Sri Lanka continues to battle the problem of child abuse. There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse in the country over the past few years. It was recently reported that 5,891 of child abuse cases were reported in the country from 2012 to 2020. There have been 54 cases of child abuse reported within the first 15 days of this year.
The worst part is of course the fact that even now a significant number of child abuse cases are not reported because of taboos around child sex abuse and mistrust of authorities. When reported, the weakness of our criminal justice system has ensured that the perpetrators of the crime are not punished and go scot-free.
Sexual abuse of children can be defined as contacts or interaction between a child and an older or more knowledgeable child or adult (a stranger, sibling or person in a position of authority, such as a parent or caretaker) when the child is being used as an object of gratification for an older child’s or adult’s sexual needs. These contacts or interactions are carried out against the child using force, trickery, bribery, threats or pressure.
The studies have found a high rate of sexual abuse of both boys and girls within the family and in the community. Local newspapers, in recent times, have been carrying a disturbing number of reports on child rape and sexual harassment. A child is abused once in every two hours while at least four women are raped a day in Sri Lanka, according to a top police officer.
The police will always lay charges when they believe a crime has been committed. However, In Nirantha Edirisinghe’s and Dr Upul Kumara Hewa Jayasinghalage’s child abuse case The Police and the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) are acting very lethargically.
Nirantha Edirisinghe and Dr Upul Kumara Hewa Jayasinghalage were involved in serious child abuses and trading in child pornographic material. Nirantha Edirisinghe, was arrested by the Kollupitiya Police following a tip-off that underage boys were being sexually abused. It is alleged that video footages were sold to clients in foreign countries with the help of Upul Kumara Hewa Jayasinghalage – a doctor practicing in Adelaide Australia. The Police seized 135 CDs containing footages of child abuse, a pen-drive, hard disk, memory card, camera, and mobile phone from the suspect’s house. Many photographs of children being sexually abused were discovered in the possession of the suspect and Police say footage saved on storage devices such as CD’s recovered will be sent to the Government Analyst and Experts in IT, for a full report. The police report indicates that over 20 boys within 10-12 years of age being sexually abused by Nirantha Edirisinghe.
Although this is a serious crime the suspects seem to be manipulating the investigations and obstructing justice. Recently the he key investigator Mrs. Waruni Bogahawaththa had been removed from the investigation. Mrs. Waruni Bogahawaththa is a very efficient and experienced woman police officer who handled many child abuse cases successfully. Due to strange circumstances Mrs. Waruni Bogahawaththa no longer handles this case. According to some reports the suspects have influenced the investigation by various methods. The suspects have spent a lot of money to conceal the crime. Ironically the National Newspapers maintain silence without reporting this child abuse case. We know that corruption remains part and parcel of daily life in Sri Lanka and it is a sad reality.
Last week the Child Activists came to know that several powerful Politicians are trying to whitewash this case by eliminating vital evidence. Therefore many speculate that the offenders will go unpunished and walk free. This was happened in the past and this will happen again. The failures of Police, Judiciary System in protecting children and promoting their rights have resulted in frustrating inadequacies and lengthy and painful progression of inquiries in the past.
Several years ago when Upul Kumara Hewa Jayasinghalage was working in the Teaching Hospital Kandy, he sexually molested a 9 year old boy and he was able to get away from the case. A few senior doctors helped him and they discharged the child victim without informing it to the Police. No charges were ever laid against him. Then he went to Australia and started to work as a Physician. This time he was involved with the ill famous TV reality show set designer -Nirantha Edirisinghe. We know the utter corruption and deterioration of the standards in the system of justice and law enforcement in Sri Lanka and however, even this time he will walk free.
There are corrupt judges, corrupt and Police officers who have been abusing the system to enrich themselves. There were instances where wrong verdicts were given and child abuses went free. Children suffer as a result of shortcomings in the judiciary. The Judicial corruption is endemic and the public confidence in the Judiciary is very low. Political interference in the judicial process by influencing judges is common in Sri Lanka. A 2017 survey carried out by the Transparency International (TI) in the Asia-Pacific region has revealed Sri Lankans pay more bribes to police. They survey results showed Sri Lanka has a bribery rate of 15 percent among 17 countries and its citizens frequently pay bribes to Police.
Child abuse is the one of the biggest problem that plagues our society and yet, we have done very little to protect our children. The culture of silence and impunity that is offered to predators in all guises, works to protect them as they prey on more little kids. Our communities are structured in such a way that it turns a blind eye to the abuses of the powerful, instead blaming the victims for tempting the abuser to violate them. Sri Lanka lacks a national child protection framework. This means that well-meaning stakeholders at every level lack nationally accepted guidelines and a defined hierarchy within which to carry out their tasks.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences is highly important. The society must protect the children against offences like sexual abuse, pornography and provides a child friendly system for trial against the perpetrators. In cases of child rape, the sad fact is that the cases drag on for long periods of time and after five or six years, the child is of marriageable age, and would not want to come forward. Thus, the perpetrators often walk free.