13th July 2012

Media Release

Over the last few months, there has been a spate of media reports on incidents of violence against women and children. Police spokesperson, Mr. Ajith Rohana has stated that over the past 6 months over 900 such incidents have been reported of which at least 700 incidents are related to sexual abuse of girls. These include gang rape and sale of young girls for sexual abuse. Some of the incidents that have been highlighted in the media are:        The rape and murder of women in Kahawatta (2011/12). The abuse of a Russian woman in Tangalla by the Tangalla Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and 5 others. (December 2011). The abduction and rape of a 13 year old girl by the son of a wealthy businessman in Anuradhapura. (January 2012) The rape of a 14 year old girl by the Chairperson of the Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha and one of his relatives. (March 2012). The rape of a 13 year old girl by a member of the Tangalla Municipal Council along with 5 other persons. (June 2012) The rape of another 14 year old girl by the Chairperson of the Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha over a period of two days at a guest house owned by him. (June 2012) The rape and murder of a 6 year old girl by a male relative and two of his friends in Wellawatte. (June 2012)

There have also been regular reports in the media of sexual abuse of school children by teachers, principals as well as some religious leaders and, by family members and relatives. These violations are reported to have been committed by those who hold responsibility for protecting young children. The increase of reports of such incidents in the media points to a general degeneration of social norms and principles on the one hand, and highlights the gravity of non- functioning of safeguards to ensure the safety of women and children in this country. Some of the factors that may be contributing to this situation are the increase in the numbers of the suspended sentences given to perpetrators of violence against women and, the overly long periods of time taken to hear and conclude such cases. In addition, reports indicate that persons accused of such crimes are repeatedly able to obtain bail, thereby giving rise to concerns about granting of bail for such crimes in the first instance.

Police Spokesperson, Mr. Ajith Rohana is reported to have said ‘We cannot blame anybody but the parents who are responsible for the children’ (Sunday Leader, July 8, 2012). He is further reported to have stated that ‘both the parents go to work leaving the child alone in the house making them vulnerable to outsiders or in other cases the parents migrate overseas leaving the child at the mercy of fathers, stepfathers and uncles who take advantage’. This appears to be a serious charge that only parents are to blame for such incidents. We ask, does this imply then that perpetrators of these horrendous crimes are absolved of any ‘blame’? Or, does this mean that parents should refrain from going out of the house to be to earn an income for the family? For example, short term overseas employment migration is most often an economic decision taken by parents, and is facilitated and supported by the state for the high and important remittances of these workers. Statements such as the ones above suggests that the state should then necessarily officially declare a lack of confidence and trust in close male relatives of the children left behind/left alone. We ask, surely, the responsibility to ensure the safety of children and women does not lie only in the hands of parents? Surely, in a civilized society, the responsibility lies categorically on all members of a society, but especially on those who are appointed and tasked with ensuring protection and security. Should we not acknowledge that there are many men who fulfill their familial obligations and are not abusers of their children and women? It is a matter of shame that a society and culture which upholds the concept ‘mother is the Buddha in the home’ is in fact a society in which perpetrators of heinous crimes against women and children can live with little fear of the law. Sri Lanka is a signatory to many in international Conventions and Treatise amongst which are the International Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families. We have in place a Women’s Charter, an Act for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Penal Code provisions against rape and incest. We urge that the government acts without delay to make meaning of these obligations and commitments in relation to the rights of women and children. We urge state institutions such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Child Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Child Protection Authority and the Department of Police to act immediately to stop this wave of violence against women and children.

The Women and Media Collective strongly urges these institutions as well as others to recognize that violence against women and children is not acceptable under any circumstances. Prevention of violence against women and children is a social responsibility. We call on the government to take all necessary steps to guarantee that the rule of law is upheld, that Sri Lanka’s obligations at national and international levels on the rights of women and children are adhered to, and that perpetrators are brought to justice. 13 July 2012 The Women and Media Collective Sri Lanka

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