by Surekha Samarasena
Where is justice for child victims in Sri Lanka? We always tell stories to children; these three stories are for adults.
This article analyzes three issues that can be read in parallel. In particular, it analyzes the practical problems with the lack of justice for children in Sri Lanka who are victims of violence or abuse. It also questions the deep slumber of three government institutions that should be functioning for that purpose.
The writer of this article went to the Police Children’s and Women’s Bureau of Galle on October 11 at 4.15 pm. It was to file a complaint about an injustice done to her and her 6-year-old daughter.
Already there was the lady OIC in a civil dress, combing her beautiful hair. There was a male officer also in a civil dress a little bit far.
“Very sorry for you… We don’t record complaints after 4 p.m… Here we have women officers, the thing is they are not working after 4 p.m… As women, we also have duties at home, so we close this office at 4 p.m… If you really want to write the complaint now, we can bring the complaint book, but you have to do it with a male officer from here because I am also getting ready to go now…” The lady OIC said.
Although ‘the writer’ knows that the Sri Lanka Police has had a Children’s and Women’s Bureau for many years, she had not visited ever them for any service. So it was the first time she went to get their service and she got surprised after listening to the lady OIC. How does the Children and Women’s Bureau in SL Police assume that after 4 p.m. there will be not able to happen violence against women or children? How can they think that child abuse may not occur after 4 p.m.? ‘The writer’ thought that they (women and children) could be more vulnerable at night. But who is responsible for rescuing them? Where is the justice?
The writer immediately telephoned the head office of the Children’s and Women’s Bureau at the Mukhtar Building, Amor Street to inquire about the situation. Then the officer who answered the phone told her that she should come in the next morning. Because the O.I.C. is not on duty after 4 p.m. there too.
Beyond that, the writer was completely discouraged to get justice through the ‘Child and Women’s Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police, regarding the issue she and her daughter victimized. The writer realized that from the moment of recording a complaint.
Ironically, in the next second the writer saw this news on her smartphone.
The former Chairman of the Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha Saruwa Liyanage Sunil has been acquitted and released over a sexual assault case.
The Court of Appeal today released Liyanage Sunil who was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl in 2012.
He was arrested by the Children and Women Bureau of Matara Police in July 2012 in connection with allegations of molesting a 14-year-old girl.
He was sentenced to 15 years of rigorous imprisonment following his conviction in January 2020. (https://www.newswire.lk/2022/10/11/former-akuressa-ps-chairman-saruwa-sunil-acquitted/)
Sarua Sunil, who was imprisoned for 15 years after proving a charge of abusing a girl child, had been freed on the International Day of the Girl Child, 11th October; So that issue was the main topic in social media on that day. A writer in Lanka News Web wrote that the 101st virgin was also raped by Sarua Sunil. Maybe the 101st virgin is the blind lady justice. (https://sinhala.lankanewsweb.net/10/11/30587/)
Anyway, Sarua Sunil was acquitted of the 15-year prison sentence given by a high court, because the testimony given by the 14-year-old girl who was abused was not proven in other ways. So that is a technical issue, not a final judgment on whether he did it or not.
It is true that the justice process for violence or abuse against children/ women in Sri Lanka is riddled with technical issues right from the initial step of ‘filing a complaint. The ‘story:1’ of this article also discussed the technical issues faced by a victim child or a woman in ‘filing a complaint.
Now we all know the fact that the accused was acquitted of the case due to ‘technical issues of not being able to prove the evidence related to the complaint presented against Saruwa Sunil in other ways. But what do we not know? Did the girl child who took the relevant complaint before the law get justice? Or, was she just saying that?
However, the International Day of the Girl Child was also celebrated that day (October 11) while the events of Story:1 and Story:2 and many more stories were happening here.
This year the theme was “Our time is now—our rights, our future”.
“Girls around the world continue to face unprecedented challenges to their education, their physical and mental wellness, and the protections needed for a life without violence.” the United Nations official website says. (https://www.unicef.org/gender-equality/international-day-girl-2022)
Yes. The situation of children in Sri Lanka is very bad. At this moment, they get ‘guti’ (hit) instead of rice to eat.
The third story here is about a statement made by an organization against child cruelty (https://www.stopchildcruelty.com/) in Sri Lanka.
They are making this statement about the main government institute responsible for protecting children’s rights in Sri Lanka and providing justice to children who have been victims of any kind. ‘Child Protection Authority is the institute they mentioned here.
‘Stop Child Cruelty’ recently made a special statement through its official Facebook page and said that it seems that the National Child Protection Authority has done ‘no role in doing justice to the victims in the last 10 years.
They said it was based on the reply received from the National Child Protection Authority regarding the data/information they sought from the National Child Protection Authority through RTI.
They ask :
a) During the period from 2010 to 2021, the number of convictions against rape, grave sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, in each case The date of receipt of the complaint, the date of filing the case, the age of the child victim when the case was filed
b) Number of convictions against cruelty during the period from 2010 to 2021, the date of receiving the complaint for each case, the date the case was filed, and the age of the child victim when the case was filed.
They said that they received the following answers from the Director of Law, who is the information officer of the National Child Protection Authority.
“That the requested information is not in the possession, custody, and control of our organization”
After having this ‘wonderful reply’ the chairperson of ‘Stop Child Cruelty’ Dr. Thush Wickramanayake raised this big issue, addressing a meeting. She asked “Sri Lanka’s main government institute responsible for children is working like this?” (https://fb.watch/gkOfqN1IiW/)
In the Act 1998 – No. 50, which is caused to the establishment of the National Child Protection Authority, Article 14 g says that “to monitor the implementation of laws relating to all forms of child abuse” is one of its main tasks. And what does section 14 h say? “to monitor the progress of all investigations and criminal proceedings relating to child abuse”.
By reading the above three stories in parallel, it seems that the protection of children in Sri Lanka as well as justice for children who have been tortured or abused has become a tragedy. It is problematic whether we can be satisfied with the functioning of the Children and Women Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police as well as the Child Protection Authority. We do not intend to give any opinion regarding the ‘Court’ here, and you can think about it yourselves. Also, did these 3 stories (narrowed down from the big picture) in this article generate in you an analytical view of justice for child victims?
Perhaps you have heard the term Transitional justice. Transitional justice refers to how societies respond to the legacies of massive and serious human rights violations. It asks some of the most difficult questions in law, politics, and the social sciences and grapples with innumerable dilemmas. Above all, transitional justice is about victims.
Transitional justice can be said to be the way to seek justice for earth-shattering crimes (e.g. genocide) that occurred in a society at a certain time.
Sri Lanka is in a very difficult place to get justice for our child victims; So they will have to demand transitional justice in the future. In fact, many years later in the future will we have to demand Transitional justice for the 14-year-old girl child in the ‘Saruwa Sunil v. girl child case’?
Recently, there have been reported several cases of school children being beaten by their teachers and principals. We hear a lot about children being sexually abused not only by school van drivers or neighbors but also by family members. Such children get harsh ‘punishments’ such as dropping out of school or social stigma, not ‘justice’. Can we ask for ‘transitional justice’ for everyone? Why is ‘justice’(general) not work for them?