By Malinda Seneviratne –
Not too long after the historic defeat of the LTTE, President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a claim. He said ‘parapuraka aadambara thaaththa mamai’ (I am the proud father of an entire generation).
The claim was not based on an opinion poll. And yet, both resonated well with the general public, considering the context. He had, after all, presided over and given political direction to secure what was thought to be impossible to obtain. And again, as is usually the case, as time went by, the claims and especially the second, were lampooned. Political fortunes are never constant; there are ups and downs, missteps and slips.
But, if the President was metaphorically at least ‘father’, then citizen is child, and not citizen is as much ‘child’ as children themselves. The defeat of terrorism reinstated the right of child to be child. It also effectively removed doubt, fear and foreboding from the minds of parents. They were assured that their children would be safe from exploding devices planted by terrorists. They could rest easy knowing that their children would not be abducted and forced into combat operations by terrorists. That was then, i.e. in the heady days following victory.
This is no. And today’s is a story of different vulnerabilities producing yet again doubt, fear and foreboding. Child rape. The Ministry of Child Development has received a whopping 21,507 complaints regarding child abuse, of which 2,323 were found to be true. Typically, though, most abuse incidents go unreported because the perpetrators happen to be close relatives or figures of authority. Children, out of fear and also due to threat of retribution, tend to remain silent and submit to the horror again and again.
The President cannot look after all children. Parents need to be vigilant. Teachers need to educate. The media has a role to play. It is our collective future we are talking about here. If we do nothing, we will produce a generation where a significant number would carry psychological scars which could have unimaginable consequences not just for the victims, but society in general.
Where are the laws? Where is the enforcement? Why is it that we use rape incidents as top stories on the front page of newspapers, push arrests into Page 3 and shove convictions into the made-for-forgetting small print of Page 12? In other words, it’s our baby, our collective child who is under threat here.
Parents and children should know what can happen, how to identify potential risks and take preventive measures. The perpetrators must be punished. An online poll carried out by www.nation.lk threw up some numbers that indicate the extent of public anger. Eighty percent demanded death penalty for those found guilty of rape which 20% suggested ‘Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole and psychological treatment’. The ethics of capital punishment is another debate, but what this shows is that rape stands with the most violent of crimes.
Disturbing too is the fact that several rape cases, including child-rape, have implicated elected representatives. How did these people secure nominations to run for office?’ Clearly the screening system is either faulty or the screeners incompetent or else similarly guilty or else the system turns saints into rapists. Not all, of course, but ‘some’ and even ‘one’ is one too many. Tragically, these very scoundrels graduate from being members of local government authorities to provincial councilors and parliamentarians.
Power gives license to do wrong in situations where independent law enforcing processes are absent. This is why the Government and in particular the President needs to work towards correcting the institutional flaws that make for such abuse. It is not enough, in other words, to educate the public.
It is a sad indictment on our political culture when we look at a politician’s face and are forced to see a rapist’s signature on it simply because prevention is better than cure.
The President cannot be proud. None of us can be proud. The President has openly expressed displeasure about the operations of politicians, especially in Tangalle. He can begin by weeding out the monsters from nomination lists. He must, sooner rather than later, admit that the law is full of holes and work with the Parliament to plug those holes. Our children, their childhood and their future are all falling through these. It is hurting like hell.
The nation Editor’s blog