- The law states that it’s an offence to rape or abuse a child below 16 years of age with or without consent
- She was allegedly raped by male adults in her close family at a young age and one of them is the main accused in the case
- Child rights activists question how national security could be achieved when the state fails to protect a defenceless child
By Kamanthi Wickramasinghe
Sri Lanka’s child protection crisis hit a new low when a 35-year- old man was arrested on charges of selling a 15-year-old girl online for sexual activities on June 8. A total of 21 more persons including Mihintale Pradeshiya Sabha Deputy Chairman E. M. L Edirisinghe, a leading businessman and a monk have been arrested for allegedly being involved in this organised sexual exploitation racket as at July 1, 2021.
The law states that it’s an offence to rape or abuse a child below 16 years of age with or without consent and procuration and trafficking of persons too is an offense as per provisions of the Penal Code amendments in 1995 and 2006. However, child rights activists question how national security could be achieved when the state fails to protect a defenceless child.
“The child was a resident of Delgoda since 2019 and thereafter she was residing at Moratuwa,” said Police Women and Children’s Bureau Director Senior Superintendent of Police Darshika Ranasingharachchi. “She was allegedly raped by male adults in her close family at a young age and one of them is the main accused in the case. She has been sexually exploited since September 2020. The Police acted on a tip-off received by the Mt. Lavinia Police.” said SSP Ranasingharachchi.
When asked if there were similar incidents reported before, she replied in the negative, but claimed that child abuse cases are being reported on a daily basis. She said that this could be due to the pandemic, poverty or due to easy accessibility of technological devices.
In a statement, Police Spokesperson Ajith Rohana said that according to reports the child has been sold for Rs. 10,000, Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 30,000. The child’s mother, the mistress of the main suspect, a three-wheeler driver and a car driver who escorted the child to various places, the person who designed the advertisement were subsequently arrested.
State Minister calls for action
State Minister of Women and Child Development Piyal Nishantha said that the perpetrators will be punished irrespective of political affiliation, money or power.
Nishantha said that he had informed National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Chairman about several other incidents and has called for immediate action.
Child needs to be protected
“The child is an important witness and therefore needs to be protected,” opined Prof. Harendra De Silva, NCPA Founder Chairman and Professor Emeritus of Paediatrics. “If she’s in a home environment she’ll be pressurised to refrain from giving evidence. She may give a statement to Police, but at courts, she will deny any claims and allegations and might even say that the Police asked her to do so,” said Prof. De Silva.
When asked if the law needs to be upgraded, Prof. De Silva said that there’s no lacuna in the law, but there was a lack of implementation of it. “ Around 20-25 years ago a lot of changes were done to the 1995 Penal Code Amendment No. 22 in terms of addressing child abuse as well as exploitation of women.” he added.
A national crisis
“In 2020 Sri Lanka Police revealed that a child was sexually molested every two hours in this paradise island,” opined Dr. Tush Wickramanayake, Chairperson, Stop Child Cruelty Trust. “In 2021 statistics revealed that the Police had failed to secure a single conviction of 2055 cases of child abuse reported in 2020. Currently, there are over 20,000 cases of child abuse backlogged in Attorney General’s Department. It takes 7-10 years on average to go to trial.
“Both the UNCRC and the UNHRC have prioritised child protection. One of the main criteria to gain European Union’s (EU) GSP+ plus is ending corporal punishment of children,” she added.
“Child protection is a national crisis in Sri Lanka. NONE of the Politicians whose slogan is “The true beneficiaries of the future of this country are children” have spoken openly or acted impartially to protect our children. How can you achieve national security without being able to protect a defenceless child?” questioned Dr. Wickramanayake.