Act to provide stronger legal foundation :
Protecting the rights of children
have their own rights; with their own requirements such as food,
security, education, but above all they need love and freedom.
Unfortunately, laws regarding their rights have been neglected for far
too long. The laws currently in existence had been formulated over seven
However, the Cabinet granted approval recently to a memorandum
submitted by Minister of Child Development and Women's Empowerment
Sumedha G. Jayasena to transfer the National Policy on 'Early Childhood
Care and Development' into an Act. The objective is to provide a strong
legal foundation and to formulate a uniform system for the whole
The most important period of a person's life is the first seven
years, the personality development during which, would shape the rest of
"During this period of time a child passes through two stages,"
explained Chairman, National Child Protection Authority, Jagath
"These are the first three years spent with the family and two more
years at pre-school."
Each period has its own priorities. But the busy lifestyle of parents
today has adversely affected children in their first few years. "In most
cases, both parents go to work, leaving the child with grandparents or a
servant", said Wellawatta. As he explained, the concept of child rearing
of the new generation is different to that of the old. "When the
children are left with grandparents during the day and when parents try
to raise children their own way when they return home from work, there
is a conflict of concepts, which would affect the personality
development in children," he said.
"When parents leave their children with under-educated servants
belonging to a totally different social strata, there is bound to be
conflicts." Their (servants') thinking is sometimes totally different.
He explained, these servants are not professionals. Under such
circumstances, continuous personality development cannot be observed in
most children today.
In such cases the only option would be to have the child enrolled in
a day care centre. But when a child is sent to a day care centre at the
tender age of two-and-a-half years, he/she is deprived of the much
needed love and freedom at that age. "Moreover, there is no formal
system for institutions like day care centres in Sri Lanka", said
Wellawatta. As he explained, even playing becomes a formal activity at
such institutions. "This again affects the personality development of
the child." And a child's personality development should not be hindered
till at least the age of seven.
Finding solutions to such problems connected to our culture can prove
to be difficult. "With the legal backing in the Act, these standards can
be monitored easily and training provided where necessary," Wellawatta
said. He suggested that parents as well as teachers should be trained.
"Teachers should be trained to disregard social or personal problems
when dealing with children. They should not be semi-professional, but
National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development, which came into
effect in 2004, covers national, provincial, district, divisional and
village level committees. But not being an Act, it lacked the legal
authority to enforce law. "Earlier it was just a policy. It was not
mandatory for day care centres and pre-schools to adhere to these
guidelines," explained Yamuna Perera, Director Children's Secretariat,
Ministry of Child Development and Women's Empowerment. "In instances
where the policy guidelines were violated, we did not have the authority
to take legal action," she said.
According to Perera, the subject of pre-schools has been devolved
under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. "We have encountered
several obstacles when attempting to maintain standards. Statutes of
some Provincial Councils are used as guidelines for pre-school
activities without making use of the National Policy."
She explained that the objective of formulating an Act is to maintain
a uniform system countrywide in spite of individual differences of
opinion. "We are already working together with Provincial Councils,"
Perera said. She also pointed out that an Act would help to strengthen
the coordination process from provincial to district level, something
that has proved to be a challenge due to differences in administrative
A committee has been appointed to formulate the draft which will be
presented to Parliament for approval. The committee consisting of 16
members, which includes representatives of authorities such as the
Ministries of Child Development and Women's Empowerment, Education,
Health and Local Government and Provincial Councils and the Attorney
General's Department, Legal Draftsmen's Department, Child and Women's
Bureau and other experts in the field are now involved in drafting the
In spite of several attempts by authorities, transforming the
National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development has been
"The existing laws are nearly 70 years old", said Minister of Child
Development and Women's Empowerment Sumedha G. Jayasena. "With no proper
legal foundation lawsuits have been dragging on for years." She
explained that all pre-schools, early childhood development centres and
day care centres should be maintained as per-minimum level of standards
and should be registered with the Government.
Such an Act could finally provide solutions to long-existing problems
faced by the country's children.