Judge Shiranee Thilakawardana.
Ken Balendra, Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon and the John Keels Group concluded well as he sat up in his chair, took a moment and yelled into the microphone “yes to children.”
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