- People have forgotten that child abuse is a punishable offence under the Penal Code
- Impose capital punishment on child abusers
- NCPA formulate guidelines on children’s reality TV shows
Sri Lanka has become an unsafe place for children. Even with a National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Women’s and Children’s Affairs Ministry and a Child Protection Unit at the Attorney General’s Department the number of child abuse cases reported for 2020 has exceeded 5000.
Statistically speaking 142 incidents of rape, 42 incidents of serious sexual abuse and 54 cases of child abuse were reported during the first 15 days of 2020.
These events happen even 29 years after Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1991. Within a span of two weeks, several incidents of child abuse, molestation and harassments were reported with four children succumbing to brutalities. The main suspect who abused a 10-year-old girl in Puttalam has fled and search operations are still underway. One of the incidents that made headlines was one involving a conman who appeared as an English teacher, but is reportedly working in the production set of a children’s reality TV show. He has not only befriended children, but have abused them, created videos and investigations are underway to crack more details. On Saturday an eight year old boy in Galewela was sexually abused and killed. It is in this backdrop that Sri Lanka needs to take a look at protecting the child as a fundamental step of establishing national security.
During the recent past there had been a growing amount of statutory rape (sexual intercourse with a minor usually an underage child of 16 years or below, with or without the consent) and about 3% of that was conventional rape
DIG Ajith Rohana
As an organisation dedicated to end cruelty against children, the Stop Child Cruelty Trust is making awareness on the matter through the recently launched #JustSayNo campaign at a national level. During a recently held online discussion, Chairperson of the Trust Dr. Tush Wickramanayake questioned the role of the Police as the primary law enforcing body in the country. In response, former Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said that the Women’s and Children’s Desk was established after studying how women and children have been victimised for years. “Therefore apart from the main office there are 42 Women’s and Children’s desks at a provincial level with over 494 branches islandwide. During the recent past there had been a growing amount of statutory rape (sexual intercourse with a minor usually an underage child of 16 years or below, with or without the consent) and about 3% of that was conventional rape. This doesn’t mean we have to ignore the matter. We have appointed women police officers to take down complaints and the Police acts according to the powers vested within the Constitution,” added DIG Rohana.
He further said that parents and teachers have a bigger responsibility. “Parents should keep an eye on their daughter who’s staying for extra classes, who’s going for swimming etc. 90% of incidents could be reduced if they could pay more attention. According to a census done in Anuradhapura and Ratnapura most parents leave their children with relatives and recently it was revealed that 70% of the time, rape, abuse and molestation was done by a known person. Parents need to look into a child’s wellbeing. Having said that, the Police would further strengthen the relevant desks and equip women officers with more resources so that they could get hold of the culprits,” said DIG Rohana.
DIG Rohana concluded by saying that both drug users and child abusers should be given capital punishment as that is an effective way of sending a message to the society.
A forgotten Penal Code
According to the NCPA Act No. 50 of 1998, the Authority can advise the Government on measures for the prevention of child abuse, protection and treatment of victims of child abuse, create awareness on the right of a child, monitor the progress of investigations among many other functions. However, Prof. Harendra Silva, founder Chairman of the NCPA attributes the sudden spike in child abuse cases to the prolonged curfew period. “Parents were home and because they found the child to be a bit naughty the child may have been subject to physical and emotional abuse. With financial difficulties the men would have vented their anger on the spouse and the spouse would have vented all frustrations out from the child. Most fathers who were unemployed would have been home and taking to drinks. There was less availability of drugs and alcohol and it could be another trigger why sexual abuse increased. Apart from that extended families too were home and the child’s ability to escape would have been restricted.” he explained.
He further said that the law enforcing authorities such as the Police may not have had time to investigate as they were tasked with checking on curfew violators. “But child abuse is more important than curfew violations. As a result complainants may not have had a chance to report their complaints. However people have also forgotten that child abuse is a punishable offense under the Penal Code. Therefore people even tend to settle the matter outside courts and this could leave room for corruption. The Attorney General’s Department too could add pressure by taking note of complaints. But what I have realised is that people become unpopular when they take perpetrators to justice. Yet, popularity is something that needs to be kept aside in these matters.” said Prof. Silva.
