Two articles in last Sunday’s papers caught my attention. They were articles pertaining to child welfare and innocence of children, or rather the lack and abuse of those. Child abuse manifests in several forms. Sexual abuse by the paedophiles and child labour have in the recent years had much publicity world over. So much so, organisations such as the United Nations have set up agencies to address these menacing phenomena. Yet at home, very much on our doorstep, we the adults blatantly abuse the innocence of children most callously. I refer to the television and the cinema in particular. Here I wish to draw one’s attention to two cases in point.
Recently I was repeatedly exposed to a trailer on Dynavision channel promoting a forthcoming programme where a young woman undressed to her underwear provocatively seduces a man. This was being shown time and again during all hours of the day. One would have thought, that is the very type of scene, which would disqualify a TV programme as suitable for children, and warrant its screening in the hours of the evening when hopefully the children are out of harm’s way.
Considering the cinema, about two years ago, I had the misfortune to take my family to see the film SPEED at the Majestic City cinema to give the children ‘a good time.’ Neither did newspaper advertisements, display information at the cinema nor the management at the cinema warn us of the nature of the film. I found it, much to horror, most unsuitable for children. Horror because I was unwittingly exposing my children of ages 8 and 12 to language and visual images that were most unsuitable for children of those ages or even older. Angry, because I found myself almost helpless. There were plenty of young children in the audience. Some were spared the cruelty, because they were too young! Others, were not only subjected to the crudity of the film, but also to sniggering and laughter of adults who were very much at home with the suggestive and explicit language. As much as some parents were embarrassed, I would say several children too found themselves in that predicament. This film is full of foul language, sexually explicit suggestions and subtle pornography. It is outrageous that we adults expose our children, young as mine or even younger, judged by the members of the audience that night, to deprave material of this nature.
Having returned to England, I took the opportunity to check the credit ratings for that film in England. Not much to my surprise, it is rated 15, meaning it is suitable for children of 15 and over. If this film, is considered unsuitable for younger children in so called ‘permissive ‘England, how is it that in Sri Lanka there is no age restriction?
While I do not shirk from my responsibilities as a parent nor condone our failure as adults, I believe a more responsible approach to media and cinema would help to address this violation of child’s innocence be it through cinema or television which seems almost beyond the control of the parent at present. Good practices on the part of the cinema and media, and more appropriate guidance from the Authorities will