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
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
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
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.