The police officers took no heed of the advice of an experienced counselor. Instead they decided that abiding by the regulations were of utmost importance, even in sensitive matters such as these
“With their sheer unprofessionalism the police have misled the District Court and the Magistrate Court, subjecting the victimised child to further abuse and very serious secondary victimisation”
On August 13, a woman happened to meet a child who was in desperate need of help. The child’s only plea was “Aney Aunty, mawa beraganna” (Please save me Aunty). The child was promptly escorted to the Wattegama Police Station, in Kandy where they were made to sit for hours simply because of a snag in the country’s police system.
The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Wattegama Police Station informed them that as the child was a resident of a different police division, they were unable to help her. They were in fact informed that the child needs to be taken to the Matale Police Station where a statement could be recorded.
Child rights advocate Ruvini Wells speaking to Daily Mirror said a statement of the incident was recorded by the police officers, who for hours had failed to inform the woman and the child, of their inability to investigate the case.
Wells who accompanied the child and the witness, is also an experienced counselor. She said that the child exhibited signs of severe distress by this point. “We went to Wattegama Police Station on August 14 at about 8.30 am. Around midday they took down the complaint and the statement of the other witness to the child’s story. After recording the complaint, however much I requested for a reference number, they totally refused to give it to me. The women officers said rudely to get it from the OIC. When I approached the OIC, he too refused and at 3 p.m. he said the case doesn’t belong to their catchment area and that I have to go with the officers to the Matale Police Station to hand over the child,” Wells said.
A statement of the incident was recorded by the police officers, who for hours had failed to inform the woman and the child, of their inability to investigate the case
Wells had been informed by the Police officers that they would have to stay at the police station no matter how much time it took. “As the other lady who was with me had an autistic child at home, we were unable to stay on any longer. But before leaving I informed the OIC and all the other women officers present that the child has told us that she is absolutely frightened to even see the mother’s face and to ensure that she is kept away from the mother,” Wells recalled. Unfortunately the police officers took no heed of the advice of an experienced counselor. Instead they decided that abiding by the regulations were of utmost importance, even in sensitive matters such as these.
The Daily Mirror spoke to the OIC of Wattegama Police station CI Ilangasinghe who said that they were unable to investigate this case as it falls under the purview of the Matale police division. “As you may understand, we cannot break the law. This case belongs to another police division, therefore we didn’t wish to proceed with it,”
Ilangasinghe said. “The lady who came with the child asked us to entrust the child with her. As you can imagine we can’t do that. The child has parents. So we kept the child with us,” Ilangasinghe said.
As a trained psychological counselor, it was obvious to me that the child had been heavily intimidated. I was asked by all the police officers there to leave the court premises and I had reasons to believe that they knew I was coming and was well prepared to keep me away from the child and to remove me from the court premises
Scarred and scared
12-year-old Nirmani (name changed to protect identity) used to live in Kotahena, before her mother decided to move the family to Kandy. Nirmani, who has burn marks and scars all over her body, including her face, has been abused for years, by her own mother.
Before the family moved, Nirmani attended a government school in Jinthupitiya, Kotahena. She was a grade five student. For two years, she didn’t attend school, until one day Nirmani convinced her mother to let her attend school. “I told my mother that I wanted to go to school. I couldn’t bear to see other children go to school. I told her that I would go away,” Nirmani said. Her mother’s response to this was extremely hurtful. “Mother said that if I went away, she would poison me. So I thought I’d take my own life, no need to let my mother poison me,” Nirmani said. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt the child fell sick, but continued to suffer silently. She said that she didn’t want to tell her mother of her suicide attempt.
The child being escorted by a police officer along with other adult offenders
She was denied the right to attend school for two years. Nirmani said that her family believed that girls who attain age (puberty) should not attend school thereafter. Nirmani was frustrated and told her mother of her intention to harm herself, if she was continued to be confined to her home. Frustrated by the child’s complaints the mother took Nirmani to school. When the principal of the school questioned Nirmani’s absence of two years, her mother said that she was suffering from polio and was hospitalised. But Nirmani had no such health issue, neither was
Through conversations with Nirmani, it was found that her mother was a sex worker. Nirmani’s father drove a three wheeler but was an alcoholic and refused to pay rent or feed the children. “But mother used to give father alcohol and drugs. Father didn’t even care as much as my mother did,” Nirmani said. But the mother was already suspicious of Nirmani revealing her secrets to her father, which led her to them leaving the house in Kotahena.
Nirmani’s mother had repeatedly assaulted her with a broom stick, cut her with a knife and even burnt her. According to Nirmani, her brother suffered less. When asked by social workers if she would like to return to the care of her mother, Nirmani said “I feel sad for my mother, but I don’t like to be with her. I’m scared to see her face. I don’t want to go to the police either. Mother will be in trouble,” she said.
No access to legal representation
Despite her efforts to safeguard the child, the very next day after making the complaint the Matale Police OIC informed Ruvini Wells that the child had agreed to go home with the mother. “Before I went to the police station, I explained to them that as the child has already made suicide attempts in the past, if she is forced to go back home with the mother, the child will definitely commit suicide at the first opportunity she gets. But no one was able to give a satisfactory response and I was finally directed to WIP Nirmala who was the acting OIC at the Matale Women’s & Children’s department,” Wells said.
She added that despite her attempts to explain the gravity of the situation to the officer, she was indifferent and simply said that the child has been taken to the district courts in Matale. “Since it was a criminal case, I inquired why the case was forwarded to the district courts and she only smiled in response,” she said.
When Wells reached the Matale District Courts, the child was standing right next to the mother and when approached, the mother aggressively pulled the child to a side. “I noticed that the child was frightened even to look at me. As a trained psychological counselor, it was obvious to me that the child had been heavily intimidated. I was asked by all the police officers there to leave the court premises and I had reasons to believe that they knew I was coming and was well prepared to keep me away from the child and to remove me from the court premises,” she added.
The Daily Mirror inquired from WCI Palipana of the Matale Police who said that Nirmani is now detained at a Juvenile Offenders’ Detention Centre, despite her being the victim of abuse. She confirmed that the abuser or the mother of the child has been arrested but declined to comment further.
Meanwhile Attorney-at-law Marini De Livera representing the child has been denied access to Nirmani or inquire about her well being. “The child has refused to be reunited with the mother, and she refuses to be left in the care of the person who has come forward to give her care as well. The only thing the child has asked is to be taken away, saying that otherwise she will die,” Livera said.
“With their sheer unprofessionalism the police have misled the District Court and the Magistrate Court, subjecting the victimised child to further abuse and very serious secondary victimisation,” Wells said. “The child was in absolute distress, helpless and in a vulnerable situation. The police, the prison officers and the court staff all turned a blind eye to it and turned a deaf ear. A lot of things that happened were a total violation of the CRC (Children’s rights charter) too,” she added.
A recent audit published by the Auditor General’s Department revealed the following failures in the complaints receiving process.
- The number of complaints received from 2011 to 2019, was 79,259 and action had not been taken to resolve 42,073 complaints.
- In the investigation of the complaints received from 4 districts from where the highest number of public complaints had been received, issues such as not taking statements of the complaints properly, not taking action to resolve complaints expeditiously and weaknesses in the site inspections on complaints, had been observed.
- Even though more than 35% out of the total number of complaints received to the
- National Child Protection Authority, were from the 4 districts namely, Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala and Galle, higher attention had not been paid to that matter and expeditious steps had not been taken to investigate those complaints.
- It was not possible to review the progress of the complaints effortlessly since the NCPA had not recorded complaints in a way that it provides easy access to identify information such as the relevant district and jurisdiction of the Divisional Secretary in the documentation of the complaints received.