Wednesday, 2 October 2013 00:00
SRI LANKA’S Child Development and Women’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadde is known for his foot-in-the-mouth statements that cost the women and children of this country dear. In his latest inspiration, the Minister has stated that child abusers and rapists should be caned in public as a solution to the rising instances of crime.
While any right-minded person would agree that punishment, of the toughest kind, should be meted out to these offenders, most would insist that better enforcement of the law should be the focus of Karaliyadde and his officials. Increased awareness, vigilance and speedier trials would also assist the situation far better than caning.
Just last month TIME magazine published the harrowing tale of thousands of children who have been abused in Sri Lanka. The well-researched article details how more and more children are being left vulnerable as increasing economic constraints push mothers towards the Middle East. Children are then easy prey for fathers or male relatives, who sometimes abuse them for years.
Even once the offence is discovered and the responsible parties arrested, children often have no one to take care of them and are shuttled to State or non-State run juvenile centres. They then have to undergo more heartbreak and fear as a sluggish legal system mires them in years of litigation – sometimes for as long as a decade. Often, during this time, the perpetrators roam free.
Statistics show that every day, three to five children are raped in Sri Lanka. Police statistics show the total number of child rapes in 2011 as 1,463; the figure jumped to 1,759 cases in 2012, according to a Parliamentary report. Police records also give a total of just over 2,000 sexual offenses against children, besides rape, in 2011; child-molestation cases in 2012 soared to over 5,000, according to Parliamentary figures. The total number of all crimes against children — which besides sex crimes include crimes of violence, abduction, trafficking and other offenses — increased by a dramatic 64% between 2011 and 2012.
These are mind-numbing numbers. Rampant abuse is completely swept into the shadows and while the Government has taken some steps such as establishing two courts only for child abuse cases, the TIME report estimates that around 10,000 cases are pending at all courts around the island.
The culture of silence and impunity is also being seen in crimes against women. United National Party (UNP) MP Rosy Senanayake told a press conference recently that out of over 30,000 cases of harassment and sexual abuses against women, only around 600 perpetrators are remanded. This is a jaw-dropping 2%, showing the gross inefficiency of the legal system to provide justice.
She observed that a woman is harassed or abused in the country every 90 minutes. Senanayake also pointed out dozens of politicians have been implicated in sexual cases including the famous Tangalle incident where the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman allegedly raped a Russian woman after killing her British boyfriend. The long delays in that case also made international headlines.
With such serious challenges before him, one would expect the Minister to make serious, informed and practical solutions that empathise with the victims while promoting law and order. Caught in a vicious cycle of injustice, ever-growing impunity, stigma and judicial in efficiency, one would imagine that more than criminals should be caned to bring order to such a tragic situation.