By Tassie Seneviratne –
Much hype has been suddenly generated over the employment of children as domestic aides. The reason for this sudden awakening is the suspicious death of a 16-year-old girl who was a domestic aide employed at MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence.
Investigations are underway and hopefully those responsible will be brought to book. But what about those who were tasked with the responsibility of preventing employment of children? What have the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and the Police Children and Women Protection Bureau (PCWPB) been doing until this ghastly death was reported? Should not action be instituted against these authorities tasked with protection of children from this very type of abuse, for their abject failure?
Now, after this event, all the State’s authorities are agog over ‘Child employment’. As reported in the media: “Police investigations have tracked down eleven domestic aides who had worked at Mr. Bathiudeen’s household since 2010.” – “Police in Colombo and suburbs this week carried out raids on suspected households which employed underage children as domestic aides.”
Ponniha Bandaram, an accused in this case, is on record admitting to providing domestic aides from the upcountry. He has further stated that the practice is common in the upcountry. He has also stated that, in this case, it was the mother of the child who had called over and asked to help find a job for her daughter. He is foolishly narrating all what he is doing, in full belief that he is doing a great service. He is not alone in this lucrative business.
It is quite clear that all these transactions have been taking place over a long period of time and very openly too. There has been no secrecy whatsoever over it. For all intents and purposes, this practice has been permissible by all concerned. Even a semblance of intelligence gathering by the police would have revealed this despicable practice of employing children and the cruelties the children have to undergo. It is not only the police that is to blame. All the State authorities tasked with the protection of children, have reacted only after the media hype. State authorities have not taken any steps to create awareness in this regard.
State authorities have been activated, as usual, only after the crisis was highlighted in the media, and even then, the action has been to change Heads of the NCPA. The motive behind that action is perhaps to placate the media, and in fact nothing else can be expected beyond this knee-jerk action. The State authorities do not appreciate the fact that the problem is long drawn over the years as annual statistics show. The problem is then the failure of using the intelligence that is available and is glaring in the face. These instances should have been dealt with at very early stages before the worst has happened and complaints made and media hype generated. It is not a problem that can be solved by rotating Heads of NCPA. It is quite likely that none of these Heads, including the new one, knows of it and has the capacity to set intelligence in motion. This is not a big deal if you only apply yourself to it with plain common sense. In fact, common sense is becoming a rare commodity as a result of not being used. Plain common sense coming down from over one hundred and fifty years ago when the intelligence system was much in place, brought results. But, from about 2019 and later, and now, are heard sounds of intelligence sections with a difference; more expressive in the Sinhala term, buddhi angshaya, which sounds more like a hit squad than as an intelligence coordinating bureau. As a result of this secretive arrangement the normal legal intelligence function of the police at grass root level, and GS division level, which involve every single police officer, top to bottom, is lost to all. To some political authorities this is convenient and useful., because intelligence at grassroots level don’t make way for politicking.
This clandestine arrangement, not targeting child labour as such, may continue for quite some time yet, putting child labour on the back burner. Therefore, those authorities tasked with preventing child abuse, will have to fall back on simple intelligence gathering as laid out above.
You can fathom the level of importance the Government as well as the Opposition place on this problem of child abuse, when you listen to them trading charges as to who should be held responsible. They don’t seem to know there is a law book known as the ‘Code of Criminal Procedure’. And what of the Police? They seem to be waiting for directions!
All that is now happening is superficial. It may remain so till the next child crisis is reported.
*The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police. He can be contacted at email@example.com