child’s world is infinite. Extrapolate that to encompass the
collective universe of the world’s children and you will find
yourself lost in the relevant imponderables. Nothing, it seems,
can do justice to the issues pertaining to children and
certainly not these pages. Worse still would be to let the fact
overwhelm us into numbness. There are, after all, issues that
scream for attention. Child conscription for example. Juvenile
delinquency. The sexual abuse of children. The importance and
inadequacy of children’s literature. Child labour. The list goes
Pix by Ishara S. Kodikara
Rehabilitating the future
By Vindya Amaranayake
Children, they say, are the future of the world. If they are the
future, then, to ensure that they are ready to shoulder the
challenge of facing the future, their present must be
safeguarded. In Sri Lanka, the ultimate guardian of a child is
the state. It is mentioned in the Article 13 of section 27 of
the Constitution under the directive principles of state policy
that ‘The State shall promote with special care the interests of
children and youth, so as to ensure their full development,
physical, mental, moral, religious and social, and to protect
them from exploitation and discrimination.’ Commemorating
international children’s day, The Nation ventured on to find out
the fate of children who commit anti-social acts.
The state not only protects the rights of the child and cares
for its development, but also amends the anti-social behaviour
that the child engages in. Children are not treated as criminals
even though they happen to be engaged in acts befitting that
The Penal Code of Sri Lanka states that nothing is an offence
committed by a child under the age of eight. On the other hand,
even a child, up to the age of 18 is not treated in a court of
law as it does an adult. The ‘juvenile delinquents’ are tried
differently and punished differently.
There are four juvenile detention centres known as ‘Certified
Schools’ in Sri Lanka. They are maintained under the Probation
and Childcare Department. Assistant Commissioner of the
Department, E.K. Ariyadasa said that the four centres are in
Ranmuthugala, which is a female facility and the other three in
Makola, Hikkaduwa and Keppetipola.
He said that the children detained at the facilities are given
all the basic requirements needed by children. Also, the
department had taken very much care to make sure that the
environment of the facility should enhance the physical and
psychological development or improvement of the child but not
its deterioration. “We are giving them boarding facilities,
food, clothing and sports and other basic requirements,” he
“These children are given basic training in various vocations
and according to their educational requirements, they are given
the opportunity to attend a school outside the facility,” he
He added that it is difficult to give out the specific number of
detained children because the number keeps changing everyday as
children and taken on and released on regular basis. However,
roughly calculated there are more than 100 girls in Ranmuthugala
and around 80 boys in Makola and another 40 in Hikkaduwa and
around the same amount in Keppetipola.
The Nation inquired from the commissioner about the fate of the
children after they get released from the facility. The quality
of the rehabilitation or the training provided would prove
ineffectual if society is not receptive towards the child’s
re-entry into a social context that caused the child to become a
Ariyadasa said, “These children are usually released after three
years, but after considering good conduct and the needs of the
children we consider their release after one and a half years.”
He added that after their release, there has been set in motion
a monitoring programme to supervise the reentry of the child
into society. Each child after release will have to report to a
probation officer for a period of one year.
Not only this, but the department have taken steps to ensure
that these children are properly established at least
financially. “We also help them to find employment befitting the
training they received at the facility. We also have private
companies aiding and sponsoring these children in their initial
years after the release,” Ariyadasa added.
Apart from these four schools there is another facility in
Halpathota, Galle for homeless children. These children are not
delinquents; they are either orphans or street children who have
no other place to go. It functions as a temporary boarding
place. These children are given the opportunity to attend
schools outside the facility. This detention home currently has
over 200 children.
The biggest problem facing these centres is the lack of
necessary facilities. “We are a government funded department,
but the funds are allocated via Provincial Councils. What we get
is not enough,” Ariyadasa said. There is a severe lack of
clothing and food for the children and the buildings need to be
regularly repaired. “These centres are for the children,
delinquents they maybe; therefore they need to have the
necessary recreational facilities. After all what we want to do
is to rehabilitate them to be released into the social
environment,” he added.
Ode to a child
A twist of the hands of a toy-clock,
the arrival of a butterfly and a kite,
an unthinking word that tore your world apart:
is this how your hours were marked?
Did you collect any colours today,
any keepsake from a pavement
a dream that flew from a billboard?
When you mixed perfume and dust
did your mind erupt in an impossible fountain
in uncontrolled mirth
or as the most beautiful smile?
Did you birth the dawn with fire
did you feel life ebb away
in the startled ways
of the traditional homelands of warfare?
Did you pause to savour
moment and moment
or was it easier
or perhaps made more sense
to let the receding wave recede
and embrace the approaching one
with open arms made of unimaginable optimism
with open arms carved from a wood
called ‘lack of choice’?
In any event,
is it the smile of a heart
that knows generosity and nothing else
even when encountering the tormentor,
the thief that sought to rob innocence
tried to re-paint magic in adult colours?
