At least three children are raped daily in the country and several sexually abused. This is based on the shocking statistics maintained by the Police for this year. The majority of the cases were reported from the rural areas of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura, while there have been complaints from the Western Province too.
Police Superintendent, Sisira de Silva, Director of the Bureau of the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women told the Sunday Times that one of the reasons for the high incidence of rape in the rural areas was the prevalence of traditional child marriages.
In the urban areas it was a different story. “In urban areas schoolchildren have easy access to mobile phones and internet facilities leading to misuse of these facilities, In some instances love affairs have ended in cases of rape. In many of the rape cases reported to us, the boyfriend has been found to be the culprit,” he said.
Anoma Dissanayake Sisira de Silva
He said there were instances where rape has eventually led to wider social problem such as prostitution. Asked what is being done to curb this problem he said, “We are carrying out awareness programmes in some of the areas where cases of sexual abuse are high. Children are being educated on how to avoid such situations as well as to inform the police of such a crime,” he said.
“Our target groups are not just the children. We educate parents, teachers, welfare workers and even the police on the need to stop the sexual abuse of children,” he said. Police have also set up a hotline ( 0112826444 ) for people to phone in and provide information about cases of child abuse and other problems faced by children.
He said in a move to curb child marriages in the outstations they hope to take action against marriage registrars who fail to ascertain the correct age of the couple before marriage. “A proposal has been made to change the law so that action can be taken against the registrars if they fail to check the correct age before registering a couple for marriage,” he added.
He said discussions were also being held with the Justice Ministry to expedite cases of child abuse as in some cases they have found that the female victims do not take part in the legal proceedings as the cases are prolonged and by the time the case is over they are nearing marriageable age. “We have had some success in expediting these cases,” he said.
As the Police continue with their programmes of creating awareness of child abuse they continue to crack down on offenders. One such was a case where the offenders who had raped a 14 year old girl and made use of her for prostitution were arrested, produced in courts and sentenced.
Those sentenced included a jail guard, a soldier and two producers of teledramas. Inspector Thushara Manoj of the Bureau of the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women told the Sunday Times that they received the initial complaint from the victim’s mother who had lodged a complaint that her daughter had gone missing. The mother who was employed abroad had found her daughter missing when she returned home.
“We managed to track some of the telephone numbers which the girl’s father had and arrest one of the suspects in Mount Lavina who said the girl was taken from a brothel in Dehiwala. We got the man to call the girl on his phone and proceeded to take the girl into custody,” he said.
“When we took her into custody she was pregnant,” he said. “The mother was abroad when the girl had started an affair in her village. The youth who had raped her had later abandoned her saying he was joining the army. Thereafter she had been raped by the youth’s friend at the same guest house where her boyfriend used to take her. The girl had then been raped by the manager who had threatened her with blackmail if she didn’t comply.
“The manager who had used her for prostitution had later sold her to a jail guard. The guard in turn had sold the girl to a prostitute who had been released from jail and was running a brothel,” he said.
“Our investigations showed that the prostitute who operated the brothel had even bought a car,” he said adding that the prostitute was among those who was in custody.
Inspector Manoj said in another case they found that a nine-year old child had been sexually abused by a school van driver. “We are appealing to parents to be watchful about their children and ensure that they are not left alone in such vehicles. They should also check on the background of the drivers who take their children to school,” he added.
Meanwhile National Child Protection Authority Chairperson Anoma Dissanayake told the Sunday Times that they too were receiving many complaints about child abuse.
“We believe that one of the reasons for cases of child abuse is that parents do not take sufficient care of their children. The children get easily distracted when they do not receive proper parental love,” she said.
“The parents buy them mobile phones and sometimes computers as they do not have time to spend with the child. This can lead to abuses. We have a couple of such cases where the children have been distracted and end up being abused,” she added. She said that in the cases where parents, particularly where the mother goes abroad for employment the chances of the child being abused were high.
