‘Implement Animal Welfare Bill’, urge activists | Sunday Observer

‘Implement Animal Welfare Bill’, urge activists

Dog needing care.
Dog needing care.

Sensing danger, the dog started whimpering and running in the massive cage. But there was no room for escape. The cold-hearted gunman started shooting at the poor animal, while it tried to cry out loud saying, “help me”. Amid back to back bullets, it tried to stop the gunman by jumping onto him and the man stopped the dog by hitting it with his gun. Then another shot was fired and the dog just laid on the floor in pain. That’s the end of the video circulating on social media for the past couple of days, revealing information about an animal dungeon in Kobeigane, Nikaweratiya.

This was not the first and would not be the last incident we will hear or see about the torture of animals and unleashing of unimaginable cruelty upon them.

About a year ago most Sri Lankans were shocked hearing the death of a dog named ‘Charlie’, who died after someone set it on fire while it was sleeping in its cage. A few days ago another video was shared on social media where an elephant named ‘Myan Kumar’ belonging to a famous Buddhist temple was inhumanely beaten by a servant. These shocking incidents brought public attention back to the long due Animal Welfare Act.

Currently, the animal population excluding wildlife, is protected by an outdated law, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, 1907 (amended). According to this Ordinance, the maximum fine for a person found guilty on an offence related to torturing animals is a mere Rs. 100, which clearly indicates the dire need for a new legal provision to protect innocent animals.

Attorney-at-Law and currently Senior Adviser to Justice for Animals Sri Lanka, Senaka Weeraratna points out that as the penalty which is more than a century-old is no real deterrent on potential offenders committing heinous crimes related to cruelty to animals, the police is reluctant to investigate and prosecute offenders for the simple reason: “Because anybody can get away today by paying the Rs. 100 fine”.

Realising the archaic and obsolete character of the outdated Ordinance, the Law Commission decided to update the governing legislation by drafting an Animal Welfare Bill and completed the exercise in 2006. Senaka Weeraratna who served as the Honorary Legal Consultant on animal welfare legislation to the Law Commission steered the drafting.

“We handed it over to the then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006 as a piece of draft legislation of the Law Commission. But though almost 14 years has now elapsed, it is still in the pipeline with no certainty of seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Weeraratna lamented.

In 2010, Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana There presented an Animal Welfare Bill based on the Law Commission draft as a Private Member’s Bill to the Parliament and the last government had given cabinet approval to the enactment of the Bill. But so far nothing has come into effect because of stiff opposition from sectors that exploit and abuse animals for private profit .

“Animals do not have clout, money and votes. I think that is why none of the lawmakers bother to take up the cause of animals in Parliament by articulating their pain and suffering, and their grievances and enact the Animal Welfare Bill. It’s just sad that we are shamefully so far behind the rest of the world in this respect. If foreign critics take the same interest on our track record on Animal Rights as much as they do on our adherence to Human Rights, we will then have nowhere to look,” Weeraratna commented.

Nevertheless, cruelty towards animals is not just a subject to stray animals. Even pets are sometimes badly treated by their owners.

President of Animal Welfare and Protection Association (AWPA) Hemantha Jayatilake told the Sunday Observer that the association frequently receives complaints from people about pets ill treated at homes.

“Some are not given food properly. Some are beaten. And some are confined to kennels for 24 hours. But we as a welfare organisation have no authority to enter into private homes and rescue animals. It is a job for the police,” she explained.

Jayasinghe also thinks that educating people on how to handle pets is also a must. “We need the support of media in that cause. At least media should advise people that torturing animals is not something acceptable.

“However if the government steps in and make cruelty to animals a punishable offence, I think we can save a lot of animals” she opined.

Baw Baw, an organisation dedicated to the well-being of animals is now eyeing to work closely with the government to reduce the number of stray dogs on streets who are often subjected to torture.

“We believe that a 3-5 year island-wide sterilisation program for stray dogs would do justice for both dogs and people.

But the consistency of such program is essential,” founder of Baw Baw and animal welfare activist Gihan Dinushka opined.

Dinushka and other supportive activists have prepared a proposal with 15 demands which are important towards the betterment of animal welfare.

These demands include establishing a state animal welfare committee which could overlook all matters related to domestic animals.

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