This is a critical topic, obviously not one dick of the Presidential hopefuls even understands it, so will not even have a brain cell to explain this issue or worse include it in their manifesto or in discussions.
On the other hand we have just been presented with the message that part of the reason for the slow growth rate in Sri Lanka is the low labor force participation of females in Sri Lanka. Why do you think? It is a combination of many males who still have to grow up who think the women’s job is to keep the home, while he can go work and get drunk afterwards and come legless, having spent most of his wages and the wife merely has to do the needful on the pittance he gives her!
Trust me I know what I am saying as I have lived long enough in the rural areas of Sri Lanka to witness this. Added to this the modern day slavery our women endure in the Middle East to fend for their families and form the largest foreign exchange earnings for the country, with the second being the garment industry that employs females, who contribute to the labor force participation, but are not given their true place in society either.
So who can blame women, as those who add to the labor force have to leave families behind to work for the most part, except for the few married mothers who work in garment factories that pick them up from their own homes.
Given this background the childcare is left to grandparents, as we don’t have a social welfare net of foster care or homes where these kids can be looked after.
So what am I advocating in solving childcare, while at the same time increasing the labor force participation rate of women?
Temporary housing where families can live and flexibility of schools is one option, because increasingly, fathers and mothers work far from home, some do the silly thing of commuting daily, so kids don’t see them, others are boarded and come home at weekends or sometimes only once a month, where the kids are brought up by the extended family, usually grandparents.
Frankly, children need a stable home environment and often, if the parents cannot provide that the grandparents can fill the role effectively, with minimal damage to the child. If they in fact are the care givers, then they must be identified in the data base and assisted in doing their job, as it is a labor of love, unpaid and most of all under appreciated. This is another reason that women go into teaching so they can be home early, not because they want to teach well!
As one can see, there is a myriad of problems in child care and there is emphasis on the work place having a crèche to take care of children and allowing mothers flexible working schedules so that they can take care of their children, while holding down a job, contributing to the economy of SL.
So what is the job of the state in all this?
Simply to understand the issue, and then be an enabler allowing parents and even grandparents benefits when they are both taking care of children, while not being paid or mothers doing it while they are working. Being a male dominated society, the fathers being the primary care giver is few and far between, but nevertheless instances where they have to sacrifice their employment opportunities for this.
I recommend that we first build a data base of the census of affected children, and then analyze what if any help their caregivers need. I have always advocated the sue of the schools that being closed in villages for lack of teachers and students being attracted to the nearest towns. These properties can server as places where the carers can come to and form a series of crèches and pre-schools that fill this void.
It is a no brainer to use this property for both seniors and child care centers as well as pre-schools which can make a dying village vibrant. I see the schools that have closed turn into drug dens or worse, and some have fallen into ruin with lack of maintenance as the Govt. department which owns it has no alternative use for it! One has to look at the stock of Government Property everywhere to see the waste of public property due to the lack of foresight of the State Sector officers in utilizing the resources at their disposal for the greater good of their citizens.
The link below is to an article showing that this problem is universal and not restricted to Sri Lanka. So it is one of merely addressing this issue with foresight, and a plan to achieve the objectives I have set out earlier.
In order to increase labor force participation of women in Sri Lanka to aid the development effort and improve the standard of living, we need to understand why it is fewer women work, and worse why it has fallen instead of risen, and take the necessary steps to reverse this trend, one of which is how to manage child care, with assistance from the state in turning closed schools into community centers where children can be brought up with love and extended family care.