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Pledge to strengthen alternative care options for children

Several prominent government officials said at a conference in Colombo on Tuesday,that Sri Lanka needs to stop institutionalizing children at such high rates. There are over 14,000 children in institutions in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at an event at the Grand Oriental Hotel yesterday on deinstitutionalization and alternative care for children, former Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane pointed out that under the law, children defined as “in need of care and protection” could be orphans, victims of sexual violence, or alleged criminal offenders.

This results in many children with diverse needs and circumstances being held in the same institutions.

“If we can do something, we should, and not allow the burden to fall on the child,” she said.

Justice Tilakawardane said judges needed to be further educated in the nuances of the law, especially in cases of sexual violence.

“All children should not be in the same system,” said City Planning and Water Supply State Minister Sudarshini Fernandopulle. “There needs to be some kind of revision,” she said.

State Finance Minister Eran Wickramaratne said he believed increased economic stability would lead to a decrease in institutionalization, as taking more families out of poverty would make children less vulnerable.

“We have to change the environment for women,” he said, arguing that there should be more child care centers, and increased maternity leave, in both the private and public sectors.

The event was sponsored by the SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka, Children’s Emergency Relief International, the Parliamentary Caucus on Children, and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Women and Gender. At its conclusion, the organizers handed policymakers a list of proposals to strengthen alternative care options in Sri Lanka.

“Our effort is to have a systematic and formal system of deinstitutionalization for our children,” SOS Board president Nandasiri Ponnameperuma said.