I don’t know your ways, your world,
and this is why I ask:
‘Was your day a child’s day
or the residue left by an adult brew?’
I don’t know your ways, your world,
so I shall stop
and throw a smile
and make this request:
‘take it and twist it with yours
unleash that fairy power;
cure me of the curse of adulthood’.
Children suffer most from lack of water,
UNICEF report says progress made, but more needed to prevent
the deaths of more than 1.5 million children under five each
More than 1.2 billion people have gained access to safe water
since 1990, according to Progress for Children: A Report Card on
Water and Sanitation, launched today by UNICEF.
The report charts progress towards Millennium Development Goal 7
which includes the target of halving the proportion of people
without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic
sanitation by 2015. Between 1990 and 2004, global coverage of
safe drinking water rose from 78 per cent to 83 per cent.
Latin America and the Caribbean and the South Asia regions will
meet the drinking water target almost 10 years early.
“The progress made to date in increasing the number of people
with access to safe water has been impressive,” says UNICEF
Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “However, unsafe water and
lack of basic sanitation contribute to the deaths of an
estimated 1.5 million children under five each year as a result
Examining sanitation, the report finds that an estimated 1.2
billion people have gained access to basic sanitation since
1990, with global coverage rising from 49 per cent to 59 per
cent. In South Asia, access to improved sanitation more than
doubled between 1990 and 2004. In East Asia and the Pacific, the
proportion of people with basic sanitation rose from 30 per cent
to more than 50 per cent.
“Despite commendable progress, an estimated 425 million children
under the age of 18 still do not have access to an improved
water supply and over 980 million do not have access to adequate
sanitation,” says Veneman. “Clean water and sanitation are vital
prerequisites for improved nutrition, reductions in child and
maternal mortality and the fight against disease.”
Water-and sanitation-related illness can affect children’s
school attendance and academic performance. Girls, in
particular, may be deterred from schooling by the need to fetch
and carry water for their families, and by the lack of separate
Improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhoea-related
diseases in young children by more than one-third, says the
report. With better hygiene practices, such diseases could be
reduced by two thirds.
While the world is on track to meet the water target, progress
could be impaired if the provision of safe water to the world’s
poorest communities is not made a priority.
Sanitation is a much greater challenge. Despite significant
gains, the world is not on track to meet the MDG target for
sanitation. In South Asia, for example, two out of three people
still lack basic sanitation.
The report says that the benefits of improved drinking water and
sanitation are evident and could be extended to many more of the
world’s people, if only sufficient resources and resolve were
dedicated to the task.
“30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they
‘die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far
removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being
meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more
invisible in death.’” — UNICEF
“Children’s literature can be a corrective”
Ratna Sri Wijesinghe, one of the foremost contemporary
Sinhala lyricists and poets, finds little to celebrate when it
comes to the current status of children’s literature in the
Sinhala language. He spoke to The Nation about the key issues
in this genre of literature.
Q: How would you assess the current status of children’s
literature in Sinhala?
A: Today we see a massive output of children’s story books but
they are abysmally lacking in quality. In a recent state awards
ceremony for children’s books I found only two or three works
out of twenty that were of some quality.
We need to understand that a child is not some kind of dwarf
form of an adult. Children have their own identities, their own
realities and literature that seeks to feed them adult realities
does not only failure but can be damaging as well.
Children communicate with the stars and moon, dolls, toys, the
sky, trees and flowers. Literature that refuses to acknowledge
this amounts to theft of their reality. Those who write
children’s stories have to begin by understanding the nature of
the child. They have to understand the cognitive stages of a
child’s development. The needs of children and not adults need
to be catered to.
Q: Is this a recent trend or have most authors suffered from
this inability to understand the child?
A: This was not always the case. We have an ancient tradition of
children’s stories. The jathaka katha for example were simple
stories that were not out of sync with a child’s world, a
child’s reality or ability to comprehend and relate. The present
generation of authors is a long way off from reaching the
standards set by people like Sybil Wettasinghe.
Q: Some argue that a decline in values or a lack of cultural
sensitivity is to blame. What are your views?
A: Yes, something has happened to our values. In the sixties,
we had verses such as ‘Achchiye bolanne path vela varenne…’
speaking of respect and love. In the seventies the rhythm had
become more aggressive, the line overstepping the boundaries of
propriety: ‘aachchiye pochchiye vathura natanava, achchige moona
kanna poosa andanava’ (The water in the pot is boiling,
grandmother, the cat is crying to eat your face). In the
eighties we had the following: ‘aachchi unath mokada hondata
lau-karanava nam’ (if she is good in bed, does it matter that
she’s a grandmother?). The decline is all too obvious.
