NCPA aims at ‘International Best Practice’: Accept children as rights holders | Sunday Observer

NCPA aims at ‘International Best Practice’: Accept children as rights holders

Head of the National Child Protection Authority Marini de Livera
Head of the National Child Protection Authority Marini de Livera

Children need to be accepted as ‘rights holders,’ and not as puppets and property belonging to parents and guardians, opines Marini de Livera, Head of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). Though the laws are in place, with democratic institutions and mechanisms to implement them, “what is lacking is humaneness and willingness to accept children as rights holders. Everyone should play a part in making children enjoy a happy life. Children belong to the community. They are our future. They have to be whole, growing up emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually to be productive citizens to make a vital contribution, so that our country will be a better place to live in,” she stresses.

Children are the future of the world we live in. To blossom as productive adult leaders who will create a better world, they need to live a life free from violence and fear. Therefore, “Everyone in the country has to consider ‘child protection’ as a top priority. They have to realize that children need care, love and understanding; that they are the most vulnerable citizens.” Heading the country’s only mechanism solely set up for the protection of children and their rights, as a woman and a mother, Livera stresses that women have a vital role to play in the promotion and protection, not only of rights but duties as well. “We tend to speak of rights only; but duties are as important as rights. Mahathma Gandhi said “I learned from my wise but illiterate mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done.” Therefore, all mothers should teach their children their rights and duties,” she opines.

NCPA works “mainly for the promotion and protection of child rights responding to complaints through the 24 hour hotline.” According to Livera, the NCPA hotline – 1929, which could be dialled toll-free from any telephone service provider and operated in all three languages, English, Sinhala and Tamil receives nearly 500 calls per day. She is happy that children have started using the help-line. However, most of the calls could be considered trivial from an adult point of view, though they are very important to the children who call. Some call the NCPA hotline when they are home alone or in need of help with their homework. However, all these calls are attended to, Livera affirms. According to her, NCPA ends up filing about 100 court cases annually.

Between a complaint in person, through mail or by phone to the NCPA head office or to the many Child Protection offices at divisional and district levels, the appropriate solution is a process which sometimes could take long. “Most of the calls are handled with counselling. Sometimes they need support with administrative blocks such as, getting a school certificate on time. Sometimes, the need is purely financial, to strengthen the family.

However, when a complaint is identified as needing investigation the different units of the NCPA unite for a solution. While Child Protection Officers at the divisional or district secretariat level visit households to gather information, the Psychosocial Unit provides counselling support. The Police Unit with specially trained officers to handle child abuse and the Video Unit which comprises staff knowledgeable in recording evidence from children may join in to work on a case. The Legal Unit comes last. The process is arduous, every step needing to be based on evidence, Livera explains.

When it comes to children “Speed is crucial, otherwise, it is a case of re-traumatizing the child,” she stresses, adding that, sooner the child could get over the issue and start leading a normal life, the better. However, red-tape and bottle necks come in the way of expediting inquiries and taking relevant action. Child safety and security is a crucial matter, therefore, it is important for those in the legal profession and the police to have a very good understanding of how to handle issues related to children, she opines. She believes, “every citizen needs to work hard to create a child-friendly and protective environment, even if it is extremely difficult; even if we do not achieve all our goals within our lifetime, we should pursue relentlessly and do our very best for the future.” The NCPA had initiated awareness and training programs for judges as well as prosecutors of different regional bar associations to sensitize them to child rights and needs.

Furthermore, in order to speed up the legal process of the long pending child abuse cases in courts, the NCPA and the UNICEF had joined forces. “We are trying to get the cases heard with the help of UNICEF. The latter volunteered to recruit 100 lawyers to reduce the backlog and halve the number of cases pending in courts, within 6 months. The project is ongoing,” says Livera. The police crime statistics categorizes statutory rape, cruelty and sexual exploitation, all grave crimes against children. While NCPA statistics for the year 2017 showed 340 incidences of rape, 309 grave sexual abuse and 2,144 cruelty, totalling 2,793, the police crime statistics reported 1,467 incidences in all 3 categories for the same period. They further recorded 169 cases as pending at the Magistrate’s Court and 268 cases pending with the Attorney General, while 1,116 cases were listed as pending investigations and were far from even the litigation process. Though NCPA is a centre which supports children in need, to support and protect children more effectively and speedily, “It should be a powerful independent institution with no political influences and should be placed above other Government Departments, so that all provisions of the NCPA Act could be implemented fully,” opines Livera. This would help NCPA to achieve the stage of becoming an ‘International Best Practice’ institution as it was meant to be.

Pic: Saman Mendis

 

Comments

Employing anyone under the age of 21 years is an offence. However when one switches on the TV it can be observed that employment of children in commercial advertisements is increasing at an alarming rate. Parents are guilty in using the children in their formative years to appear in commercial advertisements. Those involved in advertising know that many of these advertisements are recorded after hours. They disturb the recreation and resting time of these small children while exposing them to radiation and other toxic elements. Above all it is the employment of child labour. Huge sums of money are paid to the parents and the practice goes on uncontrolled. Children sold to advertising companies to advertise products. It is high time the NCPA takes cognizance to remedy this situation and stop exploitation of innocent children.

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