Child Deaths and Blind Authorities

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In a tragic turn of events a 14-year-old student died on Monday (5) after falling into an unprotected storm drain filled with rainwater, following heavy rainfall, in Vehera, Kurunegala.

Sajitha Gunaratne, a student of Maliyadeva Model School, was returning home from school when he fell into a storm drain.  Following a one-and-a-half-hour search, launched by locals, Police and Army, the student was found trapped in the drain and was rushed to the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital where he later passed away.

This is not the only incident where children died after falling into storm drains in Kurunegala. About 15 years ago, a student of Maliyadeva Balika Vidyalaya died in the similar manner. It is an absolute tragedy that even after all these years; the children have to die under same circumstances as the authorities have failed to deliver a basic task such as shielding unprotected storm drains in the town and surrounding areas.

There are many unprotected storm drains in Kurunegala, where the ruling party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), gained landslide victory with a percentage of 66.9 of votes at the General Election 2020. However, the Municipal Council authorities had only bothered to inspect the area for unprotected drains after the tragic death of the schoolboy, according to the residents.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has initiated an investigation into the tragic death of the child. HRCSL Chairperson Retired Justice Rohini Marasinghe told the media that the relevant authorities, including Kurunegala MC and Road Development Authority (RDA) will be summoned before the commission in order to record statements in connection with the death. The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) told Ceylon Today that they do not have a ‘mandate’ to probe this type of incidents.

Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government Priyantha Mayadunne instructed the Commissioner of Local Government of the North-Western Province to immediately submit a report in this regard.

It is clear that as usual, the authorities have started to show the same ‘soap opera’ to the public when a tragedy is occurred in the country; countless committees. Sri Lankans are familiar with these so called committees that are good for nothing. If these committees that appointed after a tragedy were able to deliver some fruitful result, Sri Lanka could be a Kethumathi Kingdom mentioned in Buddhist literature by now. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is the same old country where the nation’s children are unprotected both yesterday and today, simply because the adults in higher positions failed to do their job.

There is no greater pain in this world other than seeing your child dying in front of your eyes. No one can imagine the unbearable pain and the grief of parents of Sajitha whose only crime was walking home in the pouring rain. There will be no compensation for the pain. Sajitha would have been playing with his friends today, if the institutions that are responsible to maintain road safety did their job. Although the autopsy determined that the child’s death was caused by drowning, it is nothing but a cold blooded murder that happened in broad daylight. The blood of this death is on the hands of each and every institute and official who bluntly neglected their duties.

If this happens in a country like Japan, we could have seen how responsible authorities sincerely apologise to the public and some officials resign from their posts taking the responsibility for the death. Unfortunately, no official in the Government and Municipal Council has extended an apology to the devastated parents so far. In fact, the Kurunegala Mayor never answered his telephone when Ceylon Today rang him to inquire about the incident. No Parliamentarian, except for Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) Nalin Bandara raised the matter in Parliament. But, 37 State Ministers were sworn in before the President on Thursday (8), showing how the administration has sorted out their priorities even after a country has fallen into an economic and social abyss.

Development of a country is portrayed by how well that nation takes care of its children and vulnerable populations. This entire week, starting with Sajitha’s death, did not provide good news about children. On Thursday (8) Ceylon Today reported a gruesome murder of a seven-year-old girl child, a student of a school in Melsiripura, Kurunegala, who was buried alive in an abandoned mine in Delwala. It was also reported this week that most of the children admitted to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children are suffering from malnutrition. Teachers are complaining that many children attend schools on empty stomachs.

The President has asserted several times that his goal is to lay the foundation for the country to be a developed nation when it celebrates 100th Independence. But, for whom is he building a developed country?

The authorities are indeed dragging not only the children but every common citizen of the country to the bottom of the pile. How many children like Sajitha need to lay down their lives to awaken the authorities, who are pretending to be asleep, unable to sort out their priorities even at a critical juncture like this?