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Sunday, 26 February 2012





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Children-friendly police units to be set up:

Parents should keep a tab on children-- Solicitor General

Let's call her Pumalee. Though the teenage beauty was the apple of her mother's eye, the mother couldn't protect her daughter from a 'predator' who was eyeing for her for several months. On one fateful day, when she was alone at home, after returning from school, she had fallen prey to the unknown labourer who came to work at the new construction site in the town. Raped and assaulted, screams of the innocent girl didn't reach beyond the four walls of her home.

Years passed. while the trauma of sexual abuse was still haunting her. The summons of the rape case were issued for her to appear in courts to give evidence. The medical officer, who was to cross examine the victim in courts inquired about the girl, from the police officer who handled the case. The doctor, who at the sight of a teenager, lost his speech for a few minutes, as the officer pointed out to a young mother who was breast feeding a tiny in front at the far end of the courtroom.

Pumalee, later got married to a clerk in a state institute who 'pardoned her and she gave birth to a baby boy a year later. But there was a deadly delay in bringing justice to her. She was served summons to appear in courts when they were about to enter their fourth year of marriage and a few-months after she delivered her second baby. Imagine the fate of a mother of two, who was to unearth her bitter past in open court amidst her husband and hundreds of others about how she was raped. This is the dilemma of many children who were sexually abused and when they filed cases to find justice for their plight.

This story, is a clear evidence of the 'laws delays' in the country's judiciary system, the doctor informed the Solicitor General, Palitha Fernando and other top officials in the Ministry of Justice, especially those concerned about expediting cases relating to children.

The group, that was enthusiastic about finding a remedy to prevent the laws delays in cases related to children, initiated a pilot project in two districts - Anuradhapura and Gampaha, where a large number of sexual abuse on children were reported.

"We want to prevent such unfortunate incidents like Pumalee's mainly to address delays in solving such cases. With the support of the UNDP and the Justice Ministry we have embarked on a very ambitious project titled 'National Project for Expedition Disposal of Cases of Child Abuse'. The main objective of this pilot project was to solve cases of sexual abuse on children within two and a half years", Solicitor General Fernando said.

Explaining the measures taken to expedite cases, especially sexual abuse on children, Fernando said they had brought changes in reporting a case of child abuse, which was only reported to the relevant police station earlier. " But now under the new project when a child below the age of 16 is subjected to sexual abuse, the officer in the police station is bound by the orders of the Inspector General of Police to bring it to the notice of the DIG of the area and the Provincial Supervising Officer of the AG's Department who is a Deputy Solicitor General immediately and it is also essential to report to the Director Legal and the Crime of the Police and also to the NCPA Chairman Anoma Dissanayake", he said.

Each case of sexual abuse on children will focus and the Judicial Medical Officers had informed the project authorities that they would complete their investigations within three weeks and police would take two weeks. "The files on cases relating to children are yellow we even use yellow paper to give prominence to them in courts to expedite the cases. We have taken up the challenge to send the indictments within three weeks of received notes of investigations.

In Anuradhapura and Gampaha also agreed to take up such cases within three weeks. The AG's Department is monitoring this project and want to expand this to other provinces", Fernando said.

According to the Solicitor General, the project would be extended to Badulla, Moneragala and also to the Northern and Eastern provinces where underaged girls were given in marriage.

"If this project is successful, we would be able to solve most of the child abuse cases in the country within this year", he said adding that the Police which is also keen had held several seminars for its officers to educate them. "The Anuradhapura district is under the supervision of Yasantha Kodagoda and Gampaha is under Buwaneka Aluvihare and Sarath Jayamanne and according to the feedback we get from them it is progressing very well and we would be able to conclude these cases early", he said.

Due to the laws delays in solving cases of child abuse, the case drag for at least a decade and people will forget the culprits while the innocent victims are undergoing mental and social agony. But under the new project, the child abuse cases would be brought to the notice of the people in the area within three-weeks and people would know that the culprit was punished.

Fernando said changes in questioning a child victim had already been implemented in every police station, which has Women and Children Desks and the officer who questions a child is a female officer. "We have got child psychologists to educate police women officers on the impact on children and the best way to handle such cases and questioning them. We have advised them to have a child- friendly environment in their units to question children.

