“Don’t hit children!” that is Anura’s message.
Today, for the first time in history a Sri Lankan presidential candidate had the moral courage to that no one should raise a hand against a child of our nation.
That itself is a victory.
Anura proclaimed that as a policy commitment he totally opposes the concept of child cruelty.
That itself is victory.
He spoke eloquently against child poverty.
That itself is a victory.
“Child Curry? “
Is a child a curry on a stove?
There cannot be anything more heart rending on earth as child poverty and child cruelty. We are a nation of brutes who beat our children invoking “tradition”, “culture”, “past glory”. We tie our children with the ropes of our antediluvian minds and beat them with our hands. We compare the child who is not beaten up to discipline to the “curry (broth) that is not stirred on the stove”. Out of this society we are about to select a leader to lead this nation. And one of the candidates has the conscience to stand against the very cruelty we perpetuate.
I believe that Anura’s anti child cruelty stance is not a just a personal victory of Anura, nor his manifesto alone. It is a victory of our humanity and our human decency. Personally, as a mother, it is a victory of motherhood to me.
“We Will build A society Free Of Child Cruelty”
Sri Lanka is a country where children are beaten up across geography, wealth and social strata. It is country where child abusers, politicians and actors who sexually abuse children go scot free.
According to the law of our land, the childrens’ charters we are signatory to, child brutality in the forms are all illegal. It is banned by the laws of human rights. It is banned by our constitution.
Anura sees the tragedy of the child amidst these laws.
Listen to Anura’s words again and again.
The first citizen of our country, the president himself endorses hitting children stating that “I was beaten up too!” According to Anura “the best example of why a child should not be beaten up is our president”!
Isn’t this the truth?
From Royal College Colombo to small rural schools whose names we cannot recall, our children are beaten up. Even in elite international schools of Colombo, children are beaten up. What kind of an adult would this physically and mentally tortured child become? What would be the result of their crushed personalities?
Anura’s words give a voice to our voiceless children. The voice of our children who are the punch bag to the frustrations of the adults of our society who cannot manage their frustrations and emotions.
Let’s analyze Anura’s words further with evidence.
“The child who is tortured grows up fearing authority. He fears all that is older, stronger, and more powerful. He learns to subjugate to authority. He loses the power to stand up to impunity and injustice. Because the very construct of his up brining is about subjugation” That child, as an adult, if tied to tree by a politician, will say that he himself tied himself. When an “exalted Jyeshta Uththamaya” strips him of his clothes during university ragging, he will comply.
The vicious cycle of child cruelty casts a shadow on the adult life.
Child cruelty makes today’s victim in to tomorrow’s perpetrator.
Anura has changed the political language of Sri Lanka with his fearless stance against child cruelty.
In a society where even parents think that “we have a right to beat up our own child”, the politicians endorse corporal punishment of tender children because it is currency to collect votes from adults. This is the reason that whilst parliamentarian Harsha De Silva stands up against corporal punishment, parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana representing the same party, the UNP, suggests that the Ministry of Education procure standardized canes to inflict corporal punishment on children! The society is, in fact full of narrow minded tormentors like Buddhika Pathirana. Only inhuman politicians can seek power treading on the slapped cheeks, perforated ear drums and broken hearts of children. Not a single teacher will raise their hand against the child of a parliamentarian resulting in a perforated ear drum or a broken bone of a VIP’s child. Corporal punishment is commonest in less privileged schools. When a teacher raises his or her hand to a child that hand is raised not only to that child. It is also a hand raised because it’s easier to get away hitting poor child.
The tragedy that it is still “radical” to stand up against corporal punishment in the year 2019.
Anura, my salute to you!
“Even If You Beg With An Outstretched Hand”
Anura is the political child born out of poverty. His speech, tinged with naked honesty about his life of selling” toffee chocolate in the train” awakens our conscience. It induces us to descend from our high horses of wealth to look at the pain of poverty in the eye.
Poverty is a vicious cycle. It is usually the poor who become poor. Traditionally we are taught that famous Sinhala poem glorifying tenacity to education in spite of poverty.
“Even if you beg with an out stretched hand feeding on tasteless scraps
Even if you lie on leaves, sleepless in pain
Even if you are covered in filth, clad in rags
Keep the eye on future success and learn with love”
(අල්ලට සිඟා වත් රස නැති කැවිලි කකා
වල් කොළ බිම ඇතිර නිදි නැතිව දුක් තකා
කල් ගිය රෙදි වැරලි ඇඳ දැලි කුණෙන් වකා
ඇල්මෙන් අකුරු උගනිවු ඉදිරි වැඩ තකා)
But what is our reality?
In the real world, children with the out stretched hand do not devour education. Even if they love learning its not easy if you are poor.
Those clad in rags have a hard time in schools. The poor feel less like going to school. They cannot afford an education they love.
However, there are those who rise like a lotus from the mud of child poverty. It is the exception and not the norm .For everyone child who blooms in spite of child poverty, there are thousands of other children who are destroyed by it. We do not see them till we meet them as unemployed adults, pick pockets, anti-socials in back alleys.
Anura is speaking of that child poverty.
As he reiterated in the video above, he does not view child poverty as something that can be solved by giving away free glasses of milk or a bag of grocery to the child’s parents. Rather, he views it for the complex social problem that it is.
Quoting the data from the Department of Census and Statistics, Anura Kumara Dissanayake stated that there are 3.5 million children between the ages of 5-14 years.
Of them 11.3% (nearly 4 00000) children live beneath the poverty line. 6.2% of those 400 000 children don’t go to school. According to statistics, the probability of a poor child leaving school is 8 times higher compared to a non-poor child.
Where are those children?
Where are they living? We must look for the data beyond Anura’s statement.
The majority of the poorest children of Sri Lanka (79%) live in rural areas, followed by estate sector (13%) and the rest in the urban areas. Child poverty is most prevalent in the following districts in descending order: Mullaitivu, Mannar, Batticoloa, Monaragala, Badulla, Killinochchi, Rathnapura, Nuwara Eliya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.
We are taught in our childhood that if we strive hard at education, education itself will enthrone us. Whilst there is an element of truth in this theory the larger reality is not so. The sinister effects of poverty are transmitted inter-generationally. Poverty triggers biological processes that make children prey to chronic diseases as they grow up.
The inequality created by poverty is more dangerous than poverty per se. Inequality tortures a child’s heart. The physical and psychological stress of inequality is so grave that is known to even alter the gene via epigenetic mutations. Scientists and medical professionals call this embodied inequality. The world renowned professor Nancy Kreiger dedicated a large part of her work to the study the scourge of embodied inequality and to advocate policy reforms to the USA government to tackle it.
In the yellowed teeth of a child suffering from fluorosis in Anuradhapura, in the low body weight of an estate child in Nuwara Eliya or in a 13 year old pregnant child from Killinochchi we see the powerful tragedy of embodied inequality.
The reason that politicians do not speak about this tragedy is because children do not have votes!
Anura is speaking on behalf of our children who do not have a vote.
That itself is a victory.
The tragedy of our nation’s children cannot be ameliorated by a free gifts of milk, uniforms or tabs. It is not soothed alone by giving children an education or a university degree. Regardless of the outcome of this presidential election, Anura is the winner of our nation’s conscience for bringing an intellectual and political discourse to this problem.
Anura has embraced the bitter tragedy of child poverty and child cruelty with the equanimity and with the ease as if he were inhaling the fragrance of flowers.
Anura, these are your children.
And you are theirs’.