News/Comment

6th January 2002

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More trained personnel to combat child abuse 

By Faraza Farook
With child abuse proving to be a serious problem and the need for counselling increasingly felt, the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) is to concentrate on skills development of multi-disciplinary sectors this year, Prof. Harendra de Silva said.

In addition to increasing its activities regards awareness and advocacy, amending laws and improving rehabilitation programmes, the NCPA will concentrate largely on training counsellors, psychologists, police etc. to deal with the problem of child abuse.

'We are hoping to have training programmes for different sectors. We want to train counsellors in schools and ensure that each school has at least one counsellor,' Prof. de Silva said.

With the aid of a World Bank funding which is yet to be approved, the NCPA has drawn up a five-year plan for training psychologists and counsellors, and going down to the grassroots level to train every person who will have to deal with the issue.

Prof. de Silva said foreign trainers are to be invited to conduct a training programme for psychologists, which is to be held by the end of this month. 

More counsellors are to be recruited and trained to carry out NCPA programmes, Prof. de Silva said. He said in the next one and half years, the NCPA, with the help of funds from the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect plans to conduct training programmes for multi disciplinary sectors.

Moreover, several amendments to laws are to be introduced, Prof. de Silva said. 

Under awareness and advocacy the NCPA is to distribute three new posters to hospitals and schools, which convey messages on child abuse. The production of video songs and tele documentaries mainly in the form of teledramas are to play a major role in disseminating information on child abuse to society.

Meanwhile, the Government has allocated a ward at the Kandana hospital for the NCPA to set up a rehabilitation centre. Presently repairs and refurbishment work is being carried out to accommodate the centre.

While advancement in technology has given rise to abuse over the internet and abuse by paedophiles is a major problem especially along the coastal belt, incidents of incest rank much higher in Sri Lanka with many mothers going to West Asia for employment.

A report on the' Good practices in combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and youth in Asia' by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has commended the national coordination mechanism called on by the NCPA in tackling child abuse. The ESCAP report was released at the recently concluded Second World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Japan in December where 120 countries participated.

The 5th report on the Implementation of the Agenda for Action adopted at the First World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Stockholm, Sweden in August 1996 ranked Sri Lanka among 20 countries where serious attempts were being made to combat the problem. Sri Lanka and Nepal were the only two countries in the South Asian region to be included in that list.


TULF wants people power for peace

By Chris Kamalendran
TULF President M. Sivasithamparam who returned to Sri Lanka yesterday after medical treatment abroad called on the all communities to come together in building on the peace initiative taken by the new government.

He said the Ranil Wickremesinghe government had in its first month shown the people and the world it was sincere in its efforts to find a lasting political solution. While countries like Norway and India were throwing their full weight behind the peace moves, it was necessary for people of all communities also to come forward to take initiative to improve the environment for peace.

Meanwhile a Norwegian delegation is due to arrive in Sri Lanka this week to brief the government on talks held in London with LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham on Friday. The Norwegian delegation for the London talks included Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, special envoy Erik Solheim and Kjersti Tromsdal of the Foreign Office.

According to reports, the LTTE spokesman welcomed the government moves to address humanitarian issues first by relaxing the economic embargo on the north to allow a free flow of goods.

The Norwegian initiative came after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran formally requested Oslo to resume its facilitatory role.


People's peace group going north

By Shelani Perera
More than 3000 people will visit Wanni next month in a familiarisation and goodwill visit to the North in the wake of peace talks between the Government and the LTTE.

The visit which is organised by the Association for Servicemen Missing in Action is schedule to begin on January 26. The group will hand over 5000 gift parcels to families in the area along with greeting cards from the South.

The Association's president, E.P. Nanayakkara told The Sunday Times they had got permission for ten members to meet the LTTE political wing leaders.

"We will tell the LTTE of the people's desire to have peace and stress that peace talks are the only way out of the conflict. Our priority will be to bring peace to the country, this can be done by encouraging both parties to come to the negotiating table. We feel that once this is achieved we can also get our children released and also stop the war," he said.

Mr. Nanayakkara said the people's peace group would travel to the north in 75 buses.


Eighteen vehicles still at large

Eighteen vehicles belonging to the former Forest and Environment Ministry now titled Environment and Natural Resources, which were used by PA political supporters have yet to be returned by them though the last date for such return was January 1. 

