“There is no keener revelation than a society’s soul than which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
Stop Child Cruelty Trust (www.stopchildcruelty.com ), an organization committed to ending cruelty to children launched the #JUSTSAYNO National campaign with the first Citizens’ Forum live Zoom discussion via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stopchildcruelty on 25th July 2020. This forum was attended by Ajith Rohana, Director In General (DIG) of Sri Lanka Police, Wijesena Withana, Investigation Consultant of National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Gayan Gallage, Journalist, Achala Senevirathna, Lawyer, Aritha Wickramasinghe, Equality Director of iProbono, Shanthi Wijesinghe, Resource Person of Seekers research and Paramie Jayakody, Digital Marketer and large number of concerned citizens.
Two historic petitions against child cruelty on change.org were declared to The President and UN simultaneously. An inspirational video #JUSTSAYNO, featuring Patrons of the Trust, Otara Gunewardene, Director, Embark and Otara Foundation and Sidath Wettimuny, Chairman, Nobles Group of Companies and Former National Cricketer was also released.
#JUSTSAYNO Citizens’ Forum was moderated by Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka, Chairperson of Stop Child Cruelty Trust who highlighted that in January 2018, in the concluding observations of the UNCRC on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Sri Lanka, serious concerns were raised, at the lethargy of child protection by the Government of Sri Lanka, issuing a red alert. Whilst alerting the failures of Police, Judiciary System and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) in protecting children and promoting their rights have resulted in frustrating inadequacies and lengthy and painful progression of inquiries, the nation’s deep shock to the three recent gruesome child sexual abuse and murders was the tipping point of the citizens’ outcry to end cruelty to children. Dr. Wickramanayaka expressed the alarming state of affairs when convicted child murderers are released by the Executive exemplifying that murder is acceptable in society.
DIG, Ajith Rohana whilst accepting some failures of implementation of the law reassured the citizens of the commitment by Sri Lanka Police to protect children. He suggested that awareness programs should be conducted in villages around the country. His invitation to establish a Child Protection Task Force was warmly accepted by the panel.
Mr. Withana stated that NCPA was established via a powerful Act No 50 of 1998 with special powers to deal with matters relating to children. He confirmed that the long awaited National Child Protection Policy is now in the five year implementation stage.
Mr. Gallage reassured the public of the media responsibility to report ethically without divulging identifying or sensitive information of children as per the Penal code Act no 365C. Ms. Senevirathna endorsed the necessity to reform the current archaic laws and pursue a more robust judiciary process to clear the backlog of over 20,000 cases in AG Department. Mr. Wickramasinghe questioned the efficacy of death penalty recommended by individuals when there was only one conviction of rape in each year of 2017, 2018 and 2019 cases albeit over thousands of cases of child sexual abuse every year. He encouraged a restorative justice process than a retributive justice process, proven to be successful in many countries with high rates of crime. Ms. Wijesinghe reiterated the importance of early childhood development and introduction of age appropriated sex education starting from pre-school aged children. The panel agreed that buckling of Ministry of Education to controversially abandon the “Hathe Ath Potha”, sex education book for students in the face of opposition of few persons’ tunnel vision was a monumental mistake in the current climate of increased incidents of sex abuse of children. Ms. Jayakody encouraged all University Students to sign up to the Student Charter that disallows ragging and degrading treatment. She particularly highlighted the failures of the relevant authorities to protect students resulting in some incidents of ragging escalating to sexual abuse.
The participants endorsed these Pentagon action points: National Child Protection Policy to be implemented speedily as per the proposal by NCPA, Media Discipline – NCPA to take transparent formal action against Media persons who are in breach of ethical conduct, divulging personal information of child victims and witnesses of crime violating the universal principle “in the best interest of the child”, Police Discipline – DIG to ensure that all police officers follow the guidelines in furtherance of securing and advancing the rights of the public that are recognized under the Constitution and under the law issued by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, SC (FR) Application No. 677/2012, decided on 12/06/2019, particularly when dealing with matters relating to children, Accountable Officer – NCPA to allocate each case filed at the AG to a particular officer at NCPA who will be familiar with the case and whose responsibility is to ensure avoidance of unnecessary delays in progress, Task Force – of Civil Society Organizations, Government Authorities, etc to the effective progress of child protection activities. In particular, the panel appealed from NCPA to maintain a healthy communication with CSO sincerely committed to the welfare of children.
Dr. Wickramanayaka concluded the event by thanking for the tremendous public support and encouraging them to stay engaged in the ongoing child protection activities with Stop Child Cruelty Trust until the next Citizens’ Forum. www.stopchildcruelty.com [email protected]