“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Legislation is a significant facet that should be strengthened for the eradication of all forms of abuse of children. Without the aid of a legal avenue, the path to eliminate child abuse remains a fool’s errand. The government or any other authoritative bodies could work towards child protection only with the aid of the legislation in a country. The child protection laws of a country aim to intervene in families and other situations of child abuse and exploitation to prevent all forms of abuses and ensure the welfare and protection of the children.
Child protection refers to the protection of children from all forms of abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect. It includes laws, policies, regulations and services for the protection and welfare of children. A child (a person under the age of 18) falls under the legal protection and jurisdiction of a country which states itself to be the guardian of all children. Laws ensure the protection of children including their rights and freedom. It addresses the rights of a child to education, health and freedom while also ensuring the prevention of child labour, children in armed forces, slavery, trafficking, prostitution, incest, pornography and other forms of abuse and sexual exploitation. It also identifies the responsibilities of families, communities, educational and government figures towards the protection of children.
Sri Lanka is experiencing an alarming and dramatic rise in the scourge of child abuse. Reports state that 3-5 children are sexually abused every day with over 10,000 child abuse cases reported last year in the island. NCPA records 10,732 complaints on different forms of child abuse during the year 2015. The highest number of complaints at 2,317 was related to cruelty to children, with 1,463 cases were reported on not receiving compulsory education. 885 cases of child neglect were reported with 735 cases on sexual harassment, 433 cases of rape and 365 cases on grave sexual abuse. The highest number of complaints (1,522) had been received from the Colombo District. However many cases such as domestic violence and incest remain unreported. Crimes with regard to Child Sex Tourism (CST) and Sexual Exploitation of Children Online (SECO) remain ignorant among most Sri Lankans. Nevertheless, 2,250 complaints have been reported with regard to cybercrime in 2015. A study done by PEaCE estimated an amount of 10,000 children to be victims of CST.
There are both international and national laws implemented for the protection of children. The legal protection of children was introduced to the international arena with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It addresses child abuse as a human rights issue. The Declaration on Rights of the Child (DRC) was then adopted by the UN to address violations, abuses and exploitations against children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted in 1989 by the UN General Assembly defines a child to be under the age of eighteen and refers to children as human beings with rights and freedom. It also identifies the responsibilities of families, communities and others towards the protection of children. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states the best interests of the child to be of paramount importance in all matters (administrative, legislative, public, and private) concerning children.
In addition international laws have been implemented focusing on specific areas of child abuse. The International Labour Organization (ILO) deals with labour issues of children, such as minimum age for employment and the elimination of worst forms of labour for children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has adopted two new protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (Child Soldiers Protocol) and in the illegal trade of sex trafficking (The Sex Trafficking Protocol). The Sex Trafficking Protocol (STP) addresses the sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in prostitution. The spread of SECO has resulted in the implementation of The Lanzarote Convention and Human Rights and other laws regarding children. These laws aim to safeguard children from crimes via the internet.
Many international conventions on the Rights of the Child have implemented laws to be applied to all nations. However, the laws can be executed by the police and any other protective bodies only if they are included in the constitution of a country. Hence, many laws and policies have also been implemented in Sri Lanka and included in the constitution of the country. With its contribution for the implementation of laws in the country with regard to the protection of children and its involvement in many government and non-government bodies, PEaCE has the ability to intervene in legal child abuse cases and advocate for the children.
The sever lacuna in law enforcement has often resulted in victims being denied of timely relief as much as facing repeated abuse. This is where the role of PEaCE as a legal case monitoring/advocacy body comes in to play by facilitating the acceleration of the justice seeking process. As a part of its strategy PEaCE liaises with the National Child Protection Authority, Women’s and Children’s Desk in the Police Department, the Department of Probation and Child Care, the Legal Aid Commission, the District and Divisional Secretariats, Government and Non-Governmental Organizations and relevant other stakeholders.
- PEaCE assists child victims through facilitation of legal representation, and thereby reducing their financial burden of paying for a counsel in addition to providing information to the victims and their families on the law and court procedure.
- The families are also advised on the options of finding suitable homes and guardians for the children who may continue to be at risk. Counselling for the victims and their families, assistance for the continuation of education are also part of the PEaCE mandate.
- PEaCE also assists organizations engaged in child related programmes through legal advice, while establishing linkages between relevant organizations in a particular area. What PEaCE has gathered is that by resorting to act outside of the accepted legal process, those connected with legal suits have taken the law into their hands and intervened in the affairs.
- Individuals receive assistance in the event they are to procure statutory documentation such as birth certificates, transferring custody from parents to protection homes, assisting children who are not attending schools to enrol in school, etc.
The following provides some details of the child abuse cases monitored and intervened by PEaCE.
- A case was reported to PEaCE in 2014 is from Nuwara Eliya where two teenage children were subjected to abuse as a result of the illicit affairs of their parents. The girl child, being a witness to the extra marital affair of her mother who entertained her paramour to the house in the absence of the husband, was psychologically scarred while the boy child had been abused by his father’s second wife who forced him to engage in a relationship with her. He had also been instigated to steal mobile phones. Despite both being subjected to serious abuse, attempts by PEaCE to seek redress for these innocent child victims proved futile due to the lukewarm approach by the authorities. While complains made to the NCPA had been ignored, Gamini – (the father) alleges that the Attorney-at-Law who handles his divorce case, conceals the truth from the courts. Much to his disappointment, he had been told by the probation officers to overlook the relationship between his son and the second wife. PEaCE, having understood the abuse faced by these two children identified the necessity to field competent lawyers to appear for the case. Moreover, as the daughter is being constantly threatened by her mother not to divulge information about her illicit affair, the need to seek an injunction order from the courts to take the girl from the custody of her mother was felt, while the boy child needed to be rehabilitated through appropriate legislative procedures.
- PEaCE also made interventions with regard to a child abuse case reported from Marawila where a woman seeking redress for her two children who were abused by her second husband, has been denied of legal redress due to political interference. A senior Attorney – at – Law, Kalyananda Thiranagama of Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD), who is actively involved with PEaCE from about 1995 referred this case to the notice of PEaCE. Our organization played a noteworthy role in the breakthrough, by collaborating with LHRD for investigations. The complainant identified as Malkanthi, the mother claims that her second husband is a paedophile with abnormal sexual desires and he trades forcibly abducted children as well as her own, for commercial sex with the backing of a politician. In her attempt to seek legal assistance, she had been merely branded as a prostitute and a mentally unsound person.
- Another PEaCE intervention was made with regard to a case from Padukka where a differently-abled child was forcibly abducted from her residence by a woman in the neighbourhood. Despite the availability of telephone call records following the abduction, Padukka police did not initiate an investigation by obtaining a court order. Attempts by PEaCE to bring the matter to the notice of relevant officials did not receive a favourable response. While NCPA claims that no interventions can be made since a child above the age of 16 (16 and one month) has the right to take her own decisions. PEaCE is exploring the avenues of initiating action against the perpetrators.
- Two cases were also reported from Tellipallai, Jaffna. Reason why this incident came to light we believe is due to a PEaCE workshop conducted for 43 Police Officers attached to the Women and Children’s Desks of the Police Stations in Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna Districts. One incident reported of a 7 year old girl being sexually abused by a 23 year old youth in her neighbourhood while the other was an instance where a father raped his two daughters aged 13 and 14. The Tellipallai Police sought assistance of PEaCE in the form of transportation, food and accommodation on behalf of the victims as they had to travel to NCPA Colombo to furnish video evidence. PEaCE counsellor also offered primary counselling to the victims.
