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Debate rages over how to deal with child abuse

Sri Lanka weighs death penalty for child abusers

Activists and children protest child abuse in Colombo Activists and children protest child abuse in Colombo
  • ucanews.com reporter, Colombo
  • Sri Lanka
  • July 24, 2012
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For years the problem was ignored, say campaigners. But following a string of scandals involving politicians and other groups, Sri Lanka has found itself debating a subject previously off limits. How should society deal with a rising number of sexual abuse cases against children?

Government figures show that 80 percent of rape cases involve victims below the age of 18, most of which are below 16 years old. Last year, authorities received 20,000 complaints of child sexual abuse with most of the few studies on the issue claiming a steady rise in reported cases over the past decade.

In recent weeks, the government itself has been implicated.

Last month, a 13-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped by a group of men that included a municipal council official in the southern coastal town of Tangalle. And in a separate incident the same month, a local government councilor stands accused of raping a 14-year-old girl over a period of two days. Then, less than two weeks ago, a soldier allegedly raped a six-year-old girl.

In response, the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party announced last Wednesday it had suspended four party members accused of sexual offenses against women and children. Meanwhile, newspapers continue to run regular reports of sexual abuse against children by teachers, principals and religious teachers.

Minister of Child Development and Women's Affairs Thissa Karalliyadda says she has submitted a draft proposal to the Ministry of Justice recommending the death penalty for those that sexually abuse children amid opposition calls that the government take action.

“It is important to punish the abusers so that they can understand the seriousness of the crime,” said opposition parliamentarian Rosy Senanayake, adding that political parties should not field candidates implicated in child abuse cases during provincial council elections in September.

The recent series of lurid headlines prompted a march on Saturday by more than 1,000 people including children and 100 Christian leaders to draw attention to the issue. Many of the demonstrators also called for the death penalty in child sex abuse cases.

But Pastor John Solomon from the Salvation Army said punishing the offenders was simply not enough to stem the tide of sexual abuse against children. Sexually explicit images of child exploitation on the television and online need to be reined in, he said, adding that ultimately adults needed to take better care of young people.

“These child abuse cases are committed by those who hold responsibility for protecting young children,” he said.

Ebenezer Joseph, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, said it was time for Sri Lankan society to regain its basic moral foundations based on religious teachings.

“There is an urgent need to educate our people on the dangers of blindly pursing economic need at the expense of our children,” he said.

Related reports

Campaign targets child abusers

Caritas lends advice on child care
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