‘Protect us with love’ was the theme under which National Children’s Day was Celebrated yesterday (1 October). In recent weeks, the media have carried stories of sexual abuse of minors by teachers, neighbours, and sometimes even family members.
Most cases seem to have been committed by people who share a close relationship with the child.
One story of brutal sexual abuse and murder that got the nation to sit up and pay attention was Seya Sadewmi’s. Her murder case is still being investigated. A few days later, it was reported that a 31 year old teacher had attempted to sexually abuse three teen students in Maskeliya. And earlier this year, 18 year old school girl Vidya Sivaloganadan was savagely gang raped and killed. The assailants, believed to have had no close relationship to the victim, are yet to be brought to book.
New phenomenon or an age old problem
Going by the media, it would appear that there has been an increase in violence against children in Sri Lanka. But this is far from true. Children have always been vulnerable with only a few systems in place to protect them.
Child sex tourism was rampant in the early 2000’s. The UK Border Agency published a report in 2008, quoting that according to UN estimates there were as many as 40,000 child prostitutes in Sri Lanka. While many reports of sexual abuse are reported about the girl child, many child prostitutes were boys who were made available for foreign tourists.
Going back in time to 1990’s, children were forcibly recruited by rebel groups. Child soldiers became a very real issue for Sri Lanka. Children have been forced into labour, and sometime they volunteer putting themselves at risk, like in the case of Rizana Nafeek. And let’s not forget severer corporal punishment in schools.
Sri Lanka fighting to protect minors
However, Sri Lanka has taken the effort to enforce systems to protect children. In 2006, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board launched an action plan against child sex tourism. The Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board at the time, Udaya Nanayakkara, recognizing the issue and taking a strong stance against it said, “quite often child sex tourism is ignored and denied by many actors in the tourism industry. I am confident that we will be able to put a stop to the abuse of Sri Lankan children as a result of tourism.”
Authorities such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) have been working hard towards ending crimes against children. In June this year, the NCPA launched a special task force to combat the increased bullying and sexual harassment faced by children through social media – Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp were some of the mediums they identified.
This indicates that the Sri Lankan government is not ignorant of the threats to children that have emerged with new technology, and is actively and swiftly taking measures to protect children.
However, much more needs to be done and it is the responsibility of every citizen to ensure that children are protected, regardless of them being your own kin.
All you armchair activists: No, a mere Facebook status update is not going to end the problem! We need to be vigilant at all times and be unafraid to speak out when outrages do happen. We also need to help the authorities as the issue of violence against children is an issue that officials alone cannot control.