By Vositha Wijenayake –
As the Animal Day passed on the 4th of October, the issue of animal welfare seems to have gained a fair bit of attention as it rightly deserves. The country has seen its last amendment to the law addressing cruelty to animals in 1955, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907 under which welfare of animals is taken into consideration is over a century old, and needing urgent reforms with outdated fines, and the implementation being on a rare occasion.
“Cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka is evident and a key issue. It happens due to a lack of awareness and/or concern and sometimes it is deliberate; and the existing animal welfare framework is inadequate to protect animals from such inhumane treatment.” said Shiona Weerasekera, Secretary of the AWPA which is a member of the Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka.
In addressing animal welfare it is necessary to bring all animals within the definition of “animals” to which the law applies. At present Sri Lanka has a lot of urban wildlife, while the 1955 Ordinance applies only a domestic or a captured animal. This includes any bird, fish, or reptile in captivity. This further excludes animals which are not domesticated or caged.
“It is our culture to feed animals but there is no responsible ownership. The extent we care for animals goes merely to feeding them. We need to be more responsible towards animals, and should prevent cruelty to animals and need,” added Dr. Ganga De Silva, Director Operations at Blue Paw Trust.
Civil society organisations working on animal welfare have highlighted the need for reform of law in this regard, and a Bill to the parliament was presented in October, 2010. The new legislation proposed has as its objective to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, and to recognise duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely, to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals, to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare.
It further provides that a person in charge of an animal owes a duty of care to it, and that it shall be the duty of every person in charge of an animal to take all reasonable measures to ensure the well-being of such animal; and to prevent the infliction upon such animal of unnecessary fear or pain; and to provide such animal with food, water, hygienic living conditions, adequate living space and shelter that is appropriate; and reasonably practicable for the person to provide. The Bill has been open for public comments and needs to be tabled to the parliament for approval.
President of Sathva Mithra further highlighted the need for a new legislation in Sri Lanka for animal welfare. Sagarika Rajakarunanayake said, “We need to prioritise the protection and the welfare of animals in the country. The politicians need to act to ensure that cruelty to animals is prevented.”
During the recent elections of Sri Lanka, the issue of animal welfare has been discussed: the first being the presidential elections during which the current President’s manifesto quoted the welfare of animals. It reflects the need for reforms, or rather the overarching principle behind the call for reform : the need to protect animals from cruelty. The most recent elections in the country, the general elections have also seen the issue of animal welfare being discussed.
And now the elections are over, and a new government is in place in Sri Lanka. The country’s President whose manifesto promised better animal welfare heads the ministry of environment, and candidates who spoke of the need for animal welfare today remains responsible for different ministries. It is time that the draft Bill for reform is tabled for vote in the Parliament. Wouldn’t this be the time for change of archaic law, and for putting a stop to cruelty to animals?