Monday, December 11, 2023

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33 cases of child abuse per day! A nation crying over a never-healing wound

On December 17, 2021, Mass Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma revealed that the number of child abuse cases reported in the last 333 days (11 months) accounts to 10,713. Among them were 1,632 victims below the age of 5, and 2,626 victims of age 6 – 10, a total of 4,258 victims below the age of 10 at a 40 per cent portion of the whole account, he said.  

All citizens below the age 18 are considered as children, according to the Convention of the Rights of the Child in the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka. A child, by definition, should be living under the shelter, love, protection and affection of their parents.

But the tragedy of children, the ones who are growing to hold the future world one day, being fallen prey to child molesters is uprising day by day. Any mistreatment against a child can simply be defined as an act of child abuse, and physical mistreatment and sexual molestation are most common figures of child abuse.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines child abuse and child maltreatment as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”

The Mass Media Minister of Sri Lanka himself acknowledges with utmost ‘shock’ and ‘helplessness’ that 33 cases of child abuse are being reported on a daily basis and among them is a considerable account of toddlers. We too find it not only disturbing but also shocking given the fact that a government minister, a public’s representative, whose maintenance is dependent upon public funds, is passing over both the accountability and the liability of this heinous crime to the people.

There are enough state-run bodies in Sri Lanka which, by definition, are dedicated to protect children and prevent them from being fallen prey to child molesters. The National Child Protection Authority was established in 1999 under the National Child Protection Authority Act No. 50 of 1998 with the objective of formulating a policy for the prevention of child abuse and the protection and treatment of children who are victims of abuse. It is no secret that this body has failed to implement their policies effectively since its establishment, given the astronomical figures of child abuse cases reported over the decades. The Authority has neglected its responsibility to empower and educate the civil society and properly rehabilitate and socialise the victims of child abuse in its understanding of the risks to the safety of children in the face of soaring Police complaints. 

It is extremely disgusting and ridiculous that the Child Protection Authority, which is said to be possessing a ‘huge mechanism’ consisting of a Legal Division, a Psychological Division, an Investigation Division and a Children and Women’s Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police to receive complaints of the Authority, District Child Protection Officers and District Psycho-Social Officers attached within all 25 Districts, and Divisional Child Protection Officers attached covering 332 Divisional Secretariats, has been sleepy despite the fact that 33 cases of child abuse are being reported on a daily basis.

The real question is why these bodies, which are maintained by the tax monies we pay, continue to operate if they are unable to fulfil their responsibilities by influencing responsible government elements through a sound policy and legal framework. Children are the apple of parents’ eyes. A state does not expect to present only numerical data through a mechanism that cannot protect the most valuable resource it holds, the children.

The most humorous part of the entire saga is the fact that the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs is vested in a man.  The Ministry itself is a State Ministry, not a Cabinet one. All political parties that focus on women’s representation in parliamentary polls should be ashamed of the damage befallen the country due to this tragedy. It is even more unfortunate that no women’s representation in Parliament has raised a voice in this regard. Their outspokenness may limit itself to the social class and environment in which they associate on the safety of their children and not receive the grief of those exposed to extreme pressure and victimisation in the rural areas.

In a country where the Rule of Law and the mechanism of Law Enforcement have driven themselves into an abyss, innocent children have to pay the price. Unemployment, malnutrition, poverty, inflation and misuse of technology are all pushing the country’s moral and cultural boundaries to the abyss.

All of the above should be responsible for the children who have been abused, oppressed and molested to date. It is a responsibility which they can never get away from. One of these days, Sri Lanka may become an unfit place to live with children.

Sadly, there is not even a hint of a solution demonstrated by either of the aforementioned parties to these problems.

Translated from original article by Sashikala Madhushani

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