Most people are aware of the often-quoted warning that if anyone abuses or rapes a child, it would be better for that person to be thrown in to the deepest sea with a millstone tied around his neck. It may be a cliché but it is also a time-tested truth that the hands that rocked the cradle rule the world. Sadly, in Sri Lanka today, we seem to be in a crisis where the mother, cradle, baby and all are plunging into a precipice.
Some years ago when hundreds of millions in the world were facing one of the worst famines, it was the children of the world who came together to say "We are the world, we are the children, we are the one who make a brighter day and a better tomorrow, so let's start giving." To mould such children is essentially the responsibility of the parents, especially the mother, the religious leaders, teachers and the government. Unfortunately, the example set, especially by most of our political leaders tends to bring out the worst rather than the best in our children and, eventually, the country suffers because the next generation is in moral decay and high GDP or economic growth rates are of little value. We urgently need exemplary leadership so that Sri Lanka will produce children who are not self-centred, deceptive or stripped of values, but instead children who grow up to be caring, sharing, selfless, sacrificial and work for the common good of all the people of our country.
Instead of such a beautiful vision, what we see to a large extent today is a case where people are seeking personal gain, glory or pleasure and tragically at the expense of children. Last week, the Sunday Times highlighted the cases of rape involving children, with close relatives alleged to be the perpetrators of these horrible crimes. In the past few weeks, the media have highlighted at least four cases of children becoming pregnant as a result of rape. According to National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) chairperson Anoma Dissanayake, close relatives are responsible for 99 per cent of reported cases of rape, while a police headquarters spokesperson disclosed the shocking news that at least three children are raped daily with at least 480 cases being reported in the first six months of this year and 925 last year.
Most scandalous and shameful is the fact that a larger number of cases go unreported and so no one really knows the gravity of this social cancer. According to reports, close relatives - and not strangers -- are responsible for most of the child rape cases because these family member move closely with the children and have a greater opportunity to commit the crime. NCPA investigations show that in many of the cases, the mother was overseas, working as a housemaid in a Gulf state or elsewhere, while the child was left with family members. Most vulnerable to rape are girls in the age group of 14-to-16, for obvious reasons. In cases of filthy lust, there have been cases of children as young as four to seven being raped by family members or someone close to the family. Ripley's books may not carry this, but books of repulsive crimes would.
In one of the most outrageous cases, a 13-year-old girl, claimed she was repeatedly raped by her father for almost one year while her mother was labouring overseas. Apparently helpless and hopeless, the little girl unknowingly made matters worse by bringing a school friend home to replace her so that she could escape her father . The man now faces two charges of raping underage girls.
In recent weeks, there have been many reports of schoolgirls being abducted by prostitution gangs in white vans operating in remote, poverty-stricken areas including Hatton and Matugama. In this era of homosexuality being legalized along with gay marriages, cases of boys being sexually abused are also rampant. Of course, cases of child abuse are also widespread in the West with East European rings operating, mainly in Britain and elsewhere. The Internet has opened new hell holes for this with paedophilia or perverted child abuse becoming like best-selling porn movies. Throughout history, human beings have made marvellous discoveries, but in most cases, these have now degenerated into more destructive than constructive purposes. Sri Lanka has been notorious for swallowing wholesale some of the worst trends and tendencies of the West, the latest being the negative aspects of the internet-based social media. Reports indicate that mobile telephones flaunted by thousands of city and village children have more than hundred local pornographic sites to which many of them are known to be addicted. The rot and wretchedness that go into the child's mind have to come out and sometimes the victim might be in the same family.
NCPA Chief Anoma Dissanayake says child victims of rape are often traumatised and emotionally scarred to such an extent they end up as outcasts. They are scared or shy to go back to school and as a result are deprived of education, thus forcing them into a poverty trap, because they cannot get a proper job. Ms. Dissanayake says the NCPA has countrywide psycho-social programmes to help these victims go back to school and take their place as productive citizens in a developing society.
In this crisis of child abuse, we need to acknowledge that in different degrees, we all, from leadership to the ordinary people, have been part of the problem. Now we could reflect on how we could become part of the solution. The recent controversy over the jobs of more than half a million Sri Lankans working in Saudi Arabia would perhaps warrant a deep study of the social consequences compared to economic benefits when such a large number of Sri Lankans, especially mothers trapped in poverty, leave their families here and go abroad for work. They have become the biggest and easiest source of foreign exchange earning for Sri Lanka and government economists appear to be quite content with the situation. Yet the child abuse and rape scandals, especially due to the lack of their mothers and the far-reaching social consequences for generations to come underline the need to find some middle path on this issue for the welfare and well being of all and the country.
The appointment of NCPA child welfare officers to regularly visit families where the mothers are working abroad might be one practical way of dealing with the crisis. If these and other issues are dealt with urgently and effectively, then our children could join the children of the world in saying, "There is a choice we're making; we are saving our own lives; it is true we'll make a better day and a better tomorrow…"