The Anuradhapura Police has set up a special unit for child victims to lodge complaints and also to give evidence. The room is a totally different room where there are toys, pictures and coloured furniture. "We got the UNDP to support us to set up similar units in Anuradhapura and Gampaha police stations and will expand it to other areas but we lack financial resources", he said stressing the need to introduce child-friendly court procedures in questioning children in courts, which is still done in the presence of others.

He said though the law, which was amended, has provisions to play a recorded video, where the child is being questioned at the initial investigations, the child should be brought to Courts for cross examination later, which follows the normal Court process. "But we intend to bring changes to the process of cross-examining a child in Courts later to introduce child-friendly Court rooms", he said.

Refuting claims that there is a significant increase in sexual abuse, he said over 85 percent of the cases were where they had consensual sex. "Especially in the Sabaragamuwa Province, Embilipitiya, North Central and some very rural villages, children below the age of 16 are given in marriage and that has been the order of the day. Although, under the existing law, the marriageable age is 18 years, in most of the rural areas registration of marriage don't take place and it is the practice in the Asian region.

Even now in the rural areas of Sri Lanka, especially the North Central Province, girls when they attain puberty are given in marriage.

With no wedding ceremonies and registration of marriages. They just live with the men, their parents ask them to go with.

But each day, when they have sex, these husbands commit an offence as sexual consent of a minor is immaterial under the prevailing law of the country", he said.

He said when the media reported that cases of sexual abuse had significantly increased, a wrong picture would be painted in the minds of the people that violence against women and children had increased.

"What do you call a case of sexual abuse? A layman would always say sexual abuse is where force is used on a woman, who was dragged but most of these cases don't fall into this category. These are cases where under-aged children, below 16 years have consensual sex with her boy friend who is 20 years old. But as the existing law says a child under 16 is a minor, these incidents fall into the category of child abuse.

But it is certainly not a case where a girl was taken by force and she was subject to some sort of sexual abuse. According to statistics given to me by the Police Department, the number of cases where force is used is very less", the Solicitor General said.

Emphasising that this phenomena needs lots of attention, he said the most effective way of addressing the issue was through educating children through their parents and teachers.

"I think it is necessary to educate them on the legal aspect and also the repercussions of committing the offence. Young boys having an affair with a young girl is natural, but the moment they go beyond that and especially when the girl is below the age of 16, the fact that she consents or not, does not matter.

According to the Penal Code such instances can call for 10 years rigorous punishment. In most of these cases the boy who had consensual sex with their girl friends have become a accuse in a rape case", he said.

Fernando requested parents to keep a sharp eye on their children and also teachers, who were close guardians until they go home. "As parents are not aware of this trend they don't keep a close watch on their daughters. When a girl goes out for even a tuition class, it is necessary for teachers and parents to closely monitor them. What we see is that those incidents could be avoided if you are careful about your daughter and with whom she associates.

Even sons are vulnerable as they are in their young age trying to explore the world and new experience. Parents need to have an eye on them too", he said.

He said the incidents where force was being used for the purpose of committing sexual abuse was not on the increase and it was very rarely where a girl who is going to school is dragged and then subjected to sexual abuse has been reported.

According to Fernando, the Supreme Court according to references made by the Anuradhapura High Court have now looked into the plight of the young boy who had unknowingly became a 'rapist' and is considering the judgment of Justice P. A. Ratnayake, where he says it would be necessary not to give the mandatory sentence but to give reduced punishment.

"When an under-aged girl goes and lives with a boy and a mother complains to the police, Police will arrest the couple and the boy will be remanded and the girl will be handed over to her parents. But the parents face the dilemma as the girl will want to go with the boy.

In most cases, we have found that when the girl reached marriageable age, she is given in marriage to the same boy, who is by then released on bail. But the charges are filed later and as it will take time for them to marry.

Then the girl writes to the AG requesting him not to resort to any legal action as she is married to the same boy. Sometimes they send wedding photos and their children's pictures", he said adding that following the International Charter on Children's Rights, which says that all laws relating to children should be enforced with the interest of the child in mind, the AG will withdraw such cases when they were brought into the notice of the AG.


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