- South Asian Parliamentarians gather to promote child welfare and tackle challenges
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Protecting children online, including on social media, should be a priority Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said yesterday, calling on policymakers to commit to improving child rights across South Asia.
The 3rd annual South Asian Parliamentarian Platform for Children (SAPPC) organised by UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) commenced yesterday at the Parliament complex with the participation of lawmakers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, who over the next two days will discuss and plan the ways and means to protect and promote the rights of every child, including those yet to be born in the region.
Outlining key areas which go beyond the traditional needs and care extended to children, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya delivering the keynote address urged SAPPC’s special focus to be on the internet and increasing use of social media.
“Modern technology in its interaction with age-old social traditions has engendered new complex challenges in relation to our children. For instance, the effects of social media on our children is one such matter that requires our careful attention. Although cyberspace and social media itself are excellent domains for children to acquire knowledge, children can fall victims unwittingly and be led astray by misuse of social media tools by adults and children themselves,” he said.
This year’s multifaceted agenda for SAPPC covers traditional topics including access to education, childhood primary care and development, ending early and forced marriage, child-friendly procedures for the juvenile justice system, protecting children from gender-related abuse, and how to assist children who are differently-abled. Child labour and abuse of children travelling unaccompanied are still issues of concern in some regions in South Asia as well.
“We are aware that a child living in a conflict-prone or post-conflict region has very different challenges than a child who lives in an affluent neighbourhood. You may agree that each of these situations requires a specialised, targeted and tailor-made approach to realise initiatives for the protection and welfare of children. It requires specialised skills of policymakers and civil society actors, and most importantly understanding and support of the people’s representatives, like Parliamentarians. All must be involved in these efforts with commitment and sensitivity and without prejudice to any ethnic, religious or political considerations,” said the Speaker.
Praising the important role the INGOs played during the 30-year fight against terrorism in the country, the Speaker said the assistance of UNICEF and the United Nations resulted in ceasefires for child immunisation programs and enabled holding of public exams for students in areas affected by military confrontations.
Admiring the hard work and commitment of UNICEF to change the lives of children, UNICEF South Asia Regional Director Jean Gough said: “Lives of children are better compared to what it was 30 years ago in many places around the world. Development in terms of education, healthcare, and safety has increased. But there is unfinished business. Too many children suffer from a lack of rights. We need to strengthen the compulsory education. Too many children are not learning. South Asia still holds largest number of child brides in the world. The Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRS) plays a strong role in terms of stigma. It is important to train a workforce that can face these challenges and uphold child rights. Climate change and mass migration are also challenging for children today. Each Parliament in the region has challenges in front of them to uphold child rights where the younger generation needs us.”