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Child Protection Authority counters COPE

  • Action plan on national policy expected end-March

 

The controversy surrounding the recent findings by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) that the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has not implemented its own policy, has now been countered by the NCPA, which has expressed a contrary view on the COPE’s recommendations concerning its functions, The Morning learnt.

The COPE recently disclosed that although the NCPA was established in 1998 with the objective of formulating a national policy on the prevention of child abuse and the protection of and for the purpose of treating children who are victims of such abuse, the implementation of the national policy has not been carried out accordingly, thus paving the way for a delay of over two decades. The Committee emphasised the importance of expediting the implementation of the national policy, which has already been approved.

When The Morning attempted to contact NCPA Chairman Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana, he directed us to NCPA Assistant Director of Law Enforcement Champika K. Ayagama.

According to Ayagama, the NCPA disagrees with COPE to a certain extent and has a different answer for the recommendations made.

“It is not that the NCPA did not try to implement a national policy. In fact, we tried on three occasions to obtain approval, but we couldn’t. The NCPA received the final approval for the national policy in October 2019,” Ayagama said.

However, he added that approving the national policy is not enough, as an action plan is also needed.

As per Ayagama, the NCPA is in discussions with 14 ministries and stakeholders to make the action plan and to identify the responsibilities. The action plan would be completed on 31 March 2021.

It was also brought to the COPE’s attention that the annual reports of the authority for the years 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 have not been submitted to Parliament so far. Expressing displeasure over the matter, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry of Education to immediately look into the matter and get the authority to submit the relevant annual reports to Parliament within two months.

Ayagama admitted the deficiencies in the NCPA’s response to annual report submission and hoped to submit it very soon.

“We don’t have enough staff in the section that complies the annual reports,” he said.

Public institutions issue an annual report to shareholders that spell out the financial condition and operations over a period of 12 months. According to the annual report, the institution would assess their performance and ability to pay its debts as they become due and determine whether it made a profit or loss in its previous fiscal year.

According to Ayagama, the review of the upcoming year and future prospects was not done for the last four years.

It was also revealed that Rs. 9 million had been spent in 2016 and 2017 on a consultant (who had recommended that the NCPA have a data system, an app, and investigation guideline) for the purpose of creating a database for the authority, and that a grant of Rs. 1.2 million had also been provided to the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) in order to develop a software for the NCPA, which, though developed and provided to the NCPA, has not been put to use by the NCPA.

When queried regarding the Rs. 9 million payment, Ayagama declined to comment.

Ayagama said that the Rs. 1.2 million grant was provided by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and was paid directly to the UCSC to make a data system. However, the new data system made by the UCSC in 2017 was not supporting the previous call system 1929 and, therefore, the NCPA wanted another software to link both the systems, he said.

“When we informed the UCSC about this, the authorities refused to consider our request saying that the UCSC batch who developed this data system was not with the university anymore,” he said.

Attempts to clarify this matter from the UCSC proved futile.

The system that cost Rs. 1.2 million was never used due to technical faults and the NCPA is still attempting to solve the issue with the UCSC, according to Ayagama.

This was already informed to the UNICEF, he added.

The COPE also raised concerns over the difficulties faced by victims as a result of the time-consuming processes of child abuse cases. Emphasis was placed on the importance of developing a system to minimise the time period affiliated to child abuse cases before children reach the phase of adulthood.

Ayagama said that the NCPA hopes to create nine children’s courts in the nine provinces in the future, and that actions have already been taken towards this initiative.