Munidasa Cumaratunga was very different: ‘mage nangige kammula
vage ruva ethi me mala…’ (this flower, as beautiful as my little
sister’s cheek). Children love flowers, they can relate to the
sentiment. This is the way you prevent a child from embracing
aggressive behavioral traits.
Consider the famous ditty authored by the Principal of the
Katukurunda Training College, U.G. Patternot de Silva, ‘me gase
boho peni dodam thibe’ (there is much fruit on this orange
tree), where the two children are happy to claim just one each.
From here it is only a simple step to teach them to the ethics
of sharing, concern for others, thrift etc.
Q: What is the role of children’s literature?
A: Education is a matter of bequeathing culture and here we are
not talking about archaeology and other things that can be
categorized as science or scientific fact, but the bhavamaya
karana or factors that speak of values and ideals. Splashing
bright colours and using big, bold fonts does not make something
a children’s story book. Children’s literature has a role to
play. ‘The best things are for the child,’ we often say, but
what little effort and money is spent on children’s literature,
the cover of a book, compared with, say, the resources poured
into an advertisement!
There’s a decline in sensibilities all things considered and
children’s literature can be a corrective. It is not an easy
task for it requires us to see ourselves and our children
differently, to see their world, understand it, and write of and
from that world, that reality
The real ‘children of war’
Children were first used in the North East conflict in the
mid-eighties when most of the Tamil insurgent groups used them
as sentries. These children were usually armed with grenades and
asked to monitor the movements of the Sri Lankan Army as well as
of other militant groups. The LTTE killed several of these child
combatants in their campaign to eliminate rival militant groups
in 1986. These children mostly from TELO were on sentry duty at
the time of being killed. The LTTE for its part started
recruiting children during the occupation of Jaffna by the
Indian army. Even though under age combatants had filled the
ranks of the LTTE in the early phase of its campaign it was
after November 1987 that the organisation was actively involved
in enrolling children to replace their dead cadres. Children as
young as 10 years old were used as assassins by the LTTE in a
bid to paralyse life in Indian occupied Jaffna. During the
middle of 1989, the Indian-backed EPRLF-led coalition enrolled
thousands of under age youth for its Tamil National Army,
hundreds of whom were later massacred by the LTTE.
According to a modest estimate, the LTTE has over 3000 children
in their ranks. This phenomenon however is not unique to LTTE or
Sri Lanka but is a global trend in insurgent groups. Currently
there are well over 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as
seven years, participating in the various armed conflicts around
Participation in armed conflicts, even voluntarily, by children
below the age of 15 is an offence, according to the Geneva
Convention adopted in 1948. However the tragedy of the last
decade has been the deaths of over two million child combatants’
worldwide due to the scant disregard for these international
conventions by guerrilla groups.
The LTTE has continued to recruit children to their fighting
units. They are mainly used for intelligence gathering purposes
and for menial jobs in the supplies division and medical unit.
However these soldiers have been used in many operations in the
past with devastating effects. In the series of unceasing waves
operations launched by the LTTE, the child soldiers have been
usually the first wave of attackers. They would minimise the
losses to more hardcore cadres who would enter the fight once
the army positions have been softened by the younger fighters. A
disturbing fact which has come to light is that as part of the
training of these child combatants, they are made to massacre
civilians in border villagers. The young recruits are encouraged
to use sharp weapons instead of guns to carry out these brutal
acts in order to “harden” them for combat.
Currently, not only the LTTE but the Karuna faction also is
reported to use child soldiers in their fight against their
Wanni brethren. Many child conscripts who were released by
Karuna after he broke away from the main organisation have been
recruited again by the Wanni faction and in some cases, the
Karuna loyalists. The Tamil Diaspora which mainly funds the LTTE,
has chosen to ignore the organisation’s appalling record on
child soldiers while several international bodies such as UNESCO
has tried unsuccessfully to force the LTTE to adhere to
international norms regarding the matter. The government of Sri
Lanka also has more or less used the matter of child combatants
as a tool to bring disrepute to the LTTE, but has failed to show
any genuine commitment to put an end to this tragedy.
However in the midst of the spiralling conflict, one fact does
remind us that we Sri Lankans have much more in common than we
think. On both sides of the divide, it is the poor man’s child
who has to die for the “cause.” Just as not a single political
leader in the south – however willing he is to advocate a
military solution to the conflict - is willing to send their
children to the army, the leadership of the LTTE too has decided
that their children should be spared the option of being blown
up in the war. Prabhakaran’s daughter is said to be pursuing her
higher studies in Ireland while his son is reportedly attending
a European university. Tamilselven’s daughter is in Norway and
LTTE “Police Chief” Nadesan’s daughter is studying in Australia.
Prabhakaran is considered to be a demi-god by his followers
whose purpose on earth is to deliver the Promised Land to
suffering Tamils. However the several hundred child combatants
who died recently in the salty plains of Muhamalai were no
doubt, children of a lesser god, unworthy of childhood,
education and life.