By Tush Wickramanayaka –
‘I am hell-bent on revamping AG’s Department’, insisted the newly appointed 30th Attorney General (AG) of Sri Lanka in his maiden interview, published in the Sunday Island of 26th May 2019. No one was more hopeful than me. I waited patiently for two and half years to see justice served for my 11 year old daughter subjected to corporal punishment and severe mental abuse at Gateway College, Negombo.
However, I now realize that we are not simply ‘fucked’, pardon the French, as many have eloquently expressed – The citizens of Sri Lanka are being gang raped and the AG seems powerless.
Child Protection Becomes A National Crisis
A Study on Child Disciplinary Methods Practiced in Schools in Sri Lanka conducted by National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) in 2017 revealed that 80.4% of students reported having experienced at least one episode of corporal punishment, 53.2% of students reported having experienced at least one episode of physical abuse and 72.5% of students reported having experienced at least one episode of psychological aggression in the past term.
This is further endorsed by the alarming rise of complaints received by NCPA. In 2010 NCPA received a total of 3892 cases – 905 were of cruelty to children, 150 cases of sexual harassment, 133 cases of rape and 115 cases of grave sexual abuse. In 2019 NCPA received a total of 8558 cases – 2342 were of cruelty to children, 594 cases of sexual harassment, 294 cases of rape and 288 cases of grave sexual abuse; nearly threefold increase in cruelty to children over a decade, reaffirming that corporal punishment is THE single most common form of abuse of children globally.
The gazette notification of the 15th Parliament of Sri Lanka verified record breaking 142 incidents of rape, 42 cases of serious sexual abuse and 54 cases of child abuse have been reported from various police divisions in the country in the first 15 days of 2020.
Sri Lanka Police shockingly revelaed there were 5292 cases of child abuse reported in 2019 in various Police divisions island wide and a child is sexually harassed every 2 hours in our majority Buddhist nation – The Bomb Starts Ticking…
The Vanishing Trust In Law And Order
The Special Child Protection Unit (CH) of the AG Department was established in 2004 taking into account the need to prioritize investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases and the Government’s commitment towards enhancing child protection measures. In September 2011, a special project titled National Project for the Expeditious Processing and Passage of Cases of Child Abuse by the Criminal Justice System of Sri Lanka and For the Prevention of Secondary Victimization of Victims of Child Abuse was launched. The Investigating Officers are required to conclude the investigations within three weeks. The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Police Station is required to submit IB Extracts to the AG within a week thereafter. The AG will examine the IB extracts submitted by the Police and conclude action within four weeks of the receipt of the same – crystal clear.
By the end of 2017, there were over 17,000 cases of child abuse stalled at Attorney General’s Department dating back as long as ten years. This figure is believed to have risen over 20,000 by end of 2018 and most certainly above 25,000 by end of 2019. The victims have lived a life of hell tormented by the horrendous memories without any hope of justice.
Although I had much hope in your hell bent insistence to revamp the AG Department, recent developments during your tenure have created considerable doubt in my mind. Firstly, a case was filed against the former Chairman of Reconstruction and Development Authority (RADA), Tiran Alles in 2006 in Colombo High Court over Rs 200 million fraud that had allegedly taken place. The case was discharged on 10th July 2020 because the original documents were missing.
Secondly, according to section 91(1) of the Constitution, any person disqualified under section 89(d) cannot contest elections or even vote as his civil rights are lost when under a death sentence, you ruled that convicted murderer and newly elected parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara was “unsuitable to either sit in Parliament or vote in the House”. Instantly, the Court of Appeal over ruled your instructions and permitted the murderer to attend parliamentary sittings making a mockery of you, a comedy of the constitution and a joke of the judiciary.
A few weeks ago, double agent State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne, Media Coordinator of Attorney General’s Department who is also the Additional Legal Secretary to the President declared to the media that 12,698 cases of child abuse have been concluded within last eighteen months.
Considering the flabbergasting decisions above, it is reasonable for me to wonder how you may have accomplished this remarkable achievement – were these cases concluded in a court of law, did you inquire from the victims, some who were married with their own families if they still wished to pursue the case after all these years or were the files simply missing?
From Adversity To Advocacy
The failures of Police, Judiciary and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) in protecting our children and promoting their rights have resulted in frustrating inadequacies and lengthy and painful progression of inquiries.
Stop Child Cruelty is a national campaign focused on ending child abuse, especially corporal punishment in Sri Lanka. As the Chairperson, I have personally accompanied many broken families to various inquiries around the country, spent countless hours holding hands of trembling mothers at Police Stations and referred many distressed children for counseling, a service non-existent in National Hospitals. I have studied the legal clauses until I can recite them in my sleep. I have met every individual responsible for child welfare from The President to Ministers to Law Enforcement Authorities to Human Rights Commission to convince them to make urgent reforms in child protection. I have met every Country Representative of the more recognized NGO’s such as UNICEF, SAVE, World Vision and even the European Union (EU) but they appear to be handcuffed by bureaucracy. I have participated in National debates on Television, Radio, Media Conferences and public events but punishing a child senselessly and crushing a child mentally is socially ingrained and morally acceptable.
Child sexual abuse has become an uncontrollable inferno with lust leading to murder, which never occurred in our beautiful island paradise until 2020. The unprecedented release of convicted child murderers sentenced to death, Jude Jayamaha in November 2019 and Sunil Ratnayake in March 2020 by The Executives on your watch, carved an unequivocal precept that murdering the true beneficiaries of our future was a simple affair of virtuosity.
Despite the crippling inefficiencies I have continued to have faith and encourage victims to come forth. I reassure them that if I can fight, they can too. We stand firm, hopefully….
The Naked Truth
My daughter’s case was filed at Negombo Magistrate Court on 5th February 2018 with medical confirmation of Severe Mental Abuse reported by Judiciary Medical Officer. On 31st August 2018, upon hearing the ongoing harassment of my daughter, the Hon Magistrate ordered the officers of NCPA to liaise with Assistant Solicitor General, Ayesha Jinasena to expedite the case and take immediate action to protect my child via Victims of Crimes and Witness Protection Act/Authority.
On 2nd February 2019, the seventh calling date of my daughter’s case, the NCPA informed the Hon Magistrate that the Attorney General had instructed to file charges on Penal Code 314, Simple Assault instead of the 308A Cruelty without considering the evidence from Government Analyst’s Report. The Hon Magistrate refused to accept the instructions.
In August 2019, at a special inquiry conducted by The Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses, my daughter was diagnosed with Severe Mental Abuse for the third consecutive time. Hamid Ghazali Hussain, Commissioner of HRCSL and Board Member of the Authority who was a panelist at the special inquiry on 8th August 2019 deliberately absconded from signing the 30 paged comprehensive report.
Despite the numerous letters of appeal to you and consultation with the AG Department via my legal team, we left the courthouse on 23rd July 2020, two and half years later, without a decision. How much more time and evidence do you require?
The Chairman of Gateway College is Harsha Alles, brother of Tiran Alles who was discharged from the RADA case. With acts more astonishing than the Great Houdini within the system, should I be concerned about my daughter’s case file?
As the State is the ultimate guardian of minors, I sincerely hope you will fulfill your obligatory responsibility on finding justice for my daughter and thousands of young victims without further delays.
Are you hell bent on upholding the gold standard universal principle of child protection to ‘act in the best interest of the child’? Beat the Bomb, Mr Attorney General!
*Dr Tush Wickramanayaka, Chairperson, Stop Child Cruelty Trust