Children: the future of our world.
How many times have we heard that phrase?
Yet, the number of children who are under-privileged, uneducated and poverty-stricken is astounding. Whilst we have previously stressed on equality; it seems that this formula has been tried and has failed- thus leading to the conclusion that a new approach is needed if we are to better the world.
The 2016 State of the World’s Children report which was released earlier this year attempts to deal with this very problem, presenting its solution as EQUITY – NOT EQUALITY.
A special session to promote the release and content of this report was held on the 20th of July at the University of Colombo, conducted by UNICEF, the University of Colombo and UN Volunteers, which was not only fruitful and eye opening for the youth present, but also brought to light the change an individual can make.
The session began with a presentation by Mr. Ramiz Behbudov, a specialist in child protection and a representative of UNICEF SriLanka, giving us an overview of equity and why it is better than equality.
For the purpose of this article, I will use the same image he used:
Equality is giving everyone the same thing; equity is giving everyone things in amounts that reflect their needs.
Such an approach makes one thing clear – children always have and always will need more than we do.
As explained by Mr. Ramiz, currently, the cycle of poverty repeats itself in a paradoxical fashion through intergenerational transfer. The effects of a poverty stricken child, lead to an incomplete education, thus an inability to reach one’s full potential and a subsequent entrance into the primary sector with lower wages and thus, paves way for the next generations entrance into poverty.
Breaking this cycle is a three-pronged process;
- Universal healthcare
- Accessibly education
- Tackling poverty holistically – a multidimensional approach for the many facets of poverty as opposed to simply financial poverty. For example; a child is considered to live in poverty if he/she does not have access to a playground or a play space. These facets of poverty are often unnoticed and thus result in inconsistent evaluations.
Throughout this presentation, I couldn’t help but think of the impracticality of such an approach. How would we do this if we are currently struggling with providing the same for all?
The answer presented itself in the form of a guest speaker; Mr. Danesh Maduranga, winner of the 2015 V-Award for Social Innovation.
How many of us use Facebook? For status updates, subtle stalking and creating an imprint of yourself online? Now, how many of us use it to actually make a change?
That’s right, not most of us.
But Mr. Danish has exceeded expectations, using this social media platform to not only publicize homes that live below the poverty line, but use his large friend base to collect and provide aid for them. Some of this aid is financial, whilst some of it is simply in the form of dry rations or extra English lessons and employment opportunities. Professionally: he is an innovator and software engineer. Personally; he is someone who wants to make a difference. Such is the simplicity of our ability to help make a change – a Facebook post.
Kudos to Mr. Danish and the best of luck to him as he continues to expand his existing project!
Following him, the attendees were broken up into groups headed by UNICEF specialists to discuss the three key issues currently plaguing children;
- Water sanitation and hygiene – handled by Mr. Suranga De Silva.
- Child Protection – handled by Mr. Mihlar Malik.
- Education – handled by Ms. Luxmy Sureshkumar.
Water sanitation and hygiene
Clean water is the foundation upon which we build our healthy lives, and presently Sri-Lanka has one of the highest rates of accessible water amongst MEDCs – a fact we have always been proud of.
However, if we are to critically analyze Sri-Lanka’s position, it is understandable that water must not just be judged on accessibility but its quality and thus its potency.
Whilst 90% of the water we receive is declared “good” – only around 32% is pumped directly from the waterboard. 8% is piped from community-based centers and the remaining 40% from protected-dug wells. Here lies a discrepancy in the verification and purification of the water, despite having access to “clean water”, it is unclear as to how “clean” the water is. The waterboard accounts for chemicals and microorganisms, however the community-based piping depends on each independent community and its establishment and the wells contain little to no verification of either microorganisms or chemicals.
Additionally, an interesting fact is that the water pumped to Colombo can draw it’s source back to the Kelaniya river, which is one of the most polluted rivers in Sri-Lanka and contains the factory waste of at least 10,000 registered industries!
The lack of knowledge and awareness of something so pivotal in our lives is astounding, but what is more troubling is the fact that children are often unaware of their water source and have significantly weak immune systems – making them more susceptible to water-ridden diseases in comparison to adults.
Modernization is a double-edged sword; whilst we need growth in our industrial sector to thrive, it’s thriving proceeds to worsen the environment and in a cyclical fashion, our lifestyle.
During this discussion, the most shocking statistic that comes to mind is that 50% of all cases of violence against children were carried out by family members. Even though this may vary slightly in different regions of Sri Lanka, it is almost always the same number with a variety of different reasons.
For example; Jaffna which has recently recovered from the war, is plagued by the repercussions of the mindset established during the war. When the open discussion of any “sex” related topics was prohibited and labeled as taboo, this stopped the flow of information to children, thus rendering them incapable of understanding the violence and reporting it. (Of course, this could apply to various regions, but is seen most prominently in Jaffna.)
Secondly, is the media to blame? The rising trend in publicizing images of the victims not only causes further victimization but also leads to the reluctance in victims coming forth. The social repercussions in rural areas can range from honor killings to save the family’s pride, to even more abuse because the child came forth in instances where family members are the offenders.
This, paired with the tedious legal system results in a very inefficient child protection mechanism.
A possible solution for this was presented by Mr. Milha; by introducing basic sex education and breaking the taboo of such conversations, we create a social web of acceptance and support for the abused child and simultaneously encourage those being abused to come forth rather than persist in their misery and psychological deterioration. This, when done extensively, may even act as a deterrent to further cases of child abuse, as it’s prevalence today is a reflection of the ease with which it is turned a blind eye to.
Sri-Lanka’s free education system is world renowned and applauded, as it’s accessibility and above 90% literacy rate within the populous are indicators of the effectiveness of the system. But nothing is perfect in this world, and like everything else the education system has its faults.
Principally: the fault once again lies in the quality.
Whilst there is access, there is no system of checks and balances in place to ensure students receive the best from teachers, especially in rural, hard-to-reach areas. There is a discrepancy in the teacher-student ratio, as well as the social connectivity between rural and urban schools. An increasing number of teachers have declined teaching positions in rural settings due to the difference in infrastructure and terrain which, in comparison to urban cities is under-developed and desolate.
Additionally, a school’s status plays an increasingly important role in forging connections and partnerships which open up job prospects and an eventual upper hand in the competitive job market – an opportunity scarcely witnessed in rural settings where there is a persistent amount of poverty, and so the cycle continues.
In conclusion, this UNICEF session brought to light some of the most significant problems in Sri Lanka with details that are normally overlooked. The first step to the eradication of a problem, is awareness and acceptance of its prevalence; something which this session exceeded expectations in doing successfully.
However, on a further note, in today’s world the picture used above is slightly different. Let us look at the complete version.
Here we see the reality of the situation. While the concept of equity is more encompassing than the concept of equality, is it the appropriate way to address this issue? Or is there another, more holistic solution to the problem?