Planting small seeds with a focus on the greater picture
Children are the future of our nation, and need to be nurtured, protected, and cared for appropriately. Rules and regulations that safeguard children are put in place, although awareness and knowledge of its existence to the public at large remains questionable.
Awareness in this respect would not only strengthen an existing system of litigation but would also harness their well-being, resulting in a wholesome society free from child cruelty.
Child Protection Force, a guaranteed limited company, is set to address issues regarding the lack of institutionalised protection for children trapped within the legal system.
“Our aim is to improve the juvenile justice system. Legal aid is what we do for children, by helping them be more proactive in court. At the moment, our law doesn’t include mandatory representation on behalf of children,” stated Child Protection Force (CPF) Founder and Attorney-at-law Milani Salpitikorala.
CPF includes a taskforce of members and employees passionate about child rights, working towards crafting an efficient and accountable legal system. The organisation as a whole seeks to represent the rights of children under the age of 18 through means that prove to be competent, timely, age-appropriate, multi-disciplinary, and effective.
When revealing to us Sri Lanka’s stance in relation to international rules pertaining to this matter, Salpitikorala added that we as a state are a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The establishment of a committee ensures appropriate and efficient implementation of rights of children. Hence, Sri Lanka is vested with a further duty to report the measures adapted to give life to the rights contained in the convention to the committee.
Abiding by rules deployed by such organisations would invariably harness the best interests of children.
The recent workshop, the fourth of its kind, held at the Peliyagoda Police Station organised by CPF is a testament to their ethos. Salpitikorala noted that the Police are one of the main actors. Interactive processes such as this would enable them to discover and discuss contextual issues and appropriate solutions to counteract them.
Salpitikorala said: “We wish to enlighten them on the law and how the case would be conducted in court. We believe we could extend our hand to the Police through communication to ensure the best interests of children are maintained.”
She furthered that they wish to extend their support by means of victim representation (i.e. represent the child in court), mainly as children are unable to represent themselves, subsequently enabling children to be more proactive in court.
It is worthy to note that despite the law being in place, enforceability remains far from laudable. “It’s difficult to change seeds that were planted in government offices since its inception, although we wish to start small and bring about small changes to ensure the best interests of children are maintained,” Salpitikorala stated, and she further shed light to some of the most prevalent issues one could witness within our system.
What are the most prevalent cases of injustice or lack of safety for children within the law?
Delays in the system are the biggest issue I see right now. This, in turn, affects child abuse cases, which are the most frequent cases we receive. At the first instance, if the abuser lives at home, the child is put in a probation home and the abuser gets remanded. So the issue with delays is that the longer the delay, the longer the child has to stay in a probation home, away from his or her loved ones. This has a negative psychological impact on the child. Not only is the child subject to trauma, but is also separated from their loved ones.
What are some of the laws that should ideally be applied to children who have had to endure such experiences?
Probation officers and GMOs should ideally be more productive in the process of making reports of the case. The initiation of the case proceeds with an order granted by the court and for this, it requires reports from the above mentioned actors. Almost always these reports are delayed, which could be due to administrative reasons. In foreign jurisdictions such as in Singapore, proceedings are carried out over a period of two weeks, whereas here it takes around 15 years for the conclusion of an entire case.
Secondly, the child’s anonymity has to be maintained throughout, and mustn’t be revealed through media platforms.
Thirdly, children don’t necessarily have to go to court most of the time, and instead the guardian or respective attorneys will represent them in court.
There is also a law to state that cases can be called inside the judge’s chamber, and so the entire courtroom doesn’t have to listen to the child’s case, thus protecting the child’s privacy. This happens in some courts although it doesn’t in most due to the large amount of cases that come to court.
What happens when a child is under 18 and the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) doesn’t find an adequate lawyer to represent him/her in court? Is this a problem that happens often?
Yes it’s a problem that happens all the time. It’s the Police who appear for the child most of the time as opposed to lawyers. The NCPA would appear to handle cases in the event they’ve been contacted.
Any testimonials you can share (anonymously, of course)?
There was an instance where we removed the child from a dangerous situation, and didn’t go into probation. We helped that mother bring up her children on her own by finding her a job and providing support of that sort. However, the case is still in continuation, and this could again be attributed to the delays within the system.
By Chenelle Fernando
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam