16 January 2018
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth to sixth periodic report of Sri Lanka under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Introducing the report, Chandrani Senaratne, Secretary at the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, noted that building a better future for children, who constituted approximately 30 per cent of the population, and ensuring their security was one of the key objectives of the new Government of Sri Lanka. The Government had been vigorously pursuing programmes for the full realization and promotion of the rights contained in the Convention and its two Optional Protocols, and to give effect to the Convention through appropriate legal reforms, and formulation and implementation of new policies and action plans. In 2016, the minimum age for compulsory education for all children had been raised from 14 to 16. Cabinet approval had been received for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years. A draft child protection and justice bill, which proposed to repeal certain parts of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance and to ensure Sri Lanka’s conformity with international standards pertaining to the best interest of the child, was in place. The Government had recently approved a set of guidelines pertaining to the operation of day care centers in order to facilitate a secure environment for children of working mothers.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the positive steps taken by Sri Lanka with respect to children’s rights, but noted that children did not seem to be understood as rights holders and fully prioritized. They also inquired about domestication and dissemination of the Convention, inter-sectoral coordination in the implementation of children’s rights, child rights budgeting, a comprehensive data collection system for children’s rights, a children’s commissioner, the impact of businesses on children’s rights, the minimum age of marriage under Muslim law, child marriage, discrimination against children in institutional care, children with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, comprehensive anti-discrimination law, risk of landmines and unexploded ordinance, respecting the view of the child, violence against children and corporal punishment, child labour and children employed in sex tourism (“beach boys”), gender-based violence against girls and female genital mutilation, juvenile justice and the minimum age of criminal responsibility, early pregnancy and adolescent health services, the high school dropout rate in rural areas, child trafficking, missing children, and the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers.
In his concluding remarks, Bernard Gastaud, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Sri Lanka, encouraged the State party to step up its efforts to obtain relevant statistics in order to inform its child programmes and to secure the necessary training and capacity-building for relevant staff. He also called on the Government to eliminate child marriage and other harmful practices, to identify the remaining missing children, to prevent discrimination in all areas of life, to adopt relevant legislative acts, and to invest further in the national reconciliation process.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Senaratne stated that the dialogue had been very fruitful and that it would help the Government identify in which areas it needed to invest more effort. The Government was pleased to learn that it was on the right track.
Renate Winter, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and asked it to communicate Committee Experts’ best regards to all children in Sri Lanka.
The delegation of Sri Lanka included representatives of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General’s Department, and the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today when it will review the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Guatemala (CRC/C/GTM/5-6).
The Committee is considering the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Sri Lanka (CRC/C/LKA/5-6).
Presentation of the Report
CHANDRANI SENARATNE, Secretary at the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, noted that building a better future for children, who constituted approximately 30 per cent of the population, and ensuring their security was one of the key objectives of the new Government of Sri Lanka. She reminded that many of the issues raised by the Committee had been extensively discussed with civil society and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in the context of the formulation of Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2021, which contained a separate chapter on the rights of the child. The Government had been vigorously pursuing programmes for the full realization and promotion of the rights contained in the Convention and its two Optional Protocols, and to give effect to the Convention through appropriate legal reforms, and the formulation and implementation of new policies and action plans.
In 2016, the minimum age for compulsory education for all children had been raised from 14 to 16. Cabinet approval had been received for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years. A draft child protection and justice bill, which proposed to repeal certain parts of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance and to ensure Sri Lanka’s conformity with international standards pertaining to the best interest of the child, was in place. The Government had recently approved a set of guidelines pertaining to the operation of day care centers in order to facilitate a secure environment for children of working mothers. Other adopted policies included the Policy Framework and National Plan of Action to Address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (2016-2020), the National Plan of Action for Children (2016-2020), the National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labour approved in 2017, the National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development, the National Plan of Action on the Prevention of Child Abuse formulated in 2016, the Plan of Action on Social Protection of Children (2016-2019), the National Strategic Plan on Child Health (2018-2025), the National Strategic Plan on Maternal and Newborn Health, and the National Child Protection Policy.
