Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00
The tragedy of sexually abused women and children in Sri Lanka has finally hit international headlines, driving home the desperation caused by economic constraints that lead to so many Sri Lankans being left powerless. They are made victims a second time around by a callous system that denies them justice in a timely manner.
Time magazine on 13 August 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 Government or non-government run juvenile centres. They then have to undergo more heartbreak and fear as a sluggish legal system mires them in years of litigation â€“ sometimes for as long as a decade. Often, during this time, the perpetrators roam free.
The Times reporter writes 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 â€” which besides sex crimes include crimes of violence, abduction, trafficking and other offenses â€” 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 Pradeshya Sabha Chairman allegedly raped a Russian woman after killing her British boyfriend. The long delays in that case also made international headlines.
As the Government attempts to brush up its human rights record ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), there is a grave need to focus on promoting the wellbeing and security of women and children who form the bulk of the population. Without serious and consistent guidance from the very top, it will be impossible to turn the tide on this tsunami of abuse.