8th, March 1998
Factory town terrorised by prowling gangs
By Christopher Kamalendran
Gangs of young drug traffickers and military deserters have unleashed a reign of terror in the suburban town of Seeduwa with hundreds of innocent factory girls facing the threat of rape or robbery and some of them even being forced to pay protection money to the thugs.
The Seeduwa police admit that the situation has got so badly out of control that even female constables are not safe in a syndrome of vice where one young thug is alleged to be having “protection affairs” with six poor factory girls who pay him Rs. 1000 a month.
The situation inside some of the factories is not much better than what happens in the lonely ill lit streets of Seeduwa. The girls say they are regularly harassed sexually by some employers and some who resisted have been sacked.
The recent case of a girl from a distant village portrays the full horror of the situation.
Two sisters from a remote village in Kurunegala district had managed to secure employment with much difficulty at a garment factory in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) three months ago. They worked hard - day and night almost throughout the week to keep the homefires burning. They walked to their factory daily from their ‘boarding room’ a 10 by 10 feet room shared by the two of them. They managed their food by cooking their meals.
Mid last month, as usual the elder sister left to work to her factory shortly after sun- rise leaving behind the younger sister who was due to work the late shift. The elder sister returned home in the afternoon while the second sister was due to return by late evening. She did not turn up at the usual time, but the elder sister assumed she had been asked to work overtime. But after a few hours the elder sister had gone in search of her towards the factory. As there was no trace of the sister she returned home terribly worried.
Her worst fears were confirmed when around 10.30 p.m. the younger sister turned up at home sobbing, with her clothes all tattered and body bruised. The 16 year old girl had been allegedly raped by a gang of about 13, at least four of them being teenage boys from Seeduwa.
OIC Crimes of the Seeduwa Police station, SI Gunasena Haburugala dispatched a team of Policemen to the area where they were able to arrest six of the alleged offenders. The others are evading arrest.
The parents of the two girls had come down from Kurunegala and taken them back home.
The incident is one of the many rape, sexual harassment and cases of mugging experienced by hundreds of factory girls everyday.
Police who say they are short staffed are fighting a losing battle against the increasing crime rate in the area.
“We have found that in most cases drug traffickers and army deserters are responsible for the wave of crimes in the area,” SI Haburugala said.
“Most of the victims do not come to the Police as they are scared. Many of those involved in the crimes are from the same village. The factory girls are scared to complain for fear of reprisals,” he said.
“Unfortunately some of the girls themselves indirectly encourage sexual harassment. They start affairs with young men mainly for protection from others but eventually are exploited by their ‘lovers’ many of them who are unemployed,” the OIC explained.
Many of the factory girls are forced to walk home after late night shifts with some of them compelled to go through lonely stretches and ill-lit roads and lanes where they fall victim, residents in the area said.
Investigations by ‘The Sunday Times’ revealed it was not only outside the factory premises, but also within the premises that they were being harassed by fellow employees, superiors and even members of the management.
One of the employees speaking to ‘The Sunday Times’ on anonymity said that the General Manager of three factories regularly sexually abused employees and penalized some of them if they failed to give into his advances.
“I have even sent a complaint to the management, but nothing happened. Ultimately they wanted me to withdraw the complaint and as I refused I was interdicted for some other allegation”, she said.
Lawyer Brito Fernando, who looks into the legal interest of workers free of charge said, many of the employees are from remote areas and are not aware of various types of harassment they may face in an environment as the FTZ.
“There are some who exploit the girls and even live off their earnings. One of the young men in the area was having affairs with six factory girls and was in the habit of collecting Rs. 1000 each month from them. The youth was arrested recently and the police found he had 36 other addresses of girls working within the zone” Mr. Fernando said.
He said the Police should make round the clock patrols in the area and take tough action against the offenders.
He also said that companies within the zone could provide a transport system for the girls to get back home, particularly during late hours in the night.
Police following the last month’s incident have visited the area concerned and directed the villagers to clear up shrub jungles to minimise the possibility of such attacks. “We are also educating the villagers, and ‘vigilance committees’ to be alert and take measures to prevent crime”,. SI Haburugala said.
“In recent months we have even found it difficult to protect our own female constables. At a recent musical show our female officers on duty had to be withdrawn as they were being harassed by sections of the youth”, the OIC said.
By Our Business Desk
During the second reading of the Monetary Law (Amendment) Bill, which was passed in Parliament recently, the observation was made by UNP MP Ronnie de Mel that the Bill was in the nature of ex post facto legislation.
The Bill empowered the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to issue and sell commemorative currency notes and coins at a price higher than their denomination specified in the currency. But the Bank had, indeed, sold such currency above their denominational value before the enabling legislation was enacted.
Deputy Minister of Finance G. L. Peiris said, as reported in Hansard: “It is by no means unusual for tax legislation and financial legislation to be brought into effect retroactively.
“That is a phenomenon we are all familiar with in all parts of the world. However, in this case it cannot even be said that the change in the legislation is retroactive.”
The Minister’s reason for saying so is contained in the following passage in his speech. The Gazette containing the amendments was prepared long before the coins were issued on the 4th of February The amendments were gazetted on the 19th December 1997 and the Gazette was in fact issued on 22nd December 1997.
“That was well before the actual issue of the commemorative coins. The point I would like to make, Sir, in response to Mr. Ronnie de Mel, is that the legislative process had been initiated long before the issue of the commemorative coins. Therefore, the argument based on retroactively does not have any merit whatsoever.”
It is the case then that when a Bill is gazetted, as required by the Constitution, it becomes law. The Constitution stipulates that a Bill passed by Parliament shall become law when the certificate of the Speaker is endorsed thereon.
The retroactive nature of the legislation is apparent from a new clause introduced at the Committee stage:
“The amendments made to the principal enactment by Sections 2 and 3 of the Act shall be deemed for all purposes to have come into force on February 4, 1998 and, accordingly, any commemorative currency note issued or sold on or after February 4, 1998 and before the commencement of this Act, shall be deemed for all purposes to have been, and to be, lawfully issued or sold.”
Interestingly, the marginal note to the new section states “Retrospective effect.” Even Homer nods.
Another senior executive at Forbes and Walkers defected this week in a growing clash between Asia Siyaka, the breakaway group and the 118-year-old firm.
Lal Alawattegama who was recently appointed to the board of Forbes and Walkers and made Managing Director of Forbes Tea Brokers after 14 senior executives quit the company last month, also tendered his resignation.
Meanwhile, Forbes and Walkers has filed action in the Court of Appeal challenging the Sri Lanka Tea Board’s issuing of a licence as a tea broker to Asia Siyaka Commodities (Pvt) Ltd. Forbes and Walkers was earlier refused a stay order preventing the Tea Board from issuing the licence. The company had also made legal objections to the Board.
The Board however unanimously decided to issue the licence and Asia Siyaka is reported to have made a successful impact at the last auctions.
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