Will we sacrifice our children to preserve ‘conservative’ values?
By Faadhila Thassim
On one hand, Sri Lankan society appears concerned about what children are exposed to, considering that several concerns were raised by parents and teachers over the planned distribution of a school textbook on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) titled Hathe Ape Potha.
On the other hand, we have the ugly truth: in July alone, we heard breaking news of the gruesome rape and murder of three underage girls in separate instances within just 24 hours, and now a case has come to light of over 20 boys within 10-12 years of age being sexually abused by their English teacher.
The 54-year-old teacher, Nirantha Edirisinghe, who was recently arrested on charges of sexually abusing underage boys, was also identified as a set designer for a children’s reality television show. The offender allegedly sold video footage of him abusing these children to foreign clients. When he was apprehended, the Police seized 135 CDs of such footage, a pen-drive, hard disk, memory card, camera and mobile phones from his house.
This disturbing case makes it clear that both underage girls and boys alike are victimised by rape and grave sexual abuse. However, for the purposes of Section 363 of the Penal Code, a man is only guilty of rape if he engages in sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent, where only penetration is sufficient to prove sexual intercourse, establishing that only girls could be raped.
Thereby, unless there is penetration with the use of a natural penis, it is not considered rape, as in the event an instrument is used, as opposed to or together with the genitalia, it is instead classified as a Grave Sexual Abuse under the provisions of the Penal code. Thus, even if these boy children were raped, it does not fall within the definition of rape in the Penal Code.
“The basis on which several parents raised concerns on the introduction of the ‘Hathe Ape Potha’ book was that it went against the culture and traditions of the country; yet they fail to understand that this is vital for the protection of children. Failing to do this will most imminently affect the security of the children,” noted Attorney-at-Law, Aritha Wickremesinghe, adding that a value
-based education system is of great importance, together with sex education
Early childhood teacher, Shanthi Wickremesinghe, addressing a webinar, focused on the importance of child protection, stated that instead of focusing on purely the academic education system, there has to be equal attention given to a value-based education system, and it is also important for children to understand the concept of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ from their childhood itself.
The role of the Police in Child Protection
DIG Ajith Rohana said the Sri Lanka Police, understanding that the most affected parties are women and children had for the past 25 years, established special Police units for children and women, and that while there are possible shortcomings on the part of the Police as well, there has to be an integration of society and every relevant authority to eradicate this menace and ensure our children are in safe hands. He added that the Police, the Attorney-General’s Department or the courts system cannot sufficiently control this situation alone, unless and otherwise children are also protected by other means, such as through the introduction of sex education.
“I am of the personal opinion that both drug addicts and paedophiles who rape and murder children should be given capital punishment, as when such actions are implemented, it would pass a strong message to the offenders,” Rohana added, stating that this would, to a certain extent, minimise the reoccurrence of rape or grave sexual abuse being faced by children.
Aritha, adding to this, stated, “Even if we implement the death penalty or capital punishment, how many people are we going to possibly hang? Over 2017, 2018 and 2019, there has only been one convict for rape, exposing the inefficiency of the justice system and the failure to protect children; and the fact that there is an estimated number of 6,000 rape cases an year, makes it vital to expose offenders and see more convictions prior to the direct imposition of death penalty.”
Attorney-at-Law, Achala Senevirathna stated when dealing with child victims of such crimes, the proceedings should consider the best interests of the children. Although involving the law is important to ensure justice for victims, such cases entail a major responsibility to ensure the child’s mental state is looked into, while they are given proper support through the legal system and society.
She added that Sri Lanka is in dire need of sweeping amendments to its rape laws, as archaic laws are still in place, barely able to keep up with the situation the country now faces.
“Prolonged cases affect the lives and future of the victimised children, and this results in providing more opportunities for offenders to recommit the crime. Once an offender is let out on bail, their whereabouts are not governed and they are left unmonitored until they commit the crime again,” she stated.
The NCPA and the Court System’s responsibility
Aritha stated that the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) can play a pivotal role in protecting children through the justice process by establishing regulations to be followed, including regulations governing the proceedings of cases involving child victims.
He added that the court systems have to also be more sensitive towards child victims, as the current system is nothing short of sadistic, when the victim and the offenders are due to appear before court, both parties are transported in the same bus.
Thus, Sri Lankan society has forfeited the right to raise an uproar over sexual education for children, at least until we begin to consider the damage we are wreaking by closing their eyes in public while they are subjected to unimaginable horrors in secret.