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Children have a right to decide their own rights

In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was introduced to the world as the sector of the UN which is exclusively oriented towards protecting children and their fundamental rights in our world. What the UNCRC aimed to do was to get rid of this age based on discrimination and ensure that children are able to be themselves as freely as possible. The UNCRC identified specific rights for children, the duty of the protection of which lies amongst the adults.

To celebrate 30 years of being active worldwide and also in Sri Lanka, their Save the Children campaign decided to conduct a study based on what the children of Sri Lanka really think about the rights which they are supposed to enjoy and how they feel about their caretakers, the society of Sri Lanka.

The research was conducted through the use of young child rights advocates who constantly find themselves in between issues with regards to children in Sri Lanka and challenges which are faced by children whose rights are being violated. These young advocates come from 24 of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts, making them a population which covers a rather large area and would certainly provide results which are generalisable to the whole country. Altogether, 128 children were consulted and all of them were between the ages of 11 and 18. They belonged to all the various, diverse races of Sri Lanka, once again increasing the validity of the study.

Before the children were given the questions, they were taught all that they needed to know in regards to rights and other things such as terminology. Of course, the environment where the consultations were held had a very child-friendly ambience where the children would feel secure enough to speak the truth.
The questions were based on the UNCRC’s reporting clusters, which are areas which they are interested in. The UNCRC said: “The clusters cover the general measures of implementation; definition of the child; general principles; civil rights and freedoms; violence against children; family environment and alternative care; basic health and welfare; education, leisure, and culture; and special protection measures.”

The results of the study went as follows.

About discrimination, 48% of the children surveyed said they believed that discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, disability, or socioeconomic status was ever present in today’s society of Sri Lanka. The children seem to be adamant that legal action should be taken against instigators of racism and that discrimination against children of ethnic minorities should be prevented. One child had said: “This is one of the most pressing issues in society today. Children suffer because of the problems that adults have about race and religion.” It seems that the problem of discrimination in Sri Lanka is not quite age based but rather that children have to face the discrimination which adults have imposed upon their fellow members of society and cause children who are simply born into what they are born into face all kinds of degradation, simply due to belonging to a certain religion or race.

It doesn’t seem like the discrimination is limited to only race and religion either, but also perhaps as a result of the rather judgmental culture of Sri Lanka, which is a country recovering from a terrible caste system, it also includes discrimination based on parents’ occupations. The UNCRC says that many children in the estate sector felt they were marginalised and discriminated against for being “estate children”.

Another terribly sad point noted by the research was that many felt that those with disabilities were treated unfairly. One child had claimed that “children with disabilities are treated differently in society” and had blamed the situation on ignorance. Some children shared that some parents would not let their children interact with children with disabilities.

When asked about child abuse, 71% of children who participated had said the State had not taken enough measures to prevent violence against them. According to the UNCRC report: “They believed that there was not enough awareness of child abuse risk factors, forms of child abuse, and general awareness among children on how to stay safe and protect themselves.”

One child advocated that “children should be educated on how to protect themselves against child abuse and adults should be educated on how to identify signs of child abuse”.

The children allegedly had shared that this would empower them to protect both themselves and their peers. They have also said they believed that adults, including parents, should be held accountable for not paying attention to signs of child abuse.

When talking about the role played by the media when it comes to their protection and how they are portrayed in society, the child participants have noted that “the media – both traditional and social – violated the child’s right to privacy especially when reporting on incidents of child abuse”. They have, according to the report, complained of insensitivity when people post pictures of child victims of violence or abuse on social media. “They also called out the traditional media for publishing every single detail of child victims without considering how this would affect the children itself,” said the organisation. This shows what a clear and active role the real world plays in the lives of these children; children whom the general public often believes to not be concerned with things such as the news as they are believed to only be focused on schoolwork and maybe a little bit of playtime.

The children were also asked to speak about drug abuse which certainly is a great problem affecting children today. While, shedding some hope on the situation, 15% of the children have said that they believed that the State had taken enough measures to protect children from drug abuse. However, this also meant that 75% of them did not think so. This contrary point is which raises concerns as this shows how children do not feel secure enough with the governance under which they must live. The reports said that the children have admitted to being “tempted to try drugs and parents were often not aware of what their children were doing”. They have said that drug dealers often approached children near schools and tuition classes not only selling those drugs but encouraging the children to be involved in selling drugs to their peers as well. “In Sri Lanka, drugs have developed into an epidemic. Schoolchildren are addicted, and the laws are inadequate,” one participant had proclaimed. “Children said both the public and authorities needed more awareness on the problem and pushed that existing laws and the enforcement of those laws be strengthened to address the issue,” stated the UNCRC.

Of course, the children were given the great topic of education which is something Sri Lanka takes very seriously about children regardless of whom the children are and where they come from. The children have had strong views on the country’s education system and its competitive nature had come up in many discussions with many children. It goes without saying that the competition which parents instil in the minds of young children can be stressful and causes the children to face severe psychological repercussions. A participant had spoken up about the issue stating: “Although parents look for the best interest of their children in education, they are less interested in the mental and physical wellbeing.”
“Children believed that although parents wanted the best education for their children, they often became caught up in competing against other parents and neglected the other aspects of childhood, such as the need for extracurricular activities and leisure time. They said the school curricula should be less stressful,” the report concluded.

Many children had also added the point that they wished their parents would spend more time with them. “Parents are always busy with their work. They have very little time to listen to our problems. Children don’t have anyone to talk to about their problems and get advice from,” said one advocate.
Now with the report being done and the concerns of the children having surfaced, it seems that the next step would be to take some necessary action to try and solve these issues.