New economic policies for SL – The Island


In any crisis, the natural human instinct is to protect children first. Children are humanity’s most vulnerable and precious asset. Yet the widely held belief that solving economic and political problems at the family level will automatically solve the problems facing children is both misguided and potentially dangerous. While many of the issues facing children today are linked to the wider consequences of the current economic, political and social crises, there are critical and pressing concerns that need to be addressed separately.

In the ongoing and impending disaster in Sri Lanka, the needs of our children have not only been ignored, but real harm has been done to our children by the chaotic, ruthless and ill-informed decision-making of the Sri Lankan government. We, the undersigned, in our capacity as concerned and responsible adults, in our roles as scholars, educators, doctors, lawyers, professionals, activists, religious leaders and public servants, demand that the government Sri Lankan shares with its people and the international community, a blueprint that demonstrates the ability and the will to protect and support the children of this country during this national crisis.

If the government is unable to do so, it should immediately appoint and empower a national-level crisis committee capable of addressing the impact of this crisis on children.

The lives of Sri Lankan children have been in tragic chaos since the start of Covid-19 in March 2020. Two and a half years later, there seems to be no plan, no interest and no capacity to deal with this crisis complex.

Below we highlight the issues that require the most immediate attention.

1. Malnutrition (see data published by UNICEF and Save the Children)

2. Stress and vulnerability in domestic life (due to income insecurity, rising food prices, disruption of basic needs, increased domestic violence)

3. Learning loss due to arbitrary school closures

4. Stress due to chaotic and contradictory school hours

5. Stress due to rigidity of programs and examinations

6. Supplementary financial and social burden due to online education (requiring smartphones, data cards, connections) and the growing disparity in education between children who have and do not have access to this option.

seven. Damage to emotional and social growth due to increased isolation

8. Mental health problems due to stress, instability and isolation

9. Vulnerability to online addiction and other hazards, including cyberpredation

10. Vulnerability to unsuitable job, including the possible sexual exploitation of the most deprived children.

Children and young people lose hope and no longer have a reason to exist, which aggravates existing problems. They quickly lose their resilience and won’t have the drive to bounce back even when/if the situation improves.

The Sri Lankan education system, comprising 10,100 schools spread across the country, is governed by a centralized decision-making mechanism run by the Ministry of Education (MoE) which emphasizes universal education. It is the most powerful network connecting children across the country. Therefore, this mechanism can and must be activated to protect, energize and support children through this crisis, which is expected to last for years.

Consequently, an unresponsive Ministry of Education, which seeks to juggle a “business as usual” approach by implementing ad hoc government directives, becomes an unwitting adversary in this crisis by imposing constraints and obstructing solutions. which our children urgently need. Continuation of this flawed process will inevitably compound the harm done to our children.

Even as we write this letter, more than 4.2 million school children are sitting at home, with all schools closed until 10e of July. Over the past two and a half years, at least three Ministers of Education have come and gone, with no positive impact. Even at this late stage, it is unfortunate that the Ministry of Education is not able to provide an innovative form of child-centred leadership, and not simply implement top-down directives. Instead, despite public pressure to (1) provide children with respite from the stress of exams (2) prioritize meals for hungry children (3) implement a community school system (4) prioritize to public transport for children, no significant and tangible results have been initiated.

We call on all responsible adults – including parents, psychologists, school principals, teachers, religious leaders, child rights activists, teachers’ unions – to come together on behalf of children from Sri Lanka. Let’s unite for:

  • challenge the government’s current irresponsible decision-making on education
  • denounce the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Cabinet of Sri Lanka for their disinterest in putting the children of this country first,
  • consolidate our resources to provide solutions to the crisis affecting children and adolescents

The persistent irresponsible and illogical behavior of the Sri Lankan government and the Ministry of Education may result in a generation of mentally and emotionally scarred, academically and physically handicapped young people who are therefore ill-prepared to face a beleaguered society caught in a long term economic and political crisis.

In addition to the clear ethical imperative, protecting these children is investing in the future survival of this country. Ignoring their needs robs us all of that future.

The petition had been signed by a diverse and representative group of 420 people at the time of its submission to the media. The following 25 names constitute the initial group of signatories.

1. Dr. Manoj Alawathukotuwa, University of Peradeniya

2. Dr. Shashikala Assella, University of Kelaniya

3. Hans Billimoria, Child Rights Activist/Co-Founder of Grassrooted Trust

4. Bishop Duleep de Chickera, former Bishop of Colombo

5. Ruwanthie de Chickera, artist

6. Dr. Tara de Mel, Former Education Secretary

7. Paba Deshapriya, child rights activist/co-founder of Grassrooted Trust

8. Marisa de Silva, activist

9. Prof. Priyan Dias, formerly University of Moratuwa

10. Shanthi Dias, Former Principal Methodist College

11. Brito Fernando, human rights activist

12. Dr. Sujata Gamage, Educator/Co-Founder of Education Forum

13. Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Colombo

14. B. Gowthaman

15. Harsha Gunasena, Chartered Accountant

16. Prof. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

17. Dr. Rajan Hoole, formerly Jaffna University

18. Dr Ruwani Jayewardene

19. Prof. Saumya Liyanage, University of Visual and Performing Arts

20. Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya

21. Prof. Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka

22. Shreen Saroor, human rights activist

23. Dr. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, Jaffna University

24. Prof. Deepika Udagama, University of Peradeniya

25. Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo.

Lynn A. Saleh