The numbers of these vehicles are: Izuzu trooper jeeps 65-1572, 65-1574 and 65-1577, a Toyota double cab 59-1276, Mercedes Benz 65-0957 and Pajero 32-2427 all listed under ex-minister D.M. Jayaratne. A BMW 18-5711, Volvo 300-0622 , Pajeros 65-0622 and 32-9913 and an Izuzu Trooper 65-1578 all listed under ex-minister Nandimithra Ekanayake.

A Mitsubishi 65-3185, double cabs 58-0072, 64-1350 and 32-9912 listed under ex-Deputy Minister Munidasa Premachandra.

The other vehicles still to be returned are 17-6673, 32-3629 and an Intercooler.


Transvestites at the receiving end

Despite strict laws banning homosexuality in Sri Lanka the Police who are supposed to curb the practice are themselves brutally indulging in homosexuality harassing transsexual sex workers, a study has revealed.

One of the biggest harassments faced by transvestites who practice homosexuality is from the Police, Assistant Professor of Criminology of the University of Missouri St. Louis, Jody Miller says in her research on violence and harassment against Sri Lanka's transsexual sex workers.

Her research focusing on the violence, coercion, culture and the law governing these sex workers has revealed that police and sometimes Army personnel harshly harass transvestites, because they are gay, but at the same time use their services. 

"The Police take advantage of the fact that transsexual guys are scared and have a feeling of insecurity and thus harass them," Ms. Miller said. Much harassment by adolescents and young men in their 20s also takes place.

According to Ms. Miller, Police and Army personnel pick on transvestites and ask them to perform sexual acts. No payment is made for the services, instead, the policemen grab any money in their possession. Sometimes, policemen watch-out for clients who pick a transgender sex worker and then pounce on the client to extort any money he has.

In one incident, 37 men in remand prison had anally and orally raped a transgender sex worker arrested and kept in remand overnight, Ms. Miller said. "The guards did nothing and for days after that, the man couldn't sit down while his face was swollen and bruised," she said.

Transgendered persons, Ms. Miller explains, feel they are men on the outside but inside they feel 'like women'. 

"They have a feminine identity. Thus, they sometimes dress like women, pluck their eye brows, wear make up and their love for men is like that of a woman" she said. 

Most transgender sex workers keep their activities a secret from their homes, Ms. Miller noted. She said that while none have been rejected from their family, most keep their activities such as wearing women's clothes and engaging in sex work to themselves.

Their clientele is men and they serve only as homosexuals. However, their clients are not necessarily homosexuals as they come from varied walks of life some young, some old and others married. Most of them start very young and work mostly on the streets. It was interesting to note that these men who have embraced feminism address their colleagues as nangi (sister). 

The youngest encountered during the research was an 18-year-old, Ms. Miller said while the oldest was 41 or 42, the average age being the late 20s. Many of those in their late 20s were worried about what their future will hold, she said as they began to worry if they would become less desirable which will mean that they will lose their only source of income sex work.

The research has also revealed that many transgender sex workers expressed concern about sexually transmitted diseases. It was also noted that despite insistence on the use of condoms, clients often refused to use them. Regardless of the many awareness campaigns on sexually transmitted diseases, it seemed that the clients were the least interested in practicing safe sex.

Transgender sex workers are largely concentrated in Colombo while some are in Anuradhapura, Ms. Miller said. Despite being largely discriminated against by society, transgender sex workers have a demand and homosexuality has grown to be a big industry in Sri Lanka. Yet, Sri Lanka's Vagrants Ordinance and the Penal Code against homosexuality continues to be in place depriving homosexuals of their right to live free of stigma and harassment. In 1995, the law governing homosexuality was expanded after much opposition from various groups when a minister took it up for repeal.

"Society is being hypocritical," Ms. Miller said, adding, "Society stigmatises homosexuals as being gay, but this same society seeks their services". 

Incidentally, the harassment of transgender sex workers was much harsh than that of women sex workers. Since Sri Lanka has a male dominated society, Ms. Miller says, people don't find a man acting like a woman acceptable while a woman being dominant like a man is accepted. 

Transvestites are not seen as fully-grown human beings who deserve human rights and since these men take on a female identity, the situation is made even worse, she noted. There are multiple stigmas in being transgender for three reasons being sex workers, being homosexual and having a feminine identity. 

However, homosexuality is the least accepted even in the western world except in the state of Vermont in the US where a law has been passed allowing homosexual marriages. In many countries the practice has not been accepted legally though there is cultural acceptance, Ms. Miller said.



Iqbal Athas case

Evidence concluded: addresses begin

By Ananda Kumara
The evidence given by the Defence Correspondent and Consultant Editor of The Sunday Times Iqbal Athas, was a fair account of what happened in his house that night. 

If there were slight contradictions they could be ascribed to the state of shock and fear that he was in when a pistol was pointed at his head, said Senior State Counsel Preethi Padman Surasena before High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya on Thursday.

He was making his address at the conclusion of evidence in the Iqbal Athas case.

In this case Air Force officers Squadron Leader H.M. Rukman Herath former bodyguard of the Air Force Commander and Squadron leader S.S.P. Kannangara who was in charge of the Special Airborne Force were indicted with committing criminal trespass, intimidation and unlawful entry with weapons into Mr. Athas' residence in Nugegoda on February 12, 1998.

Continuing his address Mr. Surasena said the CID took over the investigation when it was found that the Mirihana police had not been impartial in their investigation. 

State Counsel said the defence position was that the two accused had gone to Mr. Athas' residence looking for women but that position could not be true as the evidence of the aide Subramaniam was that was they told him that they wanted to publish an article in the newspaper and wanted to see Mr. Athas. 

The defence also tried to make a point of Mr. Athas having mentioned about a pistol being held to his head only after 13 days but Subramaniam had in his evidence on the day of the incident itself said that he saw the intruders pointing a pistol at his master's head. The defence story was as attempt to misrepresent the facts to court, counsel said.

The defence position on the identification parade was that photographs of the two accused were shown to Mr. Athas and his wife. Mr. Surasena raised the question as to why Mr. Athas had identified only one accused and his wife also identified another while Mr. Subramaniam could identify none.

The first accused did not make any statement from the dock and it was the defence witness Eric Amaranath Weerasinghe, an Air Force officer, who said that he saw the first accused at the Officers' Mess at 9.05 p.m. on that day by which he tried to show that the first accused was not in a position to be in Mr. Athas' house.

However later when he was cross examined it was proved that his evidence was false. 

The witnesses for the complainant were from various institutions and they had no connection with the investigation of this case Therefore nobody can charge that their evidence was false and that it was fabricated. 

In addition counsel said that for the purpose of proving that the accused was somewhere else when the incident took place it should be proved that the said person was practically unable to go to that place at the same time due to the distance between the two places. 

Otherwise that defence could not be accepted.

It cannot be said that the identification parade was not conducted properly merely depending on the fact that a witness could identify one suspect and he could not identify others.

The defence witness Sqn. Ldr. Eric Weerasinghe said that he had no personal interest in this case but later it was revealed that he had gone to the Gangodawila Magistrate's Court to meet the accused. 

At first he denied having gone but later when a photograph of him with the accused was shown to him he accepted the fact that he had met the accused. He said he went on official duty. However later it was revealed that he and the accused were at a party together. 

Weerasinghe gave evidence in uniform and thereby tried to show that he was representing the Air Force but later he was asked to show cause by his senior officers why he donned uniform when he gave evidence.

Mr. Surasena raised a question why the first accused did not make any statement from the dock that he was in his official residence at that time if he really had been at home.

President's Counsel Srinath Perera appearing for the first accused stated he wanted to establish two points-that the identification parade was not conducted properly and that his client was in the Mess when the incident took place. 

He said that the incident complained of might have happened but his client was not involved in it. 

He was at his official quarters at the time of the offence. 

The witness had made his statement independently without even knowing at that time that the first accused would be indicted in a criminal case.

Counsel said several Air Force officers were questioned by the CID in connection with the alleged incident but the identity cards of only the two accused were taken by the CID and handed back more than 45 minutes later. 

It was questionable that only those two people were indicted. 

It would seem that the CID wanted to somehow bring this case to a completion as the newspapers had given much publicity to the incident. 

Referring to the identification parade counsel said a police officer had gone to Mr. Athas' house to inform him of the parade.

Normally a telephone massage would have been given for Mr. Athas to be present but in this case there was a deviation. It was probable that the police officer carried with him the photographs of the accused. 

Counsel submitted that there was an invisible hand behind all this effort to indict his client. In fact defence witness Sqn. Ldr. Weerasinghe was transferred to Mankulam after he gave evidence.

Further proceedings were adjourned for January 17.

Senior State Counsel P. P. Surasena with State Counsel Amendra Seneviratne appeared for the prosecution.

Mr. Srinath Perera PC with Christopher de Alwis appeared for the first accused. Mr. Anil Silva appeared for the second accused. Mr. Daya Perera PC with T.G. Gunasekera watched the interests of the aggrieved party, Iqbal and Anoma Athas.



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