- Stop Child Cruelty together with Child Protection Alliance appeal to Parliament with #225MaOna
By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Photos Eshan Dasanayaka
October is a significant month in the Sri Lankan calendar, as it begins with International Children’s Day, celebrated annually on 1 October. Focus is drawn to children and the issues they face in the country, which is especially important this year, as the economic crisis puts child health, nutrition, education, safety, and so on at risk.
In order to address these issues, the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) has a series of events planned for Child Protection Mega Month, which also covers Universal Children’s Day on 20 November. One of their most recent campaigns is #225MaOna, which appeals to the 225 Members of Parliament to include child protection at the heart of their political agendas.
The team embarked on a national child protection tour titled “Lama Surakum Yathra” on 1 October, leaving from Colombo to first reach Jaffna, and then Kandy, Batticaloa, and Anuradhapura, before returning to Colombo on 18 November, where a Child Protection Conference will take place at the Viharamahadevi Park.
The petition will be presented to Parliament towards the end of November.
In addition to this, the inter-school debate “A Generation’s Appeal” series 2 final will take place on 9 November. The Stop Child Cruelty Trust along with the CPA last week addressed the press in order to share more details about these initiatives.
Need for increased protection
Speaking about Children’s Day celebrations was Stop Child Cruelty Trust Chairperson and Child Protection Alliance Co-Convenor Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka, who went into detail about the Lama Surakum Yathra, as well as the importance of the role played by Members of Parliament.
“The need for a country suitable for children is a slogan uttered on the political stage as well as protest sites, but we never heard slogans about needing children suitable for the country”
She added that during the 18-month period ending in February 2022, 12 children died of physical or sexual abuse or neglect; a number that has risen to 17 considering the incidents that took place since.
“Children have appealed for #225MaOna and we are taking this appeal across the island with the Lama Surakum Yathra, collecting signatures in order to present it to Parliament and demanding that our people’s representatives protect our children,” Dr. Wickramanayaka added.
Visible and invisible scars
Child protection ambassador Saranga Disasekara spoke about the educational revolution started by the #NoGuti campaign, highlighting the need for a mindset change in Sri Lanka, where corporal punishment is normalised. These leave scars, both visible and not so visible.
“These past few months, I have been sharing a lot of #NoGuti posts on social media, and people can freely comment on them. Most of the comments I received are along the lines of ‘we are where we are today because we were hit. If not for that, where would we be today?’ And I thought about whether there was any truth to this.”
He went on to say: “By ‘where we are today’, they meant a recognised job, as per their opinion, or a good social level. But those around them know some of their negative traits that they are oblivious to themselves. One may think themselves a good person, with a respected job and many employees, but in some instances, especially with how they treat their own and others’ children, you see how those scars exhibit themselves.”
Need for preventive measures
Highlighting the need for preventive or proactive policy, as opposed to reactive policy, Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) (Retd.) Priyantha Jayakodi said: “We compiled the overall data from the country from 2011 to 20 September 2020, and during this time, 30,894 incidents of serious sexual abuse were reported in the 3,550-day period. That’s an average of 8.7 incidents a day. These are the cases reported, and unreported cases are much higher.”
He went on to add that the assaulters have been identified in 30,005 incidents, with cases filed against 18,377 (59%) suspects. However, only 3,882 persons or 12.7% have received sentencing.
According to Jayakodi, crimes against children often go unreported, due to delays in the justice system and parental concerns about the child’s reputation or future, as well as due to children not revealing what they are subjected to.
“It’s not just the 225 [MPs]. There are provincial councils and Local Government institutions, and their support is needed, particularly when establishing ‘No Guti’ zones,” Former Human Rights Commissioner Prof. Prathibha Mahanamahewa said.
He added that Supreme Court rulings have denounced corporal punishment, which we must empower.
“This is an issue with our culture. We always look at torture in the sense that a child must be disciplined even by hitting them”
Prof. Mahanamahewa added that although teachers are also facing a lot of mental stressors and pressures, especially given the current situation in the country, that this doesn’t mean they can take it out on students.