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Sri lanka News – Sri Lanka opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has sought a parliamentary debate on a recent UNICEF report on growing child malnourishment in the cash-strapped country.

Speaking in parliament on Monday August 29, Premadasa said citing the UNICEF report that Sri Lanka is now ranked sixth in the world in child malnourishment and second in South Asia.

The opposition and main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leader requested a statement from Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to be made to parliament within the week on the contents of the UNICEF report. Premadasa also called for a debate on the report.

Citing the report, he said more and more parents in Sri Lanka are directing their children to care centres due to Sri Lanka’s increasing food prices.

Insufficient access to protein and other nutrients, he said, has posed a challenge to physical and cognitive development of children.

“One might say nothing can be done because the country is bankrupt, but then cabinet approval has been given to allocate 400 million rupees for the construction of official residences. I think the children must be thought of before that,” he said.

Premadasa requested the government to include a proposal to recommence a school lunch programme in the interim budget to be presented in parliament on Tuesday August 30.

Leader of the House and Minister of Education Susil Premajayantha said the government is teaming up with private sector contributors, NGOs and foreign governments through their embassies in Sri Lanka, and other actors to address the issue.

Sri Lanka is also looking to increase the number of hectares in which maize is grown, he added.

Painting a grim picture of Sri Lanka, UNICEF said in a statement that the islandnation’s children are going hungry while school enrollment has dropped, with more children placed in intuitional care while child abuse is on the rise.

The UN estimates half of children in Sri Lanka already require some form of emergency assistance.

“Families are skipping regular meals as staple foods become unaffordable. Children are going to bed hungry, unsure of where their next meal will come from,” UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, George Laryea-Adjei, who was in Sri Lanka on Friday August 26 said.

Mass food insecurity will only further promote malnutrition, poverty, disease, and death in the region, he said.

The UN noted that over 10,000 children are in intuitional care due to poverty.

Meanwhile, school enrollment has decreased. 

The UN cautioned that institutional care does not provide necessary support a family provides which is  vital for childhood development.

However, families are placing more children in institutions as the crisis worsens in the country, the statement said.

“Reports are already emerging of an increase in abuse, exploitation and violence against children due to the mounting economic pressure, “Laryea-Adjei was quoted as saying.

“If the current trend continues, hard-earned progress for children in Sri Lanka is at risk of being reversed and in some cases, erased permanently.”  

Education must not be stopped for any of the children so they are protected from child labour exploitation and gender-based violence, the official said.

“Central and primary health services must be prioritised, to protect women and children against life-threatening diseases and malnutrition.”

To protect the children from the effects of the economic downturn, he further said, immediate action must be taken and that it must be “a priority of the international community to invest in the resilience of local communities as a bulwark against the crisis.” (Colombo/Aug29/2022)

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