“We have requested the Foreign Employment Bureau to get an affidavit about the children when a mother goes overseas. However this is not happening in a proper manner,” she said.
Ms Dissanayake said they have also received complaints of children being abused in Chidlrens’ Homes. “We are now in the process of ascertaining the background of those working at such homes and finding out whether they are trained properly”.
She said the NCPA has a staff of only 94 to carryout duties islandwide and the numbers were not sufficient to attend to the mounting children’s issues. “We have proposed to the Minister that laws should be brought to introduce death penalty for rape, gang rape and cases of abduction and rape,” she said adding that they too will soon launch their own programmes to create more awareness about child sexual abuse and curbing the menace.
Ms Dissanayake said for this year they had received more than 7,000 complaints on their hotline. The highest number of complaints 1,227, were related to incidences of cruelty to children. During the past 10 moths they had received 450 complaints of grave sexual abuse and 213 cases of rape.
Acting Deputy Inspector General of Police Maxie Procter told the Sunday Times that many of the cases of child abuse were linked to negligence by parents. “Teachers and tutors are some of the offenders,” he said adding availability of mobile phones and easy access to internet also led to sexual abuse.
He said on the other hand poverty too was a main reason for child prostitution and in such cases parents also encouraged their children.
Activists alarmed over disturbing picture
By Mirudhula Thambiah
Child right activists have raised alarm claiming the age of a child being sexually abused is getting disturbingly lower, and said it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to protect their children.
“It is important to teach children how to protect themselves. The age at which children are getting sexually abused is getting lower. Parents are therefore finding it an uphill task to protect their children with some of the children being abused by people who are closest to them,” Menaca Calyanaratne of Save the Children told the Sunday Times.
“Even if a child complains to a parent they sometimes fear that no one would believe them as sometimes the abuser is known and trusted by the family. Such instances not only have an impact on the child but also on the whole family,” she said.
Commenting on the lack of a proper support system she said when a child is abused there is no system in place to give psychological support to the victim. If the incident goes to court invariably the victim has to face ostracism in society while and the perpetrator gets bail easily.
“There are instances where the affected child has been blamed or if the perpetrator is a step father, the mother is reluctant to go to courts as he is the sole breadwinner and hence it would affect the entire family,” she said.
She also commented on the lack of proper sex education adding that the content should change according to the age group of the child. She also said that many orphaned children were vulnerable to abuse at children’s’ homes adding that although there was a belief among people that orphans were better off at these charity homes many of them are unregistered and were run by people who are not qualified to do so.
Painting a bleak picture she also warned that the lack of a support system for an abused child to heal could also lead to that very child becoming an abuser.
She also warned of promoting the country in a big way as a tourist destination, especially after the end of the war, as with it comes the danger of paedophiles. “Sri Lanka was notorious for child sex tourism. Now we are promoting tourism with the end of the war and if we do not have the right mechanism in place, it will have a great negative impact. There are guest houses in the coastal areas promoting child sex tourism,” she added.
Meanwhile, Saroja Sivachandran an activist from the Center for Women and Development said the increase in child abuse was mainly due to the social transformation taking place, with children having easy access to technology including internet and lack of parental control over children.
Commenting on the war affected areas she said, the same social groups that lived before the war do not exist in these areas anymore, therefore people who are displaced are forced to live among different unknown social groups, paving the way for child abuse and child trafficking.
The end of the war saw many people travelling to the north mainly on business. During such instances children many who are war orphans have been abused, she said. Due to the poverty in some areas in the north children are compelled to find jobs and such children are approached by opportunists who offer various jobs, which sometimes leads to abuse of these children.
She also said children in war-affected areas lacked sex education with most teachers in the northern schools opting not to teach the subject due to tradition. Hasanthi Ratnayake coordinator of the Women’s and Children’s Desk of the Lawyers for Human Rights and Development said, “Our organization has conducted orientation programmes for probationary officers as well as police officers in the area of child protection. We have also provided legal aid to children who are brought to juvenile courts in instances of abuse.