As a result of progressive State policies that had been consistently followed, including the provision of free and universal access to primary and secondary education and to healthcare, Sri Lanka had been recording considerable progress in protecting and promoting the rights of the child. The national poverty headcount had declined from 22.7 to 6.7 per cent between 2002 and 2012/13. Notable progress had also been made in lowering the under-five mortality rate of children from 12.6 in 2007 to 9.9 per 1,000 live births in 2013. Sri Lanka had achieved almost universal participation in primary education and high attendance in secondary school education. The Government maintained a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence against children and it was committed to bring perpetrators to justice. Some 42 bureaus for children and women had been established at police stations across the country to look into complaints pertaining to children. That was an area where the Government would require capacity-building support. As a country that was emerging from long years of conflict, Sri Lanka was also in the process of taking special measures to normalize the lives of children affected by conflict and to guarantee them the rights enjoyed by the rest of the child population. The Government had facilitated the steady return to normalcy in the war-affected areas through democratic reforms, gradual and regular release of land to its rightful owners, resettlement of internally displaced families, and demining activities. Ms. Senaratne recognized that the Government’s job was far from being completed, and that challenges emerged on a daily basis, such as online safety for children and the impact of artificial intelligence on their employment prospects.
Questions from the Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, commended the positive steps taken by Sri Lanka with respect to children’s rights. She inquired about general measures of implementation, noting that children were not really understood as rights holders and fully prioritized in Sri Lanka. It was unclear what had been done to domesticate the Convention. Sri Lanka was a dualist country and it therefore needed to make the Convention fully binding. When would the Child Protection and Justice Bill be adopted?
How was inter-sectoral coordination ensured? There seemed to be a lack of coordination between health and education. How did the National Child Health Protection Authority coordinate with relevant institutions? When would the National Child Protection Policy be adopted? There seemed to be no child rights budgeting at the federal level.
What were the plans to establish a comprehensive data collection system for children’s rights? Why was there still no children’s commissioner? How could the dissemination of the Convention among children be improved?
Ms. Sandberg emphasized that the impact of businesses on children’s rights in a broader view should be examined. The age of majority seemed to be inconsistent across laws. What progress had been made so far in reforming the minimum age of marriage under the Muslim and Kandyan law?
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, inquired about the efforts made to eliminate discrimination against children belonging to ethnic minorities, migrant workers abroad, children in institutional care, and children subjected to caste-based discrimination. Ms. Otani expressed concern about discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children. Would it be possible for the Government to conduct a study and take necessary measures to address the situation of such children?
Experts also voiced concern that the amendment to remove exception for Muslim girls to the statutory rape provision in the Penal Code seemed to be planned only after the amendment to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act was completed. Would it be possible for the Government to take a comprehensive approach to rectify all existing discriminatory laws against Muslim girls as a package?
Was there any plan to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law? Was the fundamental concept of the Convention that children were rights holders and entitled to the right to non-discrimination accepted by society?
Committee Experts welcomed the fact that the best interest of the child had been incorporated into several laws as explained in the country report. However, how was that principle implemented in actual policies and programmes?
With respect to measures to protect children affected by conflict, there was still a high level of risk of landmines and unexploded ordinance. What was the status of the demining process and the efforts to educate children about the mine risk?
As for respecting the view of the child, did the Government plan to reflect children’s recommendations in future policies and activities? Were there platforms at municipal levels for children to be able to express their views in the decision-making processes? Were those platforms accessible to children in vulnerable situations, such as children with disabilities and those in institutional care?
Was there a supportive and enabling environment in families, schools and communities where adults encouraged children to express their views and gave due weight to their views? Was the right of the child to be heard in all judicial and administrative proceedings guaranteed and implemented? How did children participate in the reconciliation process?
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, asked about the deadline for birth registration, reminding that many children had not been registered due to the civil war and displacement. What did the Government plan to do about numerous newspapers which published details of cases involving children?
As for freedom of expression, it existed in theory only because of the 2017 law which stated that the authorities governed access to information. The Law on Preventing Terrorism restricted freedom of expression and children had been detained on the basis of enforcement of that law.
SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, reminded that Sri Lanka had pledged to be a world leader in fighting violence against children and that it had vowed to ban corporal punishment. However, corporal punishment had become part of children’s daily lives. What did the Government plan to do in that respect? When would a specific law banning corporal punishment be introduced? Had there been any awareness raising campaigns about corporal punishment in order to change people’s mindsets? How was the hotline for violence against children staffed? Had there been any prosecutions?
Was there a national plan of action to operationalize zero tolerance for violence against children? What measures was the State taking to try to prevent initiation ceremonies and sexual violence and exploitation in connection with them? What measures had been taken to counter the phenomenon of “beach boys”? Was there a plan of action to deal with sex tourism?
It seemed as though people no longer trusted the State because impunity was entrenched. Were there capacity-building programmes in place for social workers? Was there expert staff for child victims, including in remote areas? Were there any monitoring mechanisms for places where children were held in detention?
As for gender-based violence against girls, what measures were planned by the authorities? Rape was not always considered an offence. There were cases of female genital mutilation. What measures had been taken to eradicate that practice? Had there been any awareness raising campaigns against such mutilation? As for child marriage, had there been any action to prevent it, including abduction for marriage and practices of dowry?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that as a dualist country Sri Lanka adopted legislation to address lacunae in law. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka had several legislative provisions that supported provisions of the Convention. The rights granted to adults also applied to children alike. The Constitution recognized and protected the family as the basic unit of society, and it promoted with special care the interests of children and youth in order to ensure their full development and to protect them from exploitation and discrimination.
Children in Sri Lanka were conscious of the fact that they were rights holders from a very young age.
The National Child Protection Authority worked very closely with local-level offices and across departments. As for the National Child Protection Policy, it had not appeared to have affected people on the ground at first which was why it had been reformed. The programme unit of the National Child Protection Authority worked with district and local officers to that end.
As for businesses and child rights, discussions were underway. With respect to sex tourism, the Government worked to provide relevant education and training. The programme unit of the National Child Protection Authority organized training for new teachers on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children. The Police Unit in the National Child Protection Authority could be dispatched to investigate cases of female genital mutilation.
The delegation stated that working with children with disabilities was a problematic area, whereas work on eliminating corporal punishment was under way. UNICEF had agreed to provide more staff and equipment in order to clear the backlog of the investigation of child abuse. The Government had established an alert system to ensure that police officers followed up on online crime. In 2017, the National Child Protection Authority received 9,014 complaints of child abuse. There was a strong child club system in Sri Lanka which channeled the voices of children and could implement their own programmes.
Birth registration was free of charge and the rate of registration was very high. Adolescent health services had been adapted to the needs of those who attended school and were provided in major national languages. Emergency trauma centers were available to all victims free of charge. The Government was in the process of recruiting about 25 psychologists in the Department of Health.
Following the end of the war in 2009, the Government had declared amnesty for former combatants, including former child soldiers. They had to go through formal education and vocational training. They also received psychological support. In 2016 a training programme on mine risk had been conducted to educate communities about landmine dangers.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had gained immense independence from the Government, as well as increased funding. The Government regularly consulted the Commission with respect to its human rights policies. The Commission had the authority to provide for the resolution of human rights infringements through mediation. Extensive consultation with civil society was part and parcel of all of Sri Lanka’s reporting to the United Nations treaty bodies.
The delegation emphatically denied that children in Sri Lanka have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
CHANDRANI SENARATNE, Secretary at the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, explained that two separate ministries were in charge of the reconciliation process. A student exchange programme had been set up in order to involve children and youth in the reconciliation effort. Even though there was no separate budget for children’s issues, the Government did in fact provide a significant amount for child-related activities. Ms. Senaratne said that the Government wanted to learn from the experience of other countries on how to implement child-friendly budgets.
Second Round of Questions by the Experts
KIRSTEN SANDBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, highlighted the issue of children left behind by their parents who migrated for work, as well as the inability of social services to deal with the children of parents who drank heavily and mistreated them. Who made the decision about the institutionalization of children? The programme “Back to Home” only ran in some provinces. Were there any plans to extend it? What had been done to improve formal foster care in the country? Were there any plans to make the adoption of children easier?
