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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2611

Goodwill and Understanding of Youth Vital for Peace, President Rajapaksa to Commonwealth Youth Ministers

Colombo, 28 April, (Asiantribune.com): Goodwill and understanding of the youth vital for peace. We cannot afford to allow terrorist forces to use the youth for their sinister purposes. Sri Lanka has for the past three decades been faced with a threat by the most brutal terrorist organization in the world, a terror outfit that does not hesitate to use our youth as pawns and cannon fodder in its brutal operations. Therefore, it is our resolve not to give in to these forces of terror; to save our youth from the clutches of these forces of modern day savagery,” said President Mahinda Rajapaksa, yesterday when addressing the Seventh Meeting of the Commonwealth Youth Ministers, which opened in Colombo.

“We know the danger it poses to our children and youth. Among the lasting consequences of the brain washing of child soldiers is such that even in adult life many of them remain committed to violence and terror,” the President said.

President Rajapaksa added: “There is an interesting observation that youth are used for war but not generally used for peace building. Today, throughout the world it is estimated that over three hundred thousand persons below the age of 18 are involved in armed conflict with non-state actors whilst another five hundred thousand have been recruited to military forces. In many situations youth are seen to be the source and origin of conflict due to perceived grievances and frustrations, both social and economic. Therefore, in all our societies that are affected by conflict it is necessary to build on the hope and goodwill of youth for the cause of peace and understanding.”

Here is the text of the President’s address:

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to Sri Lanka to participate in this Seventh Meeting of the Commonwealth Youth Ministers. My country one of the oldest members of the Commonwealth is glad to have you in our midst enjoying the renowned hospitality of Sri Lanka.

You will find here a most suitable location to discuss the emerging issues of youth development, specifically, the linkages between peace-building, social development and transformation as you address the theme of this meeting, “Youth and Peace Building”.

The unique nature of the Commonwealth spread across the continents with diverse political structures that embrace democracy is well positioned to discuss the issues that affect youth around the world today. Our acceptance of democracy must enable us to identify the problems faced by the youth in our countries linked by so many common causes. Similarly, we are also in a better position to arrive at solutions to these problems based on the traditions and wisdom of our societies and the shared knowledge of modern social structures.

Our government recognizes the importance of youth in national development. We see in our youth the future of our country which leads to a commitment to give the highest priority to ease the concerns of youth and resolve the main problems that face them.

These problems are made worse today by the economic hardships imposed on most of our member countries by external forces largely beyond our control. This situation calls for a common resolve to meet the challenges to the development of our youth.

We see today the importance within the Commonwealth of initiatives directed towards creating greater opportunities for education and employment of youth in a culture of understanding of youth and their aspirations. There is the need for inter-connectivity of youth, where they learn from shared experiences separated as they are, in different cultures but, brought together in the common search for progress.

The theme of this meeting, Youth and Peace Building, can benefit from Sri Lanka’s own experience, which can relate very well to other countries of the Commonwealth, too. Sri Lanka has for the past three decades been faced with a threat by the most brutal terrorist organization in the world, a terror outfit that does not hesitate to use our youth as pawns and cannon fodder in its brutal operations to attack the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country.

Its use of young boys and girls as child soldiers to carry arms for the forces of terror has been condemned by the United Nations and all those who seek peace and democracy in the world, including several members of the Commonwealth. I am aware that Sri Lanka is not alone in facing this brutality of child soldiers.

We know the danger it poses to our children and youth. Among the lasting consequences of the brain washing of child soldiers is such that even in adult life many of them remain committed to violence and terror. Therefore, it is our resolve not to give in to these forces of terror; to save our youth from the clutches of these forces of modern day savagery. Sri Lanka for its part has an extensive rehabilitation programme for children who were involved in armed conflict. However, I believe that these children must be returned to their parents for there can’t be anything better than parental love and care.

We trust this meeting will look at this situation for the threat it poses to the youth of the Commonwealth and the world and see how best we could all use the resources of our youth for the cause of peace and reconciliation.

We see today the need for better empowerment of youth to overcome the growing challenge of unemployment that is of increasing concern to youth. This calls for the development of the total personality of the youth through a more balanced education, skills development, sports and recreation, in an environment enriched by culture and religion encouraging life in harmony with nature. All this requires political stability and economic development, matters that are at the very core of interests of the Commonwealth.

In this context Sri Lanka can boast that 40 per cent of the nominations of political parties or independent groups contesting local government elections are from youth between 18 to 35 years of age. Youth thus empowered by the communities they live in, have proved to be a powerful force for development of democracy and peace building in Sri Lanka. Youth main-streaming is at the heart of a country’s development agenda. I believe this to be a core element of the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment.

We must give our youth greater opportunities to develop their own talents which need changes in attitudes towards the role of youth, their aspirations and their search for new challenges to overcome. It’s just last Wednesday that my government initiated a programme in partnership with our closest neighbour and fellow Commonwealth member India, to raise the level of English Language teaching in our country and provide access to our youth to the opportunities available by the boom in the IT Industry. The Commonwealth is today most suited to engage in such participatory development for our youth.

I am happy to state that Sri Lanka’s investment in our youth and our future has ensured a free education system from kindergarten to university level which also provides free school text books and uniforms while children are in the primary and secondary schools. It is also a matter of pride and satisfaction that 97 percent of our youngsters are enrolled at school. Our social welfare programmes have consistently placed Sri Lanka high in the United Nations Development Indices.

Also, despite the ravages of terrorism and the enormous strain it places on our economy, we have made significant advances in social and economic development. We are proud to have the longest tradition of representative democracy in Asia and, to be among first developing countries to promote universal health and education, gender equality and social mobilization. We have achieved exceptional socio-economic indicators - way ahead of those normally expected of a country in the lower and middle-income range and we are now on the path to achieve or surpass many of the Millennium Development Goals.

While facing up to the threat of terrorism and the harsh effects of globalization, the Sri Lankan economy grew by 6.8 per cent last year continuing a trend in such growth in recent years indicating progress towards a higher growth path. On employment that is so important to youth, Sri Lanka saw its level of unemployment drop to its lowest rate of 6 per cent last year giving cause for much hope to our youth.

All these successes have helped Sri Lanka to record a significant reduction in poverty among the people with notable achievements in some districts that earlier had high levels. In 2002, 22.7 per cent of our population was below the poverty line and this improved tremendously to 15.7 per cent by December 2007. The percentage drop in poverty over 5 years is the fastest ever. It is also satisfying to note that there has been a substantial increase in the Per Capita Income of our people. It now stands at US dollars one thousand six hundred and seventeen (1,617) a sharp increase from US dollars nine hundred and eighty one (981) in the year 2003.

At the time of our election in November 2005 only 5 per cent of the population had literacy in Information Technology. We are glad to have extended IT literacy to 20 per cent by December 2007 with considerable progress in the rural areas. Our creating a network of 500 rural tele-centres styled, Nenasala has been instrumental in this increase in IT literacy. Our aim is to have 1000 Nenasalas islandwide by January next year with a goal to reach 50 per cent IT literacy by end 2010.

Another aspect concerning the life of youth is morality, the decline of which has given rise to an escalation of the incidence of AIDS throughout the world, particularly among young adults. Here again, religious guidance and spiritual orientation would be the sole remedy to save world’s young people from destruction. Coupled with this global menace of AIDS is the use of illegal drugs which has destroyed youth in their prime. Our government having understood this most unfortunate situation has launched a programme “Mathata Thitha” which means a full stop to drugs, tobacco and alcohol. After 2 years of operation the programme has been rated as successful and young people have benefited immensely by it.

There is an interesting observation that youth are used for war but not generally used for peace building. Today, throughout the world it is estimated that over three hundred thousand persons below the age of 18 are involved in armed conflict with non-state actors whilst another five hundred thousand have been recruited to military forces. In many situations youth are seen to be the source and origin of conflict due to perceived grievances and frustrations, both social and economic. Therefore, in all our societies that are affected by conflict it is necessary to build on the hope and goodwill of youth for the cause of peace and understanding.

An important element in regard to youth in conflict is that we must devise ways and means to handle young people in post – conflict situations. What plans have we got for the young people after the conflicts are over? How do we bring back those youth in conflict into normalcy? These are areas still unresolved.

We have in our youth the genuine ambassadors of peace when our societies involve them in peace building and conflict resolution. Youth who are not yet spoilt by the divisions among adults are better able to carry the torch of peace and reconciliation and be the signal of a new order of tolerance and understanding. Therefore I believe that this Colombo meeting will be able to reflect on the manner in which the Commonwealth Youth Programme can involve young people affected by conflict in meaningful and practical programmes, aimed at peace building in areas of conflict throughout the Commonwealth.

It is also important to emphasize, Ladies and Gentlemen, that “youth and peace building” is of relevance not only to war – torn countries and those in the developing world. Even the most economically and socially stable of our member countries are grappling with issues of social breakdown and violence including drug-related crime and terrorism. Peace building has therefore become a vital part of nation building in the widest sense where sustainable peace is secured by building political cultures, institutions and economies that are fully inclusive of young people of all ethnic and social backgrounds. I believe the discussions would focus on the most practical and feasible measures to address these issues.

In this context I am happy that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting’s mandate, for Respect and Understanding has been included in your agenda. This report which focuses on the preventive aspect by exploring ways and means to mitigate factors that have a potential fuelling for conflict would provide some important inputs for the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment.

The Youth of the Commonwealth have every promise of playing a significant role in Peace Building in our world given the opportunity and encouragement for it by greater interaction among societies and cultures. We have sportsmen and sportswomen who can make their own impact for the promotion of peace and understanding.

In this context I propose to this Conference to resume the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Programme to bring about the interaction of youth so important for peace building. Such exchanges of youth are also most useful to strengthen the bonds of friendship within the Commonwealth.

In conclusion I wish to refer to an extract from the Report of Respect and Understanding and I quote “when young people are disenfranchised or humiliated or made to feel that they have little to say and no future, they become drawn into movements or ideologies that appear to guarantee them a place in the work world and give them solid identity (unquote). This reflects the reality of today’s society. I leave you Ministers to explore ways and means through your deliberations in arresting this trend.

I wish this conference all success and once again, wish you a very pleasant stay in Sri Lanka.

May you be blessed by the Noble Triple Gem!

- Asian Tribune -

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