Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The horror of child abuse in Sri Lanka

By Lakshman Indranath Keerthisinghe | The Sunday Leader

‘Life’s aspirations come in the guise of children’ - Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore

This column dedicated to the notion of making Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia today turns the spotlight on the horror of child abuse, which affects the aspirations of Sri Lankan society to be free of child abuse.

According to the definition of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child. Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Vulnerable children face five principal types of risk: sexual abuse, emotional abuse, institutional abuse, physical neglect, and non-organic failure to thrive.

It is our collective responsibility to nurture them, protect them from social evils and provide them with a safe and peaceful environment to grow up in. Early childhood development determines the future of a child’s life and must therefore be given serious attention.

A UNICEF report states that more than 300,000 children have been deployed in battle fields worldwide, despite international conventions created to protect children. The report further noted that in the North-Eastern Province, of Sri Lanka, it is estimated that 2,000 children have been involved in the armed conflict as child soldiers and face difficulties readapting to ordinary life. But other children, not directly involved in the conflict, have also been affected by the war in multiple ways. Many are suffering from traumatic stress due to shocking past events and present living conditions. They are faced with the physical destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals, and are constantly at risk as they live in a heavily mined region.

In Sri Lanka more than 25 percent of cases heard in courts are child abuse cases, revealed a study conducted by the Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Ministry. A notable feature is that the majority of children were victimized by their blood relatives. According to the study 51 percent of court cases in Embilipitiya are on child abuse, 32.7 percent in the Badulla district, 24 percent in Kegalle, 45.27 percent in Polonnaruwa, 40.17 percent in Ratnapura, 38.60 percent in Kandy, and 33.16 percent in Anuradhapura. Apart from this situation, a large number of children are involved in some form of economic activity or child labour in Sri Lanka. According to the National Survey on Child Labour nearly 26 per cent children living in Sri Lanka are engaged in an economic activity while not attending school or any other educational institution. It is reported in the survey that 52 percent (475,531) of all working children are less than 15 years of age. A majority of the children engaged in economic activities are boys (62.3 percent). Furthermore, 95 percent of all working children reside in rural areas.

The report by UNICEF titled The State of the World’s Children 2009 indicates that in Sri Lanka, there is a preliminary estimate of approximately 5,000 children, who have been trafficked internally and currently find themselves in some of the worst forms of child labour, including being conscripted to fight in conflict situations and involved in commercial sex tourism.

The National Child Protection Authority was created as the first governmental organization dedicated to work to secure the rights of children in Sri Lanka. The NCPA has taken several measures to protect Sri Lankan children from various abuses so far. The ‘Child Line’ hotline service was introduced by the NCPA, aimed at eradicating child abuse through the defence of helpless children.With the sudden increase in the number of child abuse cases in Sri Lanka, the NCPA has appointed a special sub-committee to inquire into the rise in child abuse cases. According to the NCPA, the sub-committee will determine the causes of child abuse in the country and will find ways to minimize such incidents. NCPA Chairperson Anoma Dissanayake has said that the sub-committee will be open to ideas and opinions from the public on issues related to child abuse. It has been reported that (among other abuses) cases of rape involving children at the hands of close relatives have increased.

The effects of child sexual abuse can include physical injury to the child, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and the propensity to further victimization in adulthood, among other problems. Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest, and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.

Children are the future leaders of the nation. Society has to protect them and help develop their skills. In pursuance this effort, Leader Publications Ltd., with the sponsorship of the Sampath Bank conducted an islandwide essay competition for school children and awarded prizes for the best essays written in English and Sinhala. The first prize was Rs.100,000, the second prize was Rs 75,000 and the third prize was Rs 50,000 for winners in each language, thus encouraging and developing the writing skills of our children. Other institutions in our corporate and banking sectors can do a great service to our children by engaging in similar endeavours.

Let me conclude in lighter vein by relating an episode connected with the arrival of children in this world.

Three men were waiting patiently outside the labour ward of the city hospital. A nurse came out and informed the first man that he had become the father of twins.”Twins!” he exclaimed “How about that? I work for the double mint chewing gum company.”A little later the nurse came out and told the second man that he had become the father of triplets. “Triplets,” he said. “What a coincidence I work for the 3M Organization!”

The third man stood up ashen faced and muttered, “I need some fresh air, I WORK FOR 7 UP.”

© The Sunday Leader

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