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Gender politics, Judiciary, Law and Order, Opinion

Escalating Violence Against Women And Girl Children: An Open Letter To President

By Colombo Telegraph –

“Sadly, your Excellency, we have to face on this important day, that women and girl children in Sri Lanka face unacceptably high levels of violence and abuse. Not a day goes by without one or two accounts of the most horrific sexual and physical abuse, where perpetrators are from all walks of life, even politicians, armed forces personnel, government officers to name a few.” Sri Lanka’s women’s organisations wrote to President Rajapaksa.

Writing an open letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa Sri Lanka’s women’s organisations further wrote “A special mention must be made regarding our sisters in the North and East whose life has not improved to commensurate with the dividends of ending the war. Women in the North and East are increasingly vulnerable to violence in view of many factors, which your Excellency may know full well. ”

The full statement is reproduced below:

We are aware that Sri Lankans are not confined to special days to think about causes and our caring and concern for human beings, traditionally spans the whole year and all times. However days declared globally and nationally, are occasions to dwell upon what we have achieved and where we are going in relation to that particular issue.

International Women’s Day, falling on the 8th of March each year is extremely significant as it tries to bring about redress to the problems that befall half of humanity, and in this half are the mothers, whom your Excellency pays homage to and whose lives you have pledged to safeguard and improve in the Mahinda Chintana and all other fora that you address in your capacity as President.

Sadly, your Excellency, we have to face on this important day, that women and girl children in Sri Lanka face unacceptably high levels of violence and abuse. Not a day goes by without one or two accounts of the most horrific sexual and physical abuse, where perpetrators are from all walks of life, even politicians, armed forces personnel, government officers to name a few.

A number of crimes related to women have not been investigated and dealt with effectively. The most recent case that is not being dealt transparently is the murder and alleged brutal rape that took place in a Southern resort on Christmas Day 2011.

We have gleaned from Police records that violence against women has trebled in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010. The number of incidents that stood at 542 in 1995 has risen to 1,397 in 2007. There were 1,582 cases in 2008, 1,624 in 2009 and 1,854 in 2010. In fact, currently, at least one or two cases are being reported on a daily basis and on many an occasion the abused are under aged girls.

We regret to note the apathy and lethargy on the part of the Criminal Justice system in bringing the perpetrators of such Violence (especially sexual violence) to justice. A number of crimes related to women have not been investigated and dealt with effectively. The most recent case that is not being dealt transparently is the murder and alleged brutal rape that took place in a Southern resort on Christmas Day 2011.

In a presentation last week of a study done by Lawyers for Human Rights, it was shocking to hear that a number of suspended sentences were granted in the case of grave sexual offences including gang rape.

A special mention must be made regarding our sisters in the North and East whose life has not improved to commensurate with the dividends of ending the war. Women in the North and East are increasingly vulnerable to violence in view of many factors, which your Excellency may know full well. The Grease Devil incidents that ravaged women from all parts of the country were most intense in the North and East, where women could not even go out to earn a living. This phenomenon still persists in different forms, with the recent mysterious murders once again of three women in Kahawatte.

Another area of grave concern is the welfare and well being of victims aside from the law taking its course. Our examination of several of these cases reveals that there is inadequate counseling in all cases, provisions of livelihood and sheltering especially for victims of Domestic Violence.

We are grateful for the work done by your government, especially the Ministry of Child Development & Women’s Affairs with regard to the women and children of this country. We especially appreciate the vibrant Media Campaign launched by the above Ministry (in collaboration with the UNFPA) to promote peace in the family and in the homes of Sri Lankan people. We, however, must accept that the Ministry while coordinating activities related to the most vulnerable segment of society cannot manage alone and a multi sectoral approach is required.

We urge your Excellency to take necessary action to redress this situation and would like to suggest the following:

1) to request the Attorney General, Mrs Eva Wanasundara, to oversee the criminal investigation conducted by the Police which appears to be dragging for unknown reasons. Quick and fair legal redress should be the order of the day, in which the strong punishment of perpetrators is central and restorative justice ensured for the victim. Central to this is reasonable compensation.

2) To direct the relevant authorities to put in place a mechanism for the welfare of the victim which includes sheltering and provision of new or alternative livelihood if necessary, especially in the case of Domestic Violence and effective counseling in all cases (This is happening in an ad hoc manner at the moment)

3) To set up a database of all incidents and follow up action taken

4) To provide additional resources to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs both by way of financial and human resources competent to handle this sensitive issue.

5) To initiate a nationwide ‘zero tolerance’ campaign for violence against women

6) To improve competencies of all officials who have a role in dealing with these issues, especially the upgrading and recognition of Women and Children’s desks in Police Stations.

We shall also be thankful if you can invite us for a discussion on this burning issue.

We assure your Excellency of the blessings of all the mothers, daughters and sisters of Lanka if you can accomplish our requests and assure a healthy and happy 51% of the population.

1. Justice for Victims

2. Women and Media Collective

3. Viluthu, Centre for Human Resource Development

4. Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF)

5. Community Development Services

6. Sri Lanka Women’s Conference (an affiliate of Women’s Organisations comprising of Lanka Mahila Samithi, National YWCA, Colombo YWCA, Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association, Sri Lanka Housewives Association, Sri Lankadhara, All Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Congress, Colombo Ladies’ League, Mallika Nivasa Samithiya, All Ceylon Women’s Muslim Association, Moor’s Islamic Cultural Home, Muslim Ladies’ Study Circle, Muslim Women’s Social League, Sri Lanka Tamil Women’s Union, Women’s Chamber of Industries and Commerce, ZONTA, Business and Professional Women, Girl’s Friendly Society, Sri Lanka Women’s Association in UK Branch, Bahai Association, Sinhala Women’s Foundation, Hindu Women’s Society, Colombo Young Women’s Hindu Association)

7. Wilpotha Ithurum Kantha Parishramaya

8. Development Education Institute for Human and Environmental Resource Management (DIEHERM) Galle, Matara, Hambantota

9. Ruhunu NGO Network, Matara

10. Women in Need (WIN)

11. Women’s Education and Research Center (WERC)

Cc:

Hon. Tissa Karaliyadde, Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs

Mrs Eva Wanasundera, Attorney-General

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