Speaking on enacting the law, Prof. Silva said that many judgements relating to child abuse cases were given between 1999 and 2005. “It’s a responsibility of the government to ensure that the legal process takes place properly,” he said.
The Attorney General’s Department too could add pressure by taking note of complaints. But what I have realised is that people become unpopular when they take perpetrators to justice
However incumbent NCPA Chairman Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana said that almost all suspects of these reported cases have been arrested. “After they are arrested they will be bailed, but for a proper conviction we need to find evidence. So we will get all victims admitted to hospital and then get a court order to obtain video evidence of the case. This is one way of assisting the court case. Another aspect is to provide psychosocial support for the victims so that they will give evidence correctly. We have established a child-centered support service.” said Prof. Vidanapathirana.
Commenting on the recent incident Prof. Vidanapathirana said that the person has identified children and befriended them. “He has then started helping them and has separated them from the families, either by taking them on a trip etc. Thereafter he has introduced the sexual component and then ensuring that children don’t divulge this information to their parents. This was either by force or promising them gifts and other offers. He has done this to several children and it is suspected that he found these children from a reality TV show. Preliminary investigations reveal that he has been abusing a number of underage male children since 2018,” said Prof. Vidanapathirana.
Following the arrest of the 54-year-old man, the NCPA has decided to formulate guidelines for reality TV shows and commercial advertisements that involve children. “The international law is that children cannot be used in commercials until they are 13 years, but in Sri Lanka we have infants as young as three years being used in these commercials. If we can advance the age to 18 years that would be a victory for us and we are working on it.” he said.
Section 365 (c) of the Penal Code prohibits any person from printing or publishing the names or revealing the identities of any person against whom an offence under section 345, section 360A, section 360B, section 363, section 364A, section 365, section 365A or section 365B. If found guilty they will be imprisoned for two years or fined or both. However, several mainstream newspapers and channels have continued to reveal the identity of the child, adding to the trauma. The Nirbhaya case in India is a classic example. Since the Indian law doesn’t allow the press to publish a rape victim’s name, she was widely known as ‘Nirbhaya’ that translates to ‘fearless’. In Sri Lanka, Section 6.2 of the Code of Professional Practice for print media journalists states that in reporting accounts of crime or criminal case, publications shall not, unless it is both legally permitted and in the public interest name victims of sex crimes, knowingly name any young person accused of a criminal offense who is below the age of 16 and who has no previous convictions and identify without consent relatives of a person accused or convicted of a crime. But these provisions have largely been ignored today.
Economics of porn
The porn industry today is a billion dollar industry with US taking the lead. It isn’t a surprise that most people involved in abusing children have been feeding the porn industry for some extra bucks. Rates for porn videos start at $500 and the price gets even more handsome depending on the ‘category of porn’. It is no secret that these content creators collect databases of victims, everybody from schoolchildren (in most instances with their uniforms) or photos of young girls (sometimes in different poses) and so on. Therefore young girls especially need to think twice when a stranger asks them to send their photos. They are convinced in many ways and because they don’t want to lose out on a ‘potential boyfriend’ girls fall into the trap. These photos often end up in a database and they are subject to blackmail thereafter. The content providers who send photos or videos also get heavily paid. A recent Google search done by the Daily Mirror directed us to a Facebook page (see pic) that invites its 2700 odd followers to send photos of girls in uniform. Meanwhile on Google trends, there has been a spike in searches relating to ‘Sinhala school sex’ and ‘Sinhala school girl sex’ (see graphic).
However, Section 286 (a) of the Penal Code states that any person who (I) hires, employs, persuades, assists, coerces any child to perform in any obscene or indecent publication, (ii) allows a child to be employed in such a publication as a parent (iii) have such publications in his possession and distributes for a fee will be imprisoned between 2-10 years, sometimes with a fine. Sections 345, 360 (B) and (C), 365 (A) also sheds light on offences and punishments for perpetrators guilty of abusing a child (an individual under eighteen years of age). But with such a strict law, one may wonder how these incidents continue to escalate.
So we will get all victims admitted to hospital and then get a court order to obtain video evidence of the case. This is one way of assisting the court case. Another aspect is to provide psychosocial support for the victims
Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana