First-ever Child Protection Unit inaugurated at Ragama Police Station
We refer to children as the future generation. Therefore we say that they need to be nurtured under the proper environment to become better citizens. While all this is being said and in most instances done at the higher strata in society, the children at lower strata, who also falls into the ‘future generation’ category, treads on an entirely different path. For most of them, abuse, incest, violence and rape are common occurrences. Childhood trauma is one of the causes of depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders in the long run. In Sri Lanka, although there is an established department of Police for people to make their complaints, seeking the assistance of law enforcement officers may not be a pleasant experience at times. Identifying the need to establish a friendly environment for children to demand their rights, the Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan was working on an idea presented to them in 2015. The result was the newly established Child Protection Unit at the Ragama Police Station. This unit was established largely due to the collective effort of its members, donors, well-wishers, Sri Lanka Police and the Ministry of Public Administration, Law and Order.
Child Protection Unit
Built at a cost summing up to Rs. 10 million, the Child Protection Unit is furnished with modern equipment. Designed under careful supervision and attention to detail, the interior of the Unit appears to be more like a pre-school. The Unit consists of five rooms which serve different purposes. The child or the victim visits this place in shock, pain and grief. Hence the environment, including the officials working at the Unit should ensure that the child doesn’t experience more pain and mental suffering. Hence the Unit comprises the following areas :
Rest room : As soon as the child enters the premises, the Rest room is on the right. As its name suggests, the child is allowed to rest here for a while, playing with toys and getting used to the environment before he or she is taken in for interrogation.
Interview room : The Interview room is on the left side of the premises and is equipped with two tables and seats, similarly to those at montessories. This is to make sure that the Police officer who is conducting the interrogation is seated at the same level as the child. This way the child feels even more comfortable to talk and speak out. This room is equipped with a recorder and a
Observation room : This room adjoins the Interview room and it is from here that the Officer-In-Charge observes the proceedings that take place at the Interview room. The observation room is equipped with all recording equipment.
OIC’s room : This room is for the OIC to occupy and is equipped with an attached bathroom and other office furniture. It has been requested that a female officer takes this position.
Office room : This is where all the ground work is done once a child makes a visit and a complaint is made.
“A beacon of hope for children who have experienced abuse”
Addressing the gathering Project Chairperson and Past President Kumar Mirchandani said that the Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan has always worked for the benefit of the children. “We therefore want this Child Protection Unit to be a beacon of hope for children who have suffered from violence and been abused. Through this initiative we also hope that the Police will be able to totally banish crimes against children.
We want this Child Protection Unit to be a beacon of hope for children who have suffered from violence - Kumar Mirchandani
This idea was initiated back in 2015 when Yasantha Kodagoda mooted the idea to one of our club members. She picked up the project and initiated it while the rest at the club offered their fullest cooperation. We had several fundraisers and under the continued guidance of Yasantha himself, the Club was able to pull it off. I also like to thank all the donors and well-wishers who stood by us to make this dream a reality.”said Mirchandan.
“This Unit should empower children to speak out for their rights”
In his comments, Immediate Past President Rukshan Perera said that the Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan mainly focuses on children and their well-being. “This is the biggest project we have carried out ever and although it was challenging, the team challenged the unchallengeable. But this building is just the beginning.
We want to ensure that this Unit will empower children to speak for their own rights, educate them on what their rights are and give them confidence - Rukshan Perera
We want to ensure that this Unit will empower children to speak for their own rights, educate them on what their rights are and give them the confidence to go out and speak for themselves without fear. We look forward to the day that children will be able to speak fearlessly and confront the perpetrators,” said Perera.
Delay in legal process and re-victimisation
It is quite a tedious process to file a case with the existing legal process in Sri Lanka. Even after a case is filed it would take a long time before a verdict is given. In most instances, because either party has given up on the hearing process, the cases tend to be dismissed. Therefore, the efficiency of the legal process is always questioned. In his comments, Additional Solicitor General and President’ Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda said that out of the unfortunate incidents which take place in the world, child abuse is at the forefront. “Once a child experiences a crime, he has to face a criminal investigation, a forensic investigation, conditions in which to file a criminal case and the criminal case itself.
According to a survey done in 2015 the conviction rate of child abuse cases at the High Court in Colombo is as high as 80%. This is higher than any other conviction rate in other countries. This is because the Police and the forensic specialists have been able to adhere to their principles and work in a professional manner. This is one result we could be happy about. But there are two negatives which we are also concerned about. One is that a case filed for serious crimes would take up to 10 years and two months to conclude. Even if it concludes producing a verdict the process takes this time. If appealed, the trial itself takes seven to nine years.The second negative factor is re-victimisation. In most instances, a child who has already gone through physical and psychological trauma will be treated inhumanely when taken for questioning. In the absence of properly trained officials and the right environment, there is a tendency for the victim to experience re-victimisation,” said Kodagoda.
“The launch of this Child Friendly Unit is one step in the right direction. This is the first time a project of this nature was launched and it is not only important to build it, but the senior officials serving it should also be sensitive and work professionally. I hope other service organisations will also take a cue from this initiative and help the Police to curb violence and abuse against children in the best possible way,” he said.
“Police should be a friendly place for people and children”
In his remarks, Minister of Public Administration, Management and Law and Order Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that as of late the Police has become a dangerous place. “But it should be a friendly place for people to come and relate their grievances. It should be a place that encourages a child to come and speak for his or her own rights. I always read the situation report sent by the Police every morning and I have observed that we have to take care of our children at this day and age of increasing crimes.
I always read the situation report sent by the Police every morning and I have observed that we have to take care of our children - Ranjith Madduma Bandara
As a result of using technology, moral values and ethics are on their path to extinction. As elders we have to pave the way for a brighter future when it comes to the younger generation. More than seven to eight cases of violence against children and females are being reported daily and I’m sure that the numbers are even higher. Once a child is abused, he or she no longer possesses self-confidence. Therefore it is our duty to help them regain their confidence and face society with courage. The crime rate has reduced between 2014 and 2018 and it needs to reduce further. We see an emerging trend of drug peddling, organised crimes and the emergence of the underworld. Our attention has been diverted onto these cases and we have given all the rights to the Police to put the perpetrators behind bars. We need the continued support of voluntary organisations such as Rotary to ensure that the younger generations have a safe, friendly society to live in.” said Bandara.
“Such units should be established at all provincial Police stations”
Addressing the gathering, Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara said that the Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan has set an example to the rest of the voluntary service organisations in the country. “Children who have gone through abuse and violence need to be presented with a proper environment in which they are comfortable to relate what they experienced. For this purpose we will include specially trained female officers. The Education Ministry and foreign organisations are supporting the Police in training its officials for programmes and Units such as these.
We live in an era where children are being trapped in a drug menace and orphaned children are exposed to the risk of being involved in various crimes - Pujith Jayasundara
I also have an idea to establish this Unit at all other Police Stations at provincial level as an attempt to curb violence and abuse against children. This is a timely initiative and we need to make maximum use of it. It is indeed an attempt to heal the minds of children who have been tortured. We live in an era where children are being trapped in a drug menace and orphaned children are exposed to the risk of being involved in various crimes. We have introduced special letter boxes to collect complaints by children at various schools. The officials at Community Police Stations are helping children who are not attending school with the necessary equipment and they are also assisting children who cannot afford to attend school. Complaints related to child abuse cases, which are received by other Police stations, will also be referred to this Unit in the near future,”said Jayasundara.