Dr. Tush Wickremanayake
Until a few years ago, adults didn’t think twice before beating a child in their drive to “correcting” indiscipline. How it impacts the psyche and adulthood depends upon the connections one creates in the journey of life. Some end up fit for prison while others skim past into leading normal lives. Children were at the receiving end of violence at home, at school and by society. It was the thought of the times that physical correction was the only way forward. In short, children were easy targets. Clout behind the ear, extreme squeezing of the ear until tears jumped out of the eye sockets, burned by cigarette butts, umpteen beatings with a leather belt, courtesy by the head of the household(usually the father), a mother would resort to footwear, usually a slipper or the heel of her shoe, the back of her hand or a ‘thundering slap’ with her open palm. All this in the name of love. In the 21st century, ‘all this’ is regarded as cruelty against children.
Q How can SCC put an end to corporal punishment?
Child Protection is a National Crisis –a collective social responsibility with the State authorities taking the lead role in implementing administrative and legislative procedures and raising awareness.
Sri Lanka has fallen to the abysmal 10% of countries safest in the world for children against violence.
Corporal Punishment is the most common form of violence against children. Stop Child Cruelty Trust’s (SCC) focus is to work closely with the Government in advocacy and with the key stakeholders in raising awareness and training.
The SCC Pentagon Proposal delivers: legislative changes, training of educators/parents, public awareness, National Child Protection Policy and regularize all schools, including International Schools by the Ministry of Education.
Q Are you aware that there are segments of teachers who are of the thought that children cannot be disciplined without being physically punished?
Yes. “I am doing great in life because I was beaten” is a jubilant anecdotal myth shared by many adults. Circular no 12/2016 issued by the Ministry of Education reiterates that resorting to physical punishment of a student is the inability of the teacher to discipline a child and not the fault of the student.
In a study conducted by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) in 2017 revealed that 80% of students were subjected to at least one episode of physical punishment, 53.2% to physical abuse and 72.5% to psychological aggression. Shockingly, 62% of teachers revealed they used corporal punishment. There were 18 Recommendations made by the Authors but NONE implemented with favourable outcomes to date.
Q Which organizations are prompt in tackling complaints from children?
- National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) was established via a power Act No 50 of 1998. NCPA website indicates that the number of cases reported each year has increased from 3000+ in 2010 to 9000+ in 2019.
- There is a dedicated hotline 1929 for reporting any concerns of children.
- On 6th October 2020, Prof G.L. Peiris, Minister of Education, the subject Minister concerned for children’s affairs confirmed in Parliament that there was an alarming rise of complaints made to NCPA from January to September 2020 but the speed in which the complaints were resolved was slow and unsatisfactory. There are confirmed reports of over 20,000 cases of child abuse backlogged at the Attorney General’s Department until the end of 2019 dating back a decade. NCPA has the authority to liaise directly with AG’s Department and expedite these cases. Therefore, I am deeply concerned that NONE of the organizations is tackling complaints “promptly”.
Q When children are ill-disciplined and unruly what must parents do to help them tread the path of good behaviour?
Please refer to the booklet ‘Happier and Safer Education’ on https://www.stopchildcruelty.com/media/doc/happier-and-safer-education.pdf
Q There is a school of thought that the line SCC is treading would give children a boost to create difficulties for parents and teachers. For example, a child calls the hotline 1929 and officers to arrest his/her parents because they had used physical punishment. Where is the child to be housed until the return of the parents? Would there be more misunderstandings between the parents and child due to this situation?
I must emphasize that SCC is not advocating a particular “line” or anything illegal, which is not already endorsed by NCPA. SCC follows the universal principles of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), that everything we do must be in the best interest of the child. Sri Lanka ratified the UNCRC in 1991.
The idea that there would be a sudden surge of prosecutions of parents because of protecting and promoting the rights of children is another common myth shared by those who are resistant to change. Children have equal rights as adults, endorsed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
Q What are the areas SCC is supporting at present?
Our most recent campaign involved youth and students in ‘Parapuraka Abhiyachanaya/A Generation’s Appeal’, a trailblazing series of debates denouncing violence against children.
The finalists from Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya, Colombo and D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo made passionate factual appeals. They referred to the advanced international education standards of positive discipline methods and scientific resolution of common classroom misbehaviours.
A book of ten case studies of victims/survivors of abuse, authored by the Best Speakers of Parapuraka Abhiyachanaya, illustrating children’s experiences of abuse will be released shortly. These are real-life stories that will affect people’s perceptions, and showcase the impact of corporal punishment, violence and other forms of abuse in a way that will touch ordinary people.
‘Spare the Rod’ is a campaign fuelled by experts, educators, activists, parents and children to enforce the Government to implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court of February 2021 against corporal punishment.
Q As a children’s activist, are you suitably satisfied with government support?
No. Child protection experts are convinced that SCC’s advocacy work has influenced the recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court on corporal punishment directing the Government to take immediate remedial measures to amend the discrepancies within the legislature and fulfil the State’s obligatory responsibility to implement national and international policies on child protection.
Despite the tragic incident of an eight-year-old girl caned to death in March 2021, child rights activists and caring citizens are dismayed at the lethargy of the most powerful NCPA, Ministry of Education and other relevant authorities to implement legislative changes as recommended by Supreme Court.
Supreme Court in its historic decision recommended amendments to archaic sections in the Penal Code, particularly Section 341(i), upheld the definition of corporal punishment by UNCRC as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light” and rejected ancient myths of society normalizing punishment on children. This is the long-awaited break that Authorities should embrace urgently and catapult themselves into sustainable action without making child protection short term projects of negligible outcomes. It is extremely frustrating that NONE of the Government authorities responds to letters, give us meetings or follow through with agreements despite numerous measures to resurrect communication.
Q How would SCC become a force to be reckoned with?
Like most activists, I too turned adversity into advocacy. My 11-year-old daughter’s case of corporal punishment and mental abuse, registered at UNHRC is the world’s first case filed by a minor. I fervently hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will honour its national and international commitments to child protection and fulfil years of promises by accepting without any reservations and implement the final recommendations made by the UN Committee. Do not condone corporal punishment. Save the following links to save a child from being a violent adult.
A significant day in the calendar of a child is April 30th. It is the INTERNATIONAL DAY TO END CORPORAL PUNISHMENT OF CHILDREN. If not for Dr Tush Wickramanayake, this day would go unnoticed and children would continue to be at the receiving end of increasing corporal punishment at the hands of adult carers. Stop Child Cruelty (SCC) Trust is a registered charitable organization in Sri Lanka. Excerpts
website: www.stopchildcruelty.com, Facebook: stopchildcruelty, Instagram: stopchildcruelty, YOUTUBE: https://youtube.com/channel/UCKbEvBXk4ks7znkXrlJfYtw. Join us today and help us build a Network in each District to stand against the Abuse of Women and Children. Avanka Lanka Foundation. Tel; 011-2863429, www.avankalanka.org