By Sarasi Paranamanna
The subject of imposing the death penalty revives every time brutal and heinous crimes are committed in the country. The death penalty has not been executed in Sri Lanka after 1978. However with the recent wave of crime against children, the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has decided to impose the death penalty for child abusers.
Although execution of the death penalty has not been exercised since 1978 the imposition of the death penalty for child abusers is entirely a new move as the death sentence was given mostly for murder and drug related cases in Sri Lanka. Hence while many have welcomed this move, debates have also sparked among many groups as to whether death penalty is the only answer to curb child molestations. Daily Mirror spoke to several key figures to be acquainted with their opinions about bringing the death penalty for child abusers.
Priority to child rights
While a child’s body was found in a canal in Kirulapone after molesting and strangling her, another incident was reported from Tangalle where a thirteen year old girl was repeatedly raped by local businessmen. The recent spate of child abuse incidents sent shockwaves around the country and many activists and groups called upon the authorities to take immediate action to secure the safety of the children in this country.
In the backdrop of this situation Tissa Karaliyadda, Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs speaking to Daily Mirror said that though the very topic of death penalty attracts criticism from human rights activists it is important to prioritize the rights of the children.
“In this situation the nation calls for the recognition of child rights. We do recognize the rights of suspects but we have made this decision to bring the death penalty so that it will act as a deterrent in the future for other offenders” he said.
In Sri Lanka the death penalty is mostly imposed for the murder and drug related offences but however Karaliyadda pointed out that the increasing rate of child abuse can be curbed if the death penalty is imposed for child abusers as well. He emphasized that prioritizing the rights of children is national requirement in order to tackle this adverse trend.
“Strict action needs to be taken against these offenders as a child does not deserve to be harmed psychologically or physically in any manner and it should be publicized as well. Since Sri Lanka has not executed the death penalty since 1978 we have proposed to amend legislation so that the child abuser will not be entitled to common amnesty or suspended sentencing” he claimed.
Will the death penalty act as deterrent?
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission Dr. Prathibha Mahanama Hewa is of the view that imposing the death penalty will not be a deterrent. While he claimed that the effects of imposing the death penalty will be short term he pointed out that there are several countries where the death penalty is executed but still the child abuse rate has not seen a significant decrease.
“In countries like U.S.A, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia though the death penalty is imposed the child abuse rates have not decreased. It shows that the death penalty does not have a major impact on the offenders’ mentality for them to deter from committing the crime. However there are other steps which need to be taken to tackle the issue of the child abuse” he said. Dr, Mahanama Hewa suggested that a feasibility study could be done in a district prone to child abuse. He said that the government officials, divisional secretaries, child protection authorities get together and identify ways that the society can be educated on how to protect children from child abusers. He highlighted that imposing the death penalty is an act which is done after the damage is done to the child and added that through awareness programmes and community initiatives children could be protected before the child goes through any harm.
According to Police statistics 70% of the rape cases are statutory rapes cases. Thus Professor Mahanama Hewa pointed out that a special court system should be established especially to hear cases of crimes against the children. While noting that Sri Lanka has already ratified and recognized many international laws prescribed for the safety of children he said that a witness protection Act and victims protection Act should be drafted to ensure that the litigation against the child abusers cannot be defeated by intimidating the victims and witnesses.
He also stressed on the point that legislative changes were not sufficient to tackle this issue.
“The need to address the menace of pornography is important in this context. Also the low quality teledramas , substance abuse are causes for child abuse because these factors directly manoeuver the human mind into unnatural habits. A constructive dialogue should spring up from the society itself as the authorities alone cannot find an answer to this problem” he said.
Death penalty is not the sole answer
Professor M.W. Jayasundara head of the Criminology Department at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura pointed out that while the death penalty has short term effects a social change would be the most viable long term answer to address the rising rate of child abuse.
He said that substance abuse, unemployment and pornography were the main causes for the child abusers to commit these crimes. He also noted that the depiction of sex in the media and the change in the value system may also be the other root causes for children to be considered as sex objects by these offenders.
“When the death penalty was effective in Sri Lanka crimes did happen although it was not necessarily child abuse. However the same theory can be applied. Even though the death penalty can act as a deterrent in the punishment aspect in terms of curbing child abuse the society needs to identify with a value system which recognizes the rights of children. It cannot be done overnight but if all authorities collaborate a change can be made” he said.
Professor Jayasundara also noted that familial relationships need to be strengthened to protect children from offenders while highlighting that prevention is a better option than taking action after the incident takes place.
He also noted that rehabilitation was not an effective method for child abusers are the chance of relapsing into that condition is greater if the social conditions which caused him to be an offender are still present.