By Duvindi Illankoon Country Roads has always been about three simple things–the music, the good vibes and the children it benefits; a formula that has worked well for 25 years. Watch the magic unfold today at the Hilton Colombo Grand Ballroom from 6.30 p.m. (be there a little early for prime seating!) As always, it’s [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Tonight, the greatest country music show


By Duvindi Illankoon

Country Roads has always been about three simple things–the music, the good vibes and the children it benefits; a formula that has worked well for 25 years. Watch the magic unfold today at the Hilton Colombo Grand Ballroom from 6.30 p.m. (be there a little early for prime seating!) As always, it’s for a fantastic cause– this year to raise funds for a joint government-UNICEF project to build three juvenile courthouses for children.

The only one of its kind in the country, Country Roads organised by the Country Music Foundation has brought people from all walks of life together in pursuit of one shared passion. Fans turn up in cowboy hats and boots, happy to join in with the performers themselves in supporting this charity event.

They’ll be there: All-time favourites, the Mavericks at a previous concert

Chathuranga Perera is looking forward to making a family outing of the concert today; they’ve been attending for more than a decade. A lawyer by profession, he’s full of praise for this year’s cause, the construction of three juvenile courts for children. “It’s something that many of us in the legal community haven’t thought of,” he says. “It’s a very timely cause. And of course, the concert itself is something that we all look forward to. If you’re a country music fan–or even a fan of good music, really–this is where you should be.”

Tyrone Peiris of the band Cosmic Rays remembers that first concert as if it was yesterday. “Country music was something fairly new in Sri Lanka, but it was nice to see such a huge turnout. We’ve come a long way since that!” This year the Cosmic Rays will be returning to the stage once more along with another favourite, singer Mariazelle.

Set to take the stage from the international arena are UK songbird Astrid Brook, Texan Grammy country music award winner Bob Livingston and rollicking German band, the Mavericks. Along with the Cosmic Rays and Mariazelle, they have been faithful supporters of Country Roads.

In celebration of this year’s silver jubilee, musicians from across three continents are gearing up for a group performance encapsulating everything that is great about the concert. ‘Thro Songs for the Children’ will be performed by Feizal Samath and Jury Masjid of the Country Music Foundation, Bob Livingston and Astrid Brook (who composed the song in celebration of the anniversary). The song is being rehearsed painstakingly over email and telephone-translating across Europe, Asia and America.
Meanwhile look out for the special 25th anniversary commemorative mugs that will be on sale at the show.  Astrid Brook’s CDs will also be on sale, all proceeds going to children’s charities in Sri Lanka.

The partners the CMF is working with this time, in addition to UNICEF, are SriLankan Airlines, Hilton Colombo, Dialog, BBDO, Bank of Ceylon, NDB, Cargills, AV Productions and Firefly. The media partner is the Sunday Times in a long standing relationship with the CMF since the inaugural concert in 1988.

The cause– Child- friendly law courts

It is a gift from the heart – the Rs. 1 million that the Country Music Foundation will donate to one of the most vulnerable groups of children in the country. The million rupees will be channelled through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under a proposed partnership with the Justice Ministry to make the courts of law as child-friendly as possible.

The courts are a place of anxiety even for adults, so how much more threatening an environment would it be to a child, asked rights activists. Envision the “court scene”, they suggested. A child getting into the witness box in this all-so-unfamiliar but official and formal environment, facing the intense questioning of a hostile defence lawyer, sometimes enduring an altercation between the defence and prosecution lawyers and even seeing first-hand, the instructions to the lawyers by a stern judge.

The court is a place where even adults become overwhelmed. Then what of a child? The mistake that most make is to think of children as “little adults” whom they are not, they said, pointing out that now efforts are being made to make the courts child-friendly where children are made to feel free and comfortable.  In some other countries, before the children are led into the courtroom, they are taken to another room where they play with toys. Children are also not expected to get into the witness box which is meant for adults. Usually, while giving evidence, the child cannot see the formal court setting, being visible to the others through a one-way mirror or on close-circuit TV. They would enter the court through a different way, not the same entry-point as a suspect in a child abuse case.

The Children’s and Young Persons’ Ordinance (CYPO) defines a person under 16 as a young person and under 14 as a child and offers special protection to them. A child who has to come to court could fall into one of two categories – a child who needs protection (due to being abused or needing care due to not having a family or being in a non-functional family) and a child who has come into conflict with the law.

In the case of child-victims, if the offence against the child is deemed to be of a “lesser” nature (such as caning), the matter is taken up by the Magistrate’s Court (MC). However, if it is a grave sexual offence or rape of a child, the case goes to the High Court, it is learnt.

With regard to children who have come into conflict with the law, in minor offences such as stealing something of which the value is less than Rs. 5,000, the police, under a 2011 amendment can send the child before the Mediation Board, the activists said.

It is the Magistrate’s Courts which act as Children’s Courts that the Justice Ministry has been looking at to make child-friendly. The first steps in this direction were the setting up of the Special Battaramulla and Jaffna Children’s Courts. Now the Justice Ministry is planning to expand the concept of child-friendly courts to other areas as well, they added.

These changes came in the wake of a broad consensus that developed in 2007 among the Ministries of Justice and Child Development, Probation and Child Care Services, UNICEF and Save the Children, using the CYPO as the “main plank” of child protection and juvenile justice.– K.H.

The show is from 6.30 p.m. (sharp) to 9.30 p.m. and tickets priced at Rs.750, Rs.1,000 and Rs. 1, 500 are available at the Cargills Food City outlets until 1 p.m. today (Sunday, Feb 17) and at the hotel from 5 p.m. onwards.

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