Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

The Care of Children 34 - Training for entering the world of work

( Created date: 23-Apr-2013 )

Around a year ago I was appointed to convene the Task Force to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, a task in which I have not achieved as much as should have been done by now. Before that however, I had set up in the Reconciliation Office a consultative process to raise questions and assess and try to respond to needs with regard to Rights issues. It was through this mechanism that we arranged a visit to the prisons with the Human Rights Commission, a process which will I hope lead soon to more sensible measures with regard to remandees, and in particular the many youngsters now taken into custody for drug related offences.
In addition to questions of the laws’ delays and anomalies – and the irresponsibility of many elements in our judicial system – we concentrated much on issues concerning women and children. I was deeply impressed in this regard by the commitment of many social organizations, and only sorry that officials, even though often well meaning, do not respond quickly to the concerns that are raised.
A couple of weeks back the Institute of Human Rights, which has been in the forefront of drawing attention to the plight of women and children committed into state custody and then neglected, raised the question of the reintegration into society, when they reach the age of 18, of children who had been placed in homes.
The assumption is that, on leaving the homes, they are reintegrated with their families. But often there is no family that can be traced that is willing and suitable to take over the care of such youngsters. Though in theory adults, they need support and protection, and the State that had taken responsibility for their care when they were children must also accept responsibility for the transitional period. In the absence of this, it seems that such children sometimes end up almost automatically being absorbed into the religious orders that run the homes, whether Buddhist or Christian or Hindu.
I have therefore written to the NCPA, which should be responsible nationwide for a coherent and constructive policy with regard to such children, to suggest intervention in two areas. The first is programmes that prepare families for providing a decent future for such children.
This needs psychosocial support in addition to training on good parenting. The psychosocial support may also be needed by the parents, to uplift them in their day to day life and also ensure a change of attitudes towards dealing with children who are back with them. This may require general capacity building for such families, which is in line with the philosophy now current that we should as far as possible avoid committing children into care outside a family environment. Livelihood assistance may be appropriate, but that is precisely what social welfare programmes should be about, ensuring assistance to the vulnerable rather than blanket provisions for assistance, which can often lead to politically motivated interventions.
In this regard I was sorry to be informed that recently a Parliamentary query about the recipients of assistance was not answered, on the grounds that confidentiality was appropriate in such cases. That should not be the position with regard to recipients of public assistance, since the criteria for such assistance should be transparent, and the public have a right to know what is being done with public money and whether the methodology of selection is fair and consistent.
While such support is vital, it should not however lead to situations of continuing dependence, which is why I have also suggested that we need mechanisms to ensure that the vulnerable can in time support themselves. For that purpose we must develop more and better programmes of Vocational Training. This must be introduced into homes for children, at least from the time they are 16, so that by the time they are released they can work productively and be more easily reintegrated with their families and society. Apprentice schemes can also be developed for children who do not wish to study further, while those in school should be given priority in the vocational training that schools are now expected to commence in their own premises.
This last initiative is extremely important, though I fear that, without someone energetic and committed to oversee its implementation, progress will be slow. This is a pity, because I have no doubt that assistance will be readily available to  establish basic training centres in all schools in the vicinity of the homes to which children are now committed in substantial numbers. If the suggestions I have advanced for consolidating the work of NGOs are accepted, this would be an ideal field in which to begin, by entrusting each of several NGOs with building up networks of such training centres in the different Districts. I have no doubt that those who now do dedicated work in this connection, Don Bosco and Sarvodaya and Sewalanka and Aide-et-Action and also the larger internationals, would avidly enter into such a programme, with support also from UNICEF and ILO.
Such training centres should however also be required to ensure employability through the development of initiative as well as other soft skills. Though in theory this is now required in the syllabuses prescribed for National Vocational Qualifications, the requirements should be enhanced, and proper training provided to ensure that reasonable competencies are achieved. In particular there should be concerted attention to personality development, on the lines of what the trainees I saw at the Ambalangoda Aide-et-Action Centre evinced, and which seemed apparent also at the Centre they set up in Vavuniya a year or so back. Not only children confined in homes for many years, but also all youngsters who have to go out into the world and earn a living, must be equipped not only with appropriate skills, but also creative and self-reliant personalities, able too to cooperate with others.


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