Deteriorating child rights in establishments
Jude R. Muthukuda
Sri Lanka has been a country with a developed value system and a moral society since the olden days. Moral deterioration caused by the influence of foreign invasions and other factors poses a serious threat to the well-being of children today. The blatant violation of children’s rights, even in institutions committed to the protection of children, is a situation that should never be expected in a law abiding society. Unfortunately, even though child abuse is a threat to the well-being of society, it has now developed further into a social phenomenon that seems to occur at alarming rates due to incidents at institutions established for children. The most recent incident of such nature that occurred was at “Avanthi Devi Children’s Home” in Anuradhapura. A social discourse has emerged with regards to the malpractices, mistreatment and reckless actions of the wardens and officers of this establishment.
A number of allegations have been levelled against the wardens and officers in charge of the Avanthi Devi Girls’ Home in Anuradhapura, including the cruel treatment and sexual harassment of underage girls. About 20 girls at the orphanage have gone through sexual harassment and 12 of them have been referred for medical examinations. Probation officers are being prosecuted on a number of charges including sexual harassment, cruelty and allowing outsiders to come into the premises and organizing parties where alcohol is a staple. Meanwhile, the Children and Women’s Bureau of Sri Lanka police and the National Child Protection Authority have announced that two separate investigations are being carried out and that all children’s homes managed by the Department of National Child Protection will be regulated on a daily basis.
It is truly unfortunate that such incidents take place in an environment where a proactive, long-running system operates to protect children and their rights. The mid-80s brought about the construction of a legal framework against child abuse, child abuse and child labour in Sri Lanka and corporal punishment against children was considered an offence punishable by law. In the early 90s, child abuse brought was marked as a serious offence. Since then, Sri Lanka has been a signatory to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to take action against various forms of violence and cruelty to children in the short and long term. As a further development, The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) was established by Act No. 50 of 1998, with its sole purpose being to ensure the prevention of child abuse, to protect the rights of abused children and to formulate, regulate and coordinate the policies related to this. Moreover, the government has set up a separate facility to report child abuse on the hotline 1929 which operates 24 hours round the clock.
It is a question as to how child abuse and malpractices of such nature took place in Avanthi Devi Children’s home despite such a vast and well organized legal framework built to do the exact opposite. Which also brings up the question, Where is Sri Lanka in terms of violence against children and women? Although this may not be clear, It is highly possible that Sri Lanka has come to the forefront of the list of countries violating child rights due to the actions and misconduct or the officers in charge at Avanthi Devi Children’s home. Nowadays, the rate of child abuse cases and rape reported by the media has skyrocketed. Majority of the media outlets in Sri Lanka report and share these cases as it is some kind of competition to share more than their competing media outlets. This is purely an act of commercial advantage for each of their establishments and names rather than raising awareness and minimizing or protecting children or women from such incidents. Moreover, loopholes are openly present in the legal system where suspects and accused child abusers are able to post bail and be released. The suspects of Avanthi Devi Children’s home have also been released on bail.
Witnesses are prone to threats and harm due to such incidents. The case of the Avanthidevi Orphanage in Anuradhapura has given the society to open up a dialogue on the rights of children. But as per habit, these conversations will disappear within a few days. Without remembering these issues at the society’s convenience when World Children’s day comes about, a stronger, loophole-free legal and administrative structure than the existing one must be built for the rights and safety of children of children who are the future of the country and this world.