SUZANNE AHO ASSOUMA, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, asked about the proportion of the State budget allocated to health. How many health personnel were there in the country? How did the Government plan to address disparities in health staff and facilities? What kind of healthcare was available to children under the age of five? What was being done to change the prevalent understanding that children with disabilities were charity cases?
Why was there a habit of giving children sweet rice as their first solid food at six months to boys and to girls at seven months? What were the conditions of cold storage for vaccines? Were there any child psychiatrists? How did the authorities deal with early pregnancies? Were there any programmes for children involved in the trafficking of alcohol and drugs? What preventive measures had been taken to attend to the families affected by climate change? As for children working in tea plantations, was there any monitoring of the use of agro-chemicals?
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, asked whether the Government would consider studying the reasons for the school dropout rate in rural areas. How did the authorities plan to ensure the actual implementation of the expanded compulsory education for all children? Were there any interim measures envisaged for children under 16 currently in employment to attend schools?
What budgetary resources had been devoted to enhance the quality of teachers, especially in the conflict-affected areas? What measures had been undertaken to eliminate hidden financial costs of schooling? How was the child-friendly approach in schools implemented?
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, inquired about child labour, namely about the penalties imposed on employers and parents, and about ensuring that children would not take up employment until the age of 16 when they completed their compulsory education. What types of professions were forbidden for children?
What were the details of the national strategy to combat child trafficking? What were the results obtained from the cybercrime unit?
Was there a maximum prison sentence that could be imposed on children? There seemed to be scant measures for alternative sentences. Had the Government conducted any studies on that matter? When would the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 12? Did the Government plan to set up specialized juvenile courts?
Turning to missing children, Mr. Gastaud inquired about the current state of play. What was the exact number of former child soldiers still awaiting rehabilitation and reintegration? Was it true that certain former child soldiers were in prison under terrorism charges? What measures had been taken against those enlisting child soldiers?
Replies by the Delegation
The Government remained committed to reform the minimum age of marriage for girls under the Muslim law, with the active participation of the concerned community. A committee had been set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice to carry out the necessary legal reform. The Government was following a two-pronged approach to the issue, namely sensitization of the concerned community and discussions with community leaders, while respecting the Convention’s provisions.
As for the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children from discrimination, certain provisions under the Penal Code criminalized same-sex conduct. But that did not reflect the current practice in the country. The Government was committed to reform all aspects of the Penal Code to bring them into line with international human rights standards. In all its United Nations treaty body reviews, Sri Lanka had consistently taken the position that article 12 of the Constitution on equality and non-discrimination did not contain an exhaustive list of discrimination grounds. As part of the ongoing constitutional reform, Sri Lanka would specifically address discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Responding to the question on why children were perceived as perpetrators and not as victims under the law on sexual orientation, the delegation clarified that the law was inherited from colonial times and that under the current State practice children were not considered as perpetrators.
With respect to children with disabilities, in 2012 there were 88,740 such children in the country. The Government needed to intensify its efforts in that area and to move away from the charity-based system to the human rights-based system. An independent body would be entrusted with policy-making in the area of disability, as with drafting relevant legal acts. A two-tier monitoring system had been established in order to ensure that action points relating to the rights of children with disabilities under the National Human Rights Action Plan were implemented. Responding to a question about programmes for children with disabilities under the age of five, the delegation explained that several ministries provided consistent aid to children with disabilities, such as livelihood support for low-income families, medical assistance and assistive devices, and inclusive and special educational facilities.
Turning to children of migrant parents, family background reports were compulsory for all such children up to the age of 18. Housing grants, scholarships, vocational training, low-interest loans and employment programmes were provided to such families. There were some 6,000 social workers deployed in the country, working for different ministries and tasked to assess the situation of children. The institutionalization of children was a measure of last resort and it was not taken by judges. Instead, placement committees took such decisions, with the participation of parents and guardians. The “Back to Home” programme now covered the whole country.
