The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

A couple of days after government had held a consultation about implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan with regard to Women and Children, the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association convened a General Assembly on the topic of Violence against Women and Children. It seems that the World Association had thought this a matter of urgency to have ‘a wide spread campaign of stopping violence against women around the world’, and the Sri Lankan Association had taken the matter up through a very effective mechanism, namely asking each Province to examine a particular topic and make recommendations.

I had to be away for a couple of hours, so I missed some presentations, but I was privileged to hear the Northern, Southern, Central and Wayamba Provinces talk about Child Abuse, Child Labour and Rape. I was told too that Uva had made an excellent presentation, so I talked to the young ladies concerned over lunch and indeed found them aware of the scope of the problem, and full of ideas about how to resolve it.

All groups spoke of the need for greater awareness, and noted that not enough of this was given in school. This had come up in the government discussions too, as well as in the Civil Society consultations held at the Reconciliation Office, and also at a special session I had convened about children through the Task Force. Sadly – and I must take some responsibility for this, since the change was made when I chaired the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education – what is termed Life Skills is no longer compulsory at the crucial stage, namely Grades 10 and 11.

We had decided to divide up what used to be called Social Studies into three components, History, Geography and Life Skills / Civic Education, and in fact we produced pretty good syllabuses in these subjects. I do not just say this, for Cambridge University Press in India looked at the Life Skills syllabus and asked if they could use it to produce a text, not just for the Sri Lankan market, but to propagate in India as well, since they thought it covered all relevant areas extremely effectively.

Unfortunately, with a change of personnel, some of the syllabus was changed (though it is still quite good, unlike the History syllabus, which is painfully repetitive and does not encourage thinking skills). More seriously, it was decided to make History compulsory, whereas we had assumed students would choose one of the three subjects, and in most cases would oft for the practical option. However, Life Skills is now part of a basket in which there are many more popular subjects, and so very few students offer the subject. We decided to write to the Ministry recommending a change, but I suspect it will be a long time before the interests of the children are taken seriously in deciding on such matters.

In addition to awareness however, we also discussed the need to build up support groups for youngsters. Interestingly enough, the Southern Province mentioned what we had talked about in the government and Civil Society consultations, namely the need to popularize extra-curricular activities in schools, to build up team spirit and solidarity. Not only the Southern Province but others too mentioned the appalling competitiveness that our school system now inculcates, and they felt that remedial measures were necessary since this caused peer pressures to be destructive, whereas what we should develop is peer support.

Interestingly some of the rural students were supportive of the idea, which had been floated by the National Child Protection Agency, that we should encourage going back to double session. Currently, many students have nothing to do for half the day, and this inevitably leads to mischief in some form or another. Urban centres of course have tuition classes, but as educationists and others told us during our consultations in Jaffna, these are the source of tremendous problems, starting with the abdication of responsibility for education on the part of schools to encouragement of sexual indulgence. In rural areas, where tuition is unavailable or much more difficult to access, the problem is compounded in other ways.

It would make sense therefore for  the Ministry – or rather Ministries, since most schools are managed by Provincial authorities – to allow Principals, with consultation of parents, to decide whether or not they want to revert to double session. Whether they do so or not, they should be encouraged to ensure that all children take part in extra-curricular activities. For this purpose it may be necessary to ensure more such programmes, in which the institution of girl guide and boy scout companies should be given priority. I was sad to find, for instance, that there were hardly any guide companies in the four less prosperous districts of the North, a matter than had come up too at the Divisional Reconciliation Committee meetings I had attended in the last few months.

Government should, by developing synergies between the District officials, the education officials and school principals, fast forward training of personnel to establish such companies. I believe the Women and Children’s Desks of police stations could also get involved in this, through the consultative committees they should set up in every Grama Niladhari Division. As we all agreed, prevention is much better than cure, and the establishment of support systems through peer group institutions is a very simple but effective mechanism that should be promoted. In the process there could be information sharing too about potential threats – drug dealers for instance, improper suggestions through social media – which the community is best equipped to resist through awareness as well as exemplification of the Guide Motto, ‘Be Prepared’.

Daily News 12 April 2012 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/04/12/fea03.asp
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