The system has failed

Justice is lost, justice is raped, justice is gone
Pulling your strings, justice is done
Seeking no truth, winning is all
Find it so grim, so true, so real

…And Justice for All (1988), Metallica

It is said that justice is blind. Since the 16th Century, Lady Justice has been illustrated in a blindfold, as the penultimate symbol that represents impartiality, the allegorical personification of a moral force in judicial systems. 

Justitia, the goddess of justice in Roman mythology, was introduced by the emperor Augustus. However, it was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who stated that in order to be virtuous, one must display the four virtues; prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. 

Lady Justice is depicted holding a scale up high, indicating a measure of a fair trial before judgement. She holds a sword below the scales. This exemplifies that evidence weighted on merit in a court of law comes before punishment. The sword symbolises swift and decisive punishment.     

Yet have you wondered, as I am sure you must have on a myriad of occasions, how ironic it is that the allegory for moral personification has been bastardised and parodied by humanity time and again? 

If the blindfolded Lady Justice meant to represent objectivity and impartiality regardless of status, power, money, and identity today is scarred, the very concept of justice itself has been marred, charred, and misshapen into something else entirely. When the very lines of morality and ethical fibre are a smoke-and-mirror masquerade, justice itself seems to favour the powerful, the influential, and the wealthy. 

Age of false innocence 

Why do we live in a world basking in corruption, violence, dishonesty, inequity, and injustice? Where societies are morally bankrupt beyond repair or restoration?  

Take our society, so hell-bent on preserving so-called traditions, devoted to brandishing patriotism and culture, and leaning with sanctimonious alacrity and vehement prowess towards the notions of principles and virtue, when in truth we embody little to no values. 

We have subjugated ourselves to accept the best of the worst and the worst of the best with regards to doing what is right, deciding what should be of higher moral standing, and fighting for what is just. 

So why this ridiculous pantomime where different rules and laws apply for some and not others? Where systems are rife and strategically in place to benefit the portentous ones and never those who are in need of fairness? Where the world itself tilts heavily towards unfathomable turmoil, tribulation, travesty, tragedy, and disaster, and yet some thrive and prosper even if the planet is in dire peril, while many are forced to play Oliver Twist and beg for more?  

A tear in our fabric 

Globally, 300 million children aged two to four years suffer regularly from physical punishment and/or psychological violence at the hands of caregivers and parents.

One in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child. 

Over 120 million girls and young women under 20 have suffered from forced sexual contact worldwide.  

We see a clear tear in the fabric of reality, and choose to merely just patch it up sheepishly, instead of etching a fresh narrative that might finally one day recreate the fabric itself. 

What of the systems, inherent laws and those state entities meant to protect those suffering and in need? 

We tell ourselves we are insignificant to ever shake things up and make a difference. We are preened and programmed in our societal conditioning to be simply spokes in a wheel and never question the whereabouts, function, creation, or purpose of said wheel – because it is neither our business, nor our place to do so. Ours is to provide adherence through obedience and subservience. Not to ever bite the hand that allegedly feeds us! 

We’ve seen throughout history that many of the ones who have candidly challenged the narrative and prodded at the very yoke of the status quo have lived rather short (albeit, meaningful) lives. 

It is easy to understand that the game of power constitutes specific lifestyles, purposes, and roles that every citizen is privy to. Everyone is a player, and many are pawns who will not question but obey, and never dare to think, speak, or act differently – then there is the workforce; the rooks, knights, and bishops, all part of the working classes who are akin to the worker ants always tilling and toiling away, playing the pivotal narrative like actors upon a golden stage, never realising it is in fact a gilded cage. 

On one end of the spectrum are the weak and powerless, laconically outclassed and outweighed on the other end by the mighty rich and pugnaciously powerful. 

Reality bites, burns, and defiles

  The candle’s flame dies with a cold whisper

Pandora’s box it’s by her side

Innocence portrayed, yet motionless she lies

The voices keep calling her name, no she would never feel the same…

– Voices (2003), Stigmata 

Not too long ago we received the soul-tingling, flesh-rippling tidings that a 15-year-old girl was recently trafficked online by her own family and a notorious ring of influential personnel, allegedly including a wealthy business mogul, a monk, a captain and crew members of a ship, an online graphic designer, a hotel manager, and a string of others associated with the incident. 

This catastrophe was followed by the terrible news that a 13-year-old victim was also discovered, who was allegedly sexually abused by her father and nine other monsters.      

Child abuse is a global issue. Sex trafficking is a longstanding worldwide calamity. Both are major problems in our isle, and have been for the longest time. 

Consider the bulk of women who migrate to face involuntary servitude and considerable abuse throughout their lives while in obsequiousness and service in foreign nations.  

Research proves that it is women stricken with poverty who fall under the majority of labour workers, due to migration being operationalised where permanent and temporary employment opportunities have opened up in the Gulf and other parts of the world. Consider that over a million migration workers are overseas with an estimated 200,000 persons reported as part of the outflow. 

It’s true that more policies have been formulated, with stricter labour principles and guidelines to avail better frameworks and working conditions to this segment by Ministries, the International Labour Organisation, and other Welfare Organisations. However, the percentage of migrant workers subjected to harsher conditions and lower wages, and physical, emotional, and psychological abuse at the hands of their employers, is immense. 

We needn’t look outside our shores. A 16-year-old maid working at the Colombo residence of a former minster’s abode was admitted to hospital on 15 July and succumbed to serious burn injuries before passing away. The post mortem had revealed vaginal penetration of the teenage girl.  

Our country raised the minimum age of employment from 14 to 16 following an amendment to the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act No.47 of 1956. The new change of law ideally declares that children between 16-18 years old can only be recruited for jobs that do not in any way pose threats to their well-being, health, education, moral development, and life.       

A study done in a Sri Lankan district showcased devastating long-term consequences for teenagers aged between 18-19 years who reported the prevalence of physical abuse (45.4%), sexual abuse (9.1%), and emotional abuse (27.9%). 

Child abuse is rampant in our nation. It is not uncommon with cases of ragging in schools which bleeds into the higher education sphere at a university and campus level. Physical abuse via uncanny corporal punishment is also an incessant tradition that has changed for the better in recent times in the metropolitan parts, but what of the rural areas? Emotional abuse is immense where children are isolated and neglected by parents and guardians who are too occupied, indifferent or faced with stressful situations preventing any means of providing emotional support. 

The scenarios of financial pressures faced by low-income communities, job and employment concerns, exacerbated medical and mental health problems, alcohol, narcotic and gambling crises of families, and past childhood trauma of where those who have been abused also abuse their children in turn, are more prevalent than we realise. 

The number of women and men I have personally encountered, who have admitted to being sexually or physically abused as young children, is staggering and startling. Often by their own parents, family, teachers, and other adults. In many of these cases, the ones who’ve had the courage to raise the issue have been silenced by their own families, with these dark secrets swept under the rug as figments of one’s hyperactive imagination. Many of these individuals grow up tainted, tortured, and broken – haunted by their past.   

While poor parenting skills, lack of community support and dire social pressures contribute to child abuse, we must wonder if is it a serious lack of education, prevention programmes and common knowledge that child abuse remains a disease that still goes largely undetected or ignored in such horrifying frequency?  

Is this a massive systematic failure, where the core itself is rotten beyond any conceivable deconstruction and anatomical restoration? Or is it that we have ingrained ourselves into a system that is blind to the dehumanisation of the helpless, the weak and the innocent? 

Or have we become as blind as justice has, only playing our parts as actors upon life’s golden stage which is actually a gilded cage? 


World Health Organisation

Management of victims of child abuse in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health 2020

Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.