There was zero tolerance for child labour, and there were several monitoring measures that were included in the new child labour policy. Child labour incidence had been reduced drastically thanks to the cooperation with the International Labour Organization. Legislative amendments to raise the legal working age from 14 to 16, and awareness raising programmes were underway to cover the entire country and to eradicate child labour. As for children employed in sex tourism, the Government had started a pilot project in southern Sri Lanka to work with provincial educational authorities to identify the so-called “beach boys” and offenders.
Steps had been undertaken to come up with alternative judicial measures for children in conflict with the law. So far there were no provisions in Sri Lanka for the Attorney General to suspend criminal proceedings. As for the minimum age of criminal responsibility, it would be increased from eight to 12. Another amendment had been proposed with respect to the child’s understating of his or her acts. The Government had taken serious note of the Committee’s concern about the treatment of children between the age of 16 and 18 as adults in criminal proceedings. Decriminalization of abortion was allowed when pregnancy occurred below the age of 16, and in case of rape.
During the colonial period, Sri Lanka had provisions on accepted forms of corporal punishment. Today the Constitution enshrined the principle of freedom from torture. The Penal Code and the Children and Young Persons Ordinance stipulated that wilful harm and neglect of children was an offence. Even parents were forbidden from physically punishing their children.
The definition of a child was one of the shortfalls in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the majority of statutes defined the child as a person below the age of 18. In the case of rape, the child was defined as a person below the age of 16 as an aggravating factor.
A project had been formulated for social work officers to visit street children on a regular basis. The aims of the project were to register them, ensure their protection, and to re-integrate them into the educational system. An Emergency Centre stood ready to receive street children if needed. The Government had also launched family strengthening projects in order to preserve children within a family environment.
The National Child Protection Authority had a separate cybercrime unit and specified guidelines for the duties of Internet providers. The Authority had also conducted awareness raising programmes and training about online security. Sri Lanka was an active member of the Bali Process and had ratified the Palermo Protocol, and as such it was active in combatting child trafficking.
According to the Right to Information Act, public authorities were required to appoint information officers to provide information to the public upon request. That right equally applied to children.
The delegation explained that in December 2009, a family tracing and reunification unit had been established with the assistance of UNICEF in northern Sri Lanka, due to the fact that a large number of children had gotten separated from their families during the last phase of the conflict. Many children remained untraced because of the lack of information. Some 560 former child soldiers who had surrendered had been rehabilitated and handed over to their parents or relatives. As for information on some former child soldiers who had not been returned to their parents, those still had not been identified.
Sri Lanka was firmly committed to the implementation of the Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 and identifying all missing persons, as well as to establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, a reparations office and a judicial mechanism. The Government had taken the necessary steps to deal with that problem. As for impunity, independent police and judicial commissions had been set up to safeguard the protection of human rights. In addition, many concrete and stringent measures had been taken to prevent torture.
There was a well-established institutional mechanism for the prevention of drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and a presidential drug prevention task force had been set up to work with 11 ministries through community-based approach. Sri Lanka maintained the child development health record and special attention was paid to early identification of hearing and seeing issues, as well as to child health at the beginning of schooling. There was no discrimination in distributing infant feeding in the country.
CHANDRANI SENARATNE, Secretary at the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, clarified that a separate ministry had been set up to deal with the estate sector including the vulnerability of children in the plantation sector. As for the standard of living of vulnerable children, poverty reduction programmes were in place, as well as nutrition programmes.
BERNARD GASTAUD, Committee Expert and head of the task force on Sri Lanka, thanked all members of the delegation for their contributions to the dialogue with the Committee. He encouraged the State party to step up its efforts to obtain relevant statistics in order to inform its child programmes and to secure necessary training and capacity-building for relevant staff. He also called on the Government to eliminate child marriage and other harmful practices, to identify the remaining missing children, to prevent discrimination in all areas of life, to adopt relevant legislative acts, and to invest further in the national reconciliation process.
CHANDRANI SENARATNE, Secretary at the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, stated that the dialogue had been very fruitful and that it would help the Government identify in which areas it needed to invest more effort. The Government was pleased to learn that it was on the right track.
RENATE WINTER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and asked it to communicate Committee Experts’ best regards to all children in Sri Lanka.
For use of the information media; not an official record