Points to ponder on death sentence for child abusers

Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE debate regarding death sentence in Sri Lanka is a long standing one. However the dimension that it is applied to child abuse cases is a new point that needs to be considered seriously.


The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has forwarded proposals to the Child Development and Women’s Welfare Ministry to dispense the death sentence for cases related to child abuse. The Justice Ministry Secretary has gone on record saying that he personally believes that punishments as harsh as lashing should be meted out to reduce child abuse. The statistics certainly support his view but is this the best method to take?   

According to a study done by the Prison Reform and Rehabilitation Ministry in 2010 about 25% of all cases in Sri Lanka are concerned with child abuse. For a long time there has been criticism that the judicial system delays cases increasing the damage inflicted on child victims. Moreover sentences on child abusers have been lenient resulting in minimum deterrent.  

 NCPA has also warned that child abuse cases are increasing yearly. They blame the burgeoning tourism industry in Sri Lanka as being partially responsible for the increase of child abuse saying that there are few mechanisms in place to protect kids from prostitution and other dangers.

A National Survey on Child Labour shows that nearly 26 percent children living in Sri Lanka engage in an economic activity while not attending school. It is reported in the survey that 52 percent (475,531) of all working children are less than 15 years of age.

 Sri Lanka also had sizeable numbers of child soldiers before the end of the three decade war in 2009. Most of these children have since been rehabilitated by the government but the need to protect them remains. In addition to sexual abuse there are many under aged children being used as domestics or are trafficked for a range of purposes too gruesome to delve into here.

The bottom line is that it is a heinous crime and should be stopped. But at what cost?

The arguments employed against the death sentence for murder, rape and other crimes hold true here as well. Namely that the death sentence has not proved to be a strong deterrent in countries where it is already applied. The other problem is that the judicial processes in Sri Lanka may not be efficient enough to handle such a weighty task as taking the life of a criminal.

What is meant here is that the basic point for following the death sentence is that the State sacrifices the rights of the individual for the rights of the majority. However, this can only be justified if the person is completely beyond rehabilitation.

This is why there are so many contentious views on the death sentence and the need to conduct multiple tests to decide whether a person is beyond redemption.

In a system that allows for wrong decisions is there not the danger of people that can be rehabilitated or wrongfully accused being sent to die? Also without more humane methods of killing people the death sentence seems barbaric. This is not to say that legislation should not be strengthened by all means it should be so and the cases fast tracked so that victims get more relief. Even the life sentence would be too good for child abusers but it would be a better reflection of the society that Sri Lankans aspire to be rather than the barbarism reflected by brutal punishments.