By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
People’s protests against the Government of Sri Lanka were held peacefully for the main part, making protest sites mostly safe for people of all ages. Various events and educational segments were organised at these sites, drawing crowds from all over, so they could not only voice their opposition against the ruling party, but also educate themselves on Sri Lanka’s political history, civil rights, and the Constitution.
However, on Monday (9), things took a turn for the worse, with pro-Government mobs attacking the protestors, resulting in a backlash of violence and destruction across the country, with an islandwide curfew also declared.
The change in the situation has, without doubt, made protests somewhat more unsafe, but the question of taking children to protests has always been raised.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a right to express views on matters that affect them. Article 12 states: “Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
UNICEF highlighted this in a statement issued on 7 May, condemning violence against children during protests.
“UNICEF is concerned with reports of violence during protests involving children. All actors must guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, including for children,” the statement read.
In the statement, UNICEF also called for a stop to all acts of violence, stressing that every adult must act with a sense of responsibility and avoid exposing children to all forms of violence, including during protests.
“We call on law enforcement agencies to avoid the use of force and ensure that fundamental guarantees for the protection of children remain applicable everywhere, at all times,” UNICEF went on to say.
The same day, Save the Children issued a statement calling for the safety of children amidst Sri Lanka’s protests. Voicing concern over the escalating violence during the protests in Sri Lanka, the organisation said: “Children should never be caught in the exchanges of violence. We urgently call on the authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights of civilians, especially children and youth during protests.”
“Parents must stay alert of volatile environments which pose risks of violence to children,” Save the Children added.
The Child Protection Force also spoke on the matter, urging the National Child Protection Authority and the Police Women and Children’s Bureau to immediately take action against all those responsible for the attack against protestors on May 6.
While various organisations have voiced concern about the safety of children, we spoke to a few parents to hear their thoughts on children attending protests.
Dinuka Fernando, a parent to a four-month-old, said taking children to protests is not something he advocates. Fernando took his child to the peaceful protests held at Independence Square, which he was not all too happy about, but was assured by his wife and mother-in-law that it would be safe.
“When I got there, I didn’t feel there was any danger,” he said, adding: “However, these days I won’t take him to any kind of protests with this violent energy in the air.” He went on to say that each parent will make their own choice and that no one wants to see their children get hurt.
In terms of educating children about the situation in a country, especially on politics, Fernando said both he and his wife are in agreement that their son is taught the importance of democracy, governance, etc., as well as civil disobedience, if necessary, when he can understand these concepts.
Fernando also felt it was very important for children to be aware of the situation in the country. “If you don’t know what’s going on, you’ll be manipulated in all kinds of ways,” he said.
Sharing similar views, Yaz, also a parent, said: “I think kids shouldn’t be at protests unless they are aware of what’s happening and what the purpose of the protest is. If they are of an age where they can comprehend the situation, then I support educating them of the country’s situation, because they shouldn’t be oblivious to the situation and the increasing hardships the parents are facing.”
Photos Eshan Dasanayaka