HRCSL acts to separate young offenders from adult prisoners

By Chandani Kirinde

The intervention by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) led close to 100 juvenile offenders who were being detained in “wholly unacceptable appalling conditions” without “basic hygienic facilities” in a Government detention centre in Pallansena being transformed to a more child friendly care in Ambepussa, it was revealed in the annual report of the Commission submitted to Parliament last Thursday.

The fact finding mission from the HRCSL which carried out its work between January and June, 2009 covering the Training School for Youthful Offenders at Pallansena close to Negombo also found that child convicts were allowed to intermingle, interact and associate with adult prisoners who had been put in the same facility at the end of their terms of imprisonment to engage in vocational activities.The report said the mission could “even observe that most of these children had developed adult habits such as smoking locally moulded cigarettes.”

When the HRCSL carried out its mission, there had been 150 adult prisoners and 76 children who had been judicially ordered to serve terms in prison for petty crimes such as stealing.

“They were mainly child vagrants. . . Some of them were suffering from mental abnormalities. They did not have the benefit of the care and protection of their parents,” the HRCSL 2009 annual report said.
While the Commission did not observe any particular irregularity in the way the trials, convictions and sentencing of the young offenders were carried out by the juvenile justice system in the country, the Commission questioned whether undergoing such imprisonment would in fact lead to their rehabilitation and effective reintegration into society.

“As regards this category of children, there was a serious issue, since after the original directive by the magistrates to place them in detention, the entire juvenile justice system appears to have totally forgotten about them,” the HRCSL report revealed.The Commission said it as disturbing that, even though the Pallansena facility is maintained by the Prisons Department, nobody in authority could explain how child convicts and child detainees came to be kept in an open prison camp meant to be used for adult prisoners as well.

With the intervention by the HRCSL which brought the matter to the attention of the Justice Minister, arrangements had been made to shift all the children to a facility in Ambepussa which was previously used for rehabilitating former LTTE child soldiers.

The report said this is a “beautifully developed child friendly facility” and would provide the appropriate environment to detain child convicts and detainees and provide them with suitable rehabilitation measures.

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