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Warning that Sri Lanka is facing a crisis that is likely to take a heavy toll on children, UNICEF said that as the Sri Lankan government and its partners work to resolve the current crises, the needs of children must come first and their right to education, health, food and protection preserved.

UNICEF Sri Lanka, in an opinion piece given below, said that as the situation evolves, it is crucial that the government’s efforts include close monitoring of the impact on the youngest citizens of the Sri Lanka – the future of the country, but currently the most vulnerable.

In the fight against the current crisis in Sri Lanka, putting the needs of children first

Article 3(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that “in all actions relating to children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”

It just means that when adults make decisions, they need to think about how their decisions will affect children. All adults should do what is best for children; not what is best for themselves. Adults include parents, caregivers and government decision makers.

The CRC adopted on November 20, 1989 is an important agreement between countries that are committed to protecting the rights of children. Sri Lanka was among the first countries to sign the CRC in 1990 and ratified it in 1991.

In partnership with UNICEF, the Sri Lankan government has over the years made significant progress in improving the health, education and protection of children across the island: from achieving from universal childhood vaccination (1989) to the creation of the National Child Protection Authority (1998). to provide decades of crucial relief in the wake of devastating conflicts and natural disasters.

But today we face a crisis that threatens to take a heavy toll on children.

Although the exact impact of the current crisis on children remains to be established, as in any crisis, children are often the most affected when access to adequate food, education, health and protection is disturbed.

Jithmini, 17, recently told UNICEF: “My school in Colombo had to close before the end of term. I couldn’t go to school because there was no fuel. I worry about what will happen next. I just need fuel for my school van.

Senuni, 12, added, “My little sister cries at night because it’s too hot. No electricity and no generator. Even I can’t sleep peacefully. We all wake up tired in the morning and feel sick all day.

Heartbreaking testimonies from children continue to come in as the crisis wreaks havoc on their schools, health centers and access to nutritious food. This is even more worrying in a country where poverty has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the recent study on multidimensional poverty in Sri Lanka, more than four out of ten children (42.2%) under the age of five are deprived of at least two basic rights.

The combined burden of poverty, COVID-19 and the current crisis disproportionately affects children, especially the most vulnerable girls and boys, with far-reaching consequences for the future of Sri Lanka.

As the Sri Lankan government and its partners work to resolve the current crises, the needs of children must be prioritized and their right to education, health, food and protection must be preserved.

UNICEF recommends the following to ensure that children do not bear the brunt of the crisis:

First, when making decisions about children, they should be listened to and their views taken seriously. The responsibility lies with the government and all adults to give children the opportunity to meaningfully voice their own concerns and participate in issues that affect their future. In doing so, children must not be manipulated and all fundamental guarantees for the protection of children must remain applicable at all times.

Protecting children’s education to prevent further learning losses. COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on the schooling of children around the world, including here in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is among the countries with the longest school closures in the world. The disruption caused by the pandemic has led to widening inequalities and learning losses that threaten to reverse and, in the worst case, completely erase the gains made over the past decades. With the current power cuts in the country, online learning from home is even more difficult for children and teenagers. Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind. It is therefore crucial that the Sri Lankan government prioritizes the continued operation of schools for in-person learning.

Cushion the social protection systems on which the most vulnerable depend, including the voucher for pregnant and lactating women. For many of these women, the voucher is a lifeline, enabling them to meet some of their basic needs. This, along with continued maternity services and the provision of vitamin supplements to children aged 6-24 months, are essential to prevent a further crisis among these vulnerable groups.

Ensure access to all other essential services for children, including health and clean water. Reported shortages of essential medicines should concern us all. Water taps could also dry up due to lack of electricity or fuel for the pumps. Communities often turn to unsanitary water sources when clean water is not available, making them vulnerable to common diseases. Coupled with a shortage of medicine, this can be a recipe for disaster for children in Sri Lanka.

As the situation evolves, it is crucial that government efforts include close monitoring of the impact on Sri Lanka’s youngest citizens – the country’s future, but currently the most vulnerable.

Sri Lanka has already set a good example in tackling complex crises, including more recently the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF firmly believes that Sri Lanka can turn the tide by investing where it matters most – protecting the rights of its children.

The time has come.

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