- Another case reported to PEaCE involved a school principal from Ambagaspitiya Gampaha sexually abusing some students of his school where the accused party has summoned girls who are in relationships to his room and shown them phonographic pictures and abused them. Although NCPA was alerted by a teacher attached to the same school about this incident, no action was taken. After a lapse of four days, the Police failed to initiate any action regarding the matter. PEaCE was alerted about the incident when a group of parents had forcibly entered the school and made a commotion leaving the Principal to evade the school. PEaCE informed the situation to the Officer In-Charge, Children and Women’s Bureau of the Police who took necessary steps to arrest the Principal, record statements from the children and produce the Principal before the Magistrate. PEaCE provided counselling for the victims in addition to organising seminars for parents, teachers and children of the school and the schools close by.
- One of the recent incidents reported to PEaCE from Dodangoda Kalutara where a 15-year -old girl being raped by seven individuals over a period of two months. The girl is the youngest in a family of four and the information has revealed that the victim had been subjected to abuse for a period of two months by the men who were entertained by her mother. The victim was assisted by PEaCE in terms of legal aid, counselling and educational support. PEaCE also referred the victims to the Probation Officer and the OIC of Probation Department in order to obtain the Social Report.
- In a more recent development, PEaCE received information during a CPWG meeting of paedophile activities by a Dutch national in South Pitipana, Negombo. Following the tip off, we came to know that when the alleged offender frequents the location during his stay in Sri Lanka twice a year, the sight of youngsters hovering around in the area becomes a common occurrence. PEaCE is currently in the process of following up this case with the person who gave the tip off to our organization to crack down on alleged paedophile activities.
PEaCE also plays its role in aiding in the collection of information for court cases and monitoring the progress of the cases. It also advocates and requests other child protection organizations to co-operate in obtaining justice in such court cases.
- Filing of Fundamental Rights application and other documents in the Supreme Court against the officials and institutions.
- Collecting case records and other relevant documents from different places like Police Stations, Magistrate’s Courts, Juvenile Magistrate’s Courts, District Registrar’s Offices, Human Rights Commission, etc.
- Convening meetings of all leading Child Rights organisations and activists in the country and media persons and exerting pressure on the authorities, through media, to prosecute the culprits.
PEaCE also maintains a data base of the child abuse cases reported in mainstream media, including print and electronic. Such documentation, PEaCE considers, important to analyse the nationwide status quo of the problems of child abuse. It has given much visibility to the child abuse cases across the country and serves as a reference document for PEaCE to initiate its awareness programmes, legal aid and advocacy measures. The data base also helps the organization identify areas that need priority and adopt concrete measures in terms of designing and executing our awareness campaigns. Accordingly, the data base has recorded about 90 cases of various types of child abuse reported island wide during the period from June-November 2015.
Justice for child abuse victims can only be attained through the legal framework of a country. The perpetrators who abuse children will be allowed to roam freely if not for the implementation of the law. All citizens of a country, including the children, fall under the protection of the legislation of a country. The facts stated above provide evidence to PEaCEs excellent knowledge with regard to the legislature of the country. It has immense experience in dealing with legal cases with regard to child abuse. It maintains a data base and archive of all cases related to abuse and sexual exploitation of children in the island.
PEaCE provides legal aid and lawyers for persons unable to obtain such services due to financial or other drawbacks. It aims towards justice for child victims and their families. It ensures that abusers, especially foreign abusers do not blindfold the legal authorities and flee the country in the face of legal authorities. Child abuses and sexual exploitations such as incest, emotional abuse, neglect, etc. that are not considered as serious offences through the cultural perception, is brought to the limelight through works of PEaCE. Hence it provides legal aid not only for ‘serious offences’ but also for other crimes such as SECO, SECTT, incest, verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, etc. The organization encourages the government and other responsible institutions to provide further legal protection and welfare for children. PEaCE aims to establish supporting hotlines and contribute for further strengthening and implementation of child protection legal framework in Sri Lanka.