A war for children

Saturday, 29 December 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict has decided that children in armed conflict are no longer an issue in Sri Lanka. Yet, there are many challenges still remaining for protecting children in an increasingly menacing Sri Lanka.

A much needed polishing of the country’s reputation was done when the UN in June removed Sri Lanka from the “list of shame” where children are involved in armed conflict around the world.  

It cannot be doubted that the government’s successful rehabilitation program played a huge role in taking Sri Lanka off this list as well as assisting children to return to a normal life after enduring much horror and hardship. It has also done no small service to brushing up Sri Lanka’s reputation and returning it to a degree to respect.

This is an excellent example of the progress that can be made when all stakeholders led by the government formulate a clear and comprehensive policy that is implemented without unnecessary delays. Hundreds of children and thousands of adults have benefited from the rehabilitation program, which in a very real sense saved the future generation of Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately there are other issues related to the conflict that still need to be addressed.

Child abuse hits headlines with sickening frequency in Sri Lanka, with new data suggesting that victims have to wait as much as six years, often enduing mind-numbing stigma and distress, before they are given justice.

Officials from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka had noted that as many as 4,000 child abuse cases are before the country’s 34 high courts. The average wait time for a ruling is six years based on a 2010 UNICEF analysis of backlogged cases, and can go up to eight years, according to local NGOs.

According to UNICEF, over 85 per cent of reported abuse cases involving children were of a sexual nature. In 70 per cent of those cases, the attacker was someone known to the family versus the three per cent of reported cases where the attacker was a stranger.

Delays include Police taking a long time to complete investigations or sending incomplete files, bottlenecks in the Attorney General’s office in clearing cases to proceed to hearings, and an overload of all types of cases before the courts.

One thing all experts agree on is that punishment – harsh punishment at that – is the best deterrent. This means that investigation and case filing has to be speedier not only to punish the offender, but to enable the child to recover from the horrible trauma and return to some version of normalcy. The more publicised and prolonged an abuse case, the more victimised the child becomes.

In addition, there are thousands of children without proper caregivers, without access to education and prey to a variety of social situations. War orphans and children of resettled people are two other categories that are still struggling despite the end of the war. Even the successful futures of the former child combatants still need to be assured presenting long term challenges for Sri Lanka.  

Ultimately the safety and wellbeing of children is tied to larger social, economic and political developments that promote a conscientious society.