By Hiran H. Senewiratne
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis continues to rock the country and it is the poorest and most vulnerable girls and boys who are paying the highest price, said UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, George Laryea-Adjei.
“Sri Lanka, a country normally known for its rapid economic growth and booming tourism, is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Families are skipping regular meals as staple foods become unaffordable,” said Laryea-Adjei during a press conference held at Movenpick. hotel, Colombo last Friday. The regional director was visiting Sri Lanka to study the sectors affected by the economic crisis.
Laryea-Adjei added: “Children are going to bed hungry, not knowing where their next meal will come from – in a country that already had the second highest rate of severe acute malnutrition in South Asia.
“Nearly half of the children in Sri Lanka already need some form of emergency assistance. The education of 4.8 million children, already severely hampered by two years of interrupted learning, is at risk as school attendance continues to be compromised.
“Children’s education is hampered by the current crisis in many ways; children no longer receive the hot, nutritious meals they had before the crisis; they lack basic stationery and their teachers struggle with transportation issues.
“There are already reports of increased abuse, exploitation and violence against children due to growing economic pressures and in addition there are already over 10,000 children in residential care in Sri Lanka. , mainly due to poverty.
“Such institutions are not the best place for a child to grow up because they do not have the bond of a family. Unfortunately, the current crisis is pushing more and more families to take their children to these institutions because they do not have the means to meet their needs, including food.
“If current trends continue, hard-won gains for children in Sri Lanka risk being reversed and, in some cases, permanently erased.
“UNICEF has been in Sri Lanka for over 50 years. With the support of partners, we distribute school supplies, provide meals for preschoolers and bring in much-needed resources
cash transfers to pregnant and lactating women.
“But if the crisis persists, many more are needed and we must support them.
“Children must be placed at the heart of the solution as the country strives to resolve the crisis. Continuity of learning must be ensured for girls and boys of all ages, so that they can prepare for their future and are safe from the threats of child labour, exploitation and gender-based violence. Central and primary health services must be prioritized to protect women and children from life-threatening diseases and malnutrition.
“Acute economic insecurity and inflation across South Asia are poised to further threaten the lives of children – in a region that was already home to a fifth of the world’s poorest people and with deep hardship and inequality affecting child health, learning and safety, and in a region that has been hit hard by COVID-19.
“If we don’t act now to protect children from the worst effects of the global economic downturn, children in the world’s most populous region will be pushed deeper into poverty – and their health, nutrition, learning and safety will be compromised.
“We cannot let children pay the price for crises that are not of their making. We must act today to ensure their future tomorrow.