COPE committee fleshes out NCPA's failures
- The NCPA had received 89,405 complaints between 2011 and 2020 while as at January 31, 2021, the number of unsolved complaints brought forward was 40,668
- there are 548 approved posts in the institute and 206 of them remain vacant
With increasing reports of grievous incidents of child abuse, the need for an unyielding regulatory body for the protection of children in Sri Lanka is apparent. The NCPA which comes under the Ministry of Education was established in 1998 with the objective of formulating a national policy on the prevention of child abuse and for the protection and for the purpose of treating children who are victims of such abuse. A recent review of the National Child Protection Authority by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) revealed that the absence of a national policy to protect Sri Lankan children has caused redundancies within the organization. Identifying a national policy as one of the primary responsibilities of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), COPE disclosed that the implementation of a national policy has not been carried out thus paving the way for
a delay of 21 years.
Absence of a national policy
Speaking to Daily Mirror Insight, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath said several issues were identified at its meeting held on February 12. “There were several problems brought to our attention. The first of which was the absence of a National Policy. The NCPA as a regulatory body must have a national policy. Many laws have been created with the intention of protecting children, but all these have been created in the absence of a national policy. Some of these laws are quite old, some are new. However there is no policy to connect these laws,” he said.
“As governments change, whatever sections elaborated in that government’s manifesto have been included here. Apart from that, they have failed to create a policy framework, to bring together all these laws, creating several overlaps and redundancies,” Prof. Herath said. “A country should have an environmental policy to protect the environment. Similarly there should be a child policy to protect our children. Without such a policy, they’ve attempted to implement various strategies from time to time.”
Parliamentarians Jagath Pushpakumara, Eran Wickramaratne, Premnath C. Dolawaththa, Shanakiyan Rasamanickam and officials representing the Child Protection Authority were present at this meeting where NCPA officials were instructed to expedite the implementation of the National Policy, which has been already approved.
Gaps in coordination causing delays
Prof. Charitha Herath said the COPE committee also observed a weakness in coordination within the NCPA network. “Officers have been appointed at the Pradeshiya level, there are courts, there is a head office in Colombo. But the NCPA has a big issue in coordination and networking,” he said.
The NCPA and the judicial system have constantly come under criticisms owing to the difficulties faced by victims due to the lengthy judicial process. COPE therefore lays emphases on the importance of developing a system to minimize the time period affiliated to child abuse cases before children reach the phase of adulthood.
“Regional empowerment is just one tool. In some areas, when a case is filed in court the NCPA is involved, but there is no follow up from that point onwards. In some instances, where an incident was reported during childhood, the victim is being called to court when they reach adulthood. In some instances the person would be married. When a warrant is issued by court you cannot avoid court, but the very same fact creates a huge problem within the family,” Prof. Herath elaborated. “The cause for these incidents is that the Authority does not do any follow up with their cases,” Prof. Herath said.
Rs.9 million worth funds wasted for obsolete databases
COPE also questioned NCPA officials on the annual reports of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, which have not been submitted to Parliament. Expressing displeasure over the matter, the COPE Chairman instructed the Education Ministry Secretary and the Secretary to the Ministry of State to immediately look into the matter and submit the relevant reports to Parliament within two months.
During the review it was noted that the NCPA spent Rs.9 million to create a database for 2016, 2017. A grant of Rs.1.2 million has also been provided by the Department of Computer Studies, University of Colombo to develop software which was identified as obsolete. “Rs.1.2 million had been spent for this project. However both these databases are now obsolete. The databases cannot be updated, they have taken some research and spent funds on it but in reality the databases haven’t been created as it should,” he said.
The Committee noted that while a database is of utmost importance for the NCPA, there should be a proper methodology in dispensing government funds.
Although the National Child Protection Authority has data on complaints, the committee noted the lack of a national database on child abuse. The Committee directed that steps be taken to develop a more formal database as formal data is essential for future child abuse prevention programmes.
A legal framework and regulations have been identified by the NCPA to regulate the transportation of schoolchildren as a measure to prevent child abuse. But its implementation has been delayed. The COPE Chairman said the requisite standards have been prepared pertaining to the matter and that the authority should take action to fill the vacancies for regulatory purposes. The NCPA was instructed to expedite this programme by employing the newly appointed graduates based on their qualifications.
Ill equipped legal division
It was also revealed that it was not at all sufficient in terms of conducting activities of the Authority as there are only two persons to serve in the Legal Division of the Authority. Therefore, the Chairman of the Committee recommended the Secretary to the Ministry of State that necessary steps be taken to strengthen the legal sector should be looked into with immediate effect.
The NCPA had received 89,405 complaints between 2011 and 2020 while as at January 31, 2021, the number of unsolved complaints brought forward was 40,668. It was revealed however that only one staff member is working in the Law Enforcement Division which handles complaints. The NCPA’s Law Enforcement Division was advised to be strengthened to expedite the process of handling complaints accordingly.
When asked about several concerns of the NCPA being understaffed, Prof. Herath denied such claims. “The NCPA doesn’t seem to be understaffed. They have a large number of officers operating within the district level as well. But as I said earlier, they have failed to coordinate and network their existing staff.”
While there are 548 approved posts in the institute and 206 of them remain vacant, according to the review. The COPE Chairman instructed the authorities to take immediate action as the recruitment process for the approved posts could be done with the approval of the Ministry Secretary.
The COPE Chairman also highlighted that the NCPA had not been given due recognition by any of the successive governments in Sri Lanka. “The NCPA is chaired by an adult. Whoever is leading the authority, that person’s attitude affects this institution. When appointing the Director Board of the NCPA, they have mandated several qualifications. There are a number of parameters in selecting the Board. What this means is that a person with some understanding and sense of the NCPA’s role should be appointed,” Prof. Herath said.
“However since these have been political appointments most of the time, some person at random would be selected for this position. If the appointed person is not sensitive to children’s issues, it results in neglect of the real issues at hand,” he said.
To rectify this issue the COPE Chairman recommended that the board members representing each section to be reviewed and vetted. “If there are any issues in these appointments, they need to be rectified. There is a great need for Psychological and legal consultants with the NCPA which also need to be rectified immediately,” he said.