Ensuring the safety of children | Sunday Observer

Ensuring the safety of children

21 May, 2023

The recent spate of incidents of sexual and physical abuse of children has again brought this important issue to the fore. From the mysterious death of a 16-year-old girl in Kalutara to the disturbing incidents reported from Jaffna, these incidents point to a major moral decline in society. Worse, these type of incidents have even been reported from places of worship in recent days. We can also recall the rape and murder of Seya in Kotadeniyawa and Vidya in Jaffna a few years ago.

But it is not only girls who have become victims in this manner. Many boys too have been subject to physical or sexual abuse and even killed.

These incidents no doubt lead to sensational headlines in newspapers, but thousands of incidents of verbal, physical and sexual abuse of both boys and girls go unreported every year. Corporal punishment continues in many schools, despite attempts to efface hat form of punishment.

Vulnerable to abuse and exploitation

Girls are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. All these incidents may not necessarily end in injuries or murder, but often leave deep psychological scars in children, which may well last into their adulthood. Indeed, there is a need for healing and counseling services at schools and places of worship for children who have been abused in whatever form.

It has been shown that children are often physically or sexually abused by those close or known to them. In the recent Jaffna incidents, it was revealed the fathers of two girls had sexually abused them. In another incident, four children aged 9 to 17 sought the help of Police after leaving their father who they alleged was abusing them. Indeed, the abuser could mean a parent, grandparent, relative, teacher or a close friend of the family. This is a worldwide phenomenon well-documented by child psychologists.

This brings into focus the responsibility of parents and guardians for protecting their children. Apart from the journey to school, which is often by school bus, van or even private car, parents should try to accompany their children on other journeys. School trips too are another exception, as teachers and some parents accompany the children.

In case a child has to be alone out on the streets or in public transport perhaps under unavoidable circumstances, parents must teach them evasive manoeuvers for dealing with any strangers they might encounter. They must be told to never ever accept sweets or rides with strangers. All children must be told that their bodies belong only to them and under no circumstances should a stranger be able to hold or touch them, with the exception of a doctor/medical technician doing a physical examination or diagnostic test.

In this context, there is a dire need for expanding sexual education. It is vital that children are taught from a relatively young age about their private parts and certain other parts of the body which they should never let a stranger or even a closely known person touch.

The needless controversy that arose about the book “Hathey Apey Potha” on sexual education showed the immature attitudes of certain sections of our society and even the media. The ages 12-13 (Grade 7) is a time of sexual awareness and children must be taught these aspects.

Children must be taught to be wary of any person(s) showing extra or undue affection towards them. The parents must necessarily keep a tab on any visitors, friends and relatives of the family included, who frequently visit the house and forge a close bond with the children.

They could genuinely be fond of the children, but chances are that they could also turn out be sexual deviants. In any case, it is best not to let them come into physical contact with the children (touching, kissing) at any time.

Some of those persons could be offended, but that is an acceptable price to pay to ensure your child’s safety. And parents must never leave the children alone with such persons and go on their errands, even for half an hour.

But physical safety is just one aspect of the equation. Although only ‘rich kids’ had access to the Internet and mobile phones earlier, most parents somehow obtained devices for their children during the Covid period when teaching was conducted exclusively online.

One unfortunate side effect of this has been that children have fallen for online sexual predators. A tuition master was recently caught having pictures of naked schoolgirls on his computer. This is one more reason why parents must keep an eye on the online or physical tuition classes attended by their offspring.

Security of their children

The danger here is that once children are online, it is not too difficult for them to fall into the rabbit hole of the dark web where anything goes, including child porn. In fact, many children here in Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world have been lured by stalkers on the Web.

Parents thus have an onerous responsibility to ensure the online safety and security of their children. They should keep an eye on their children’s online activity without perhaps being overtly obtrusive. Many Internet devices can be configured with a software parental lock which bars access to certain websites or keywords. Some remote software also enables parents to monitor the websites accessed by children.

Online child abuse and exploitation is rampant on the Internet, so parents have to take all precautions in this regard. The parents must also be on guard against some of the extremely violent video games played by children, which may affect their psychological profile and studies.

They must also monitor the TV watching habits of children, though this is not as harmful as the Web or violent video games.

Away from the make-believe world of TV and video games, children have to live in the real world with all its shortcomings and problems. Quite apart from the physical and sexual safety of children, it is also important to focus on road safety. Today, many children are killed in road accidents, sometimes due to their lack of knowledge on road rules. Parents should teach them all about road rules – especially how to walk on and cross roads.

They should be taught to cross the road only where a zebra crossing is available and wait for the ‘green man’ before crossing if such lights are available.

They should be taught to walk on the right side of the road, where they can see incoming vehicles more easily and they are also more visible to the drivers. If you buy your son or daughter a bicycle and even if they ride it in a fairly limited radius, a bicycle helmet is a good investment.

In a vehicle, the children should always take the back seat – literally. This is because if a child is seated in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with front airbags, the deployment of the airbag, designed primarily for adults, could seriously injure or even kill the child. Even if a vehicle has no airbags, a child seated in the back has a better chance of survival in a head-on collision with another vehicle. The smallest children must be seated on proper ISOFIX child seats.

Moreover, all children who are taken to school and other journeys by motorcycle should necessarily be wearing child-size helmets. Some parents skimp on this important detail, often with fatal consequences for the child, if not for the parents who always wear helmets in any case.

Close supervisor - a must

Then there are little details that parents sometimes forget. All medicine packs have a warning label – “keep medicines out of the reach of children”. This is because some medicines, if taken in excess quantities, could be fatal for children. Parents must also keep any other poisonous or toxic substances out of the reach of children. The same goes for sili-sili or plastic bags, which could suffocate toddlers if used as a toy.

In fact, parents should closely supervise playtime for very young children, because they could inadvertently put tiny plastic parts of toys into their mouths. Many children have been hospitalised following such incidents.

Yes, children are individual beings and may not like being supervised all the time, especially as they reach the rebellious teenage years. But parents have to strike a balance somewhere, between protecting their children from all dangers 24/7 and giving them full freedom within certain limits. This is a challenging task but it is essential in today’s environment.


United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Human Rights Commission identified the need of a Convention for the welfare and protection of children. As the first step towards this, United Nations Organization declared the year 1979 as the International Year of the Child.

Meanwhile, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was prepared jointly by the United Nations Organization and Non-Governmental Organisations under the patronage and guidance of the Human Rights Commission and was adopted on November 20th, 1989 at the 44th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. States that are interested on the development and well-being of the children agreed with the Convention. Of the international conventions, CRC is the most widely accepted and ratified convention.

Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child is a person below the age of 18 years and emphasises that they should enjoy all the rights stated in the Convention. The document consists of 54 articles and has been prepared based on 4 core principles:

* Non-discrimination

* Best interest of the child

* Right to survival and development

* Respecting the views of the child

The Convention discusses the rights of the children outlined by these principles under 44 articles to ensure the children’s right to survival, protection, development and participation. Rest of the articles describe the role of the state parties in relation to the CRC.

In addition, the United Nations Organization has declared 3 optional protocols and out of them Sri Lanka has signed the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on Sales of Children, Child Prostitution and child Pornography and is bound to implement them.

Implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child on January 26, 1990 and ratified on July 12, 1991. As a follow-up to the UNCRC, the government of Sri Lanka formulated the Children’s Charter in 1992.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was signed on August 21, 2000 and was ratified on September 8, 2000. Signing the Optional Protocol on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and child Pornography was done on May 8, 2002 and ratified on September 22, 2002.

The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs is the pioneer in implementing all above conventions. The National Department of Probation and Child Care Services functioning under the ministry, has diverted its services to a new avenue and became the body responsible for implementing child rights.

Thus, with the objective of implementing the CRC, the department created the post of Child Rights Promotion Officer and recruited graduates for the post. The recruited officers were placed in every Divisional Secretariat in order to provide the atmosphere and facilities necessary to ensure child rights at regional level.