Women, children not a priority for Govt: Kavirathna

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Wijeratne Kavirathna has charged that women and children are not a priority for the Government, as they are not represented at the level of the Cabinet of Ministers.

“The most important categories of the population are no longer a priority, as the subject of women’s affairs is placed under the Ministry of Education, along with pre and primary schools, school infrastructure, and education services. It is disappointing, indeed, that women who make up more than 13 million (52%) and children who constitute more than six million (26%) of the population, who actually represent a vast majority of the total population, are not represented at the Cabinet of Ministers level,” Kavirathna said yesterday (6), speaking to The Morning.

She also highlighted the fact that there is a growing number of cases of rape of women and girls in Sri Lanka.

According to the grave crimes abstract prepared by the Police, in 2019, a total of 1,779 women and girls were victims of rape in Sri Lanka, out of which 1,490 girls were below the age of 16.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a surge in the number of cases of violence against women and girls where the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA) also raised concerns about the dramatic rise in the proportion of child cruelty cases reported to the 1929 child helpline since the start of the pandemic in Sri Lanka.

As per the UNICEF reports, in the three-week period between 16 March and 7 April 2020, the proportion of child cruelty cases, as a total of all reported child protection-related complaints, rose from 10% to 40%.

According to a report done by the Department of Census and Statistics regarding women’s wellbeing, it was revealed that women in Sri Lanka are more than twice as likely to have experienced physical violence by a partner (17.4% of all women experienced this in their lifetime) than by a non-partner (7.2% experienced this since the age of 15).

“We cannot deny that the security and wellbeing of women and children are important when we see 142 cases of rape, 42 cases of serious sexual abuse, and 54 cases of child abuse just within the first 15 days of January. We see a shortcoming in policy-based decisions,” Kavirathna further added.

However, when contacted by The Morning, State Minister of Women and Child Development, Preschool and Primary Education, School Infrastructure, and Education Services Piyal Nishantha De Silva said the Government is looking for an attitudinal change in this regard.

“The Government has already commenced awareness programmes including via teledramas, documentaries, and advertisements to promote an attitudinal change. However, due to the Covid-19 situation, it was not as successful as we thought it would be,” he said.

De Silva also noted that ministry officials, along with him, had visited nine districts including Polonnaruwa, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Badulla, Kilinochchi, Matale, and Puttalam, where they had identified problems.

“I am knowledgeable enough to handle and give leadership to this Ministry and I am sensitive enough to understand the matters. During the previous years, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs was handled by women. But in my opinion, I did not see any improvement. I do not want to blame them. I’m ready to make a change within this year by understanding the scope of the subject.”

However, Kavirathna pointed out that these matters should not be addressed in a fractured manner, but through the proper implementation of policy where this subject remains within the scope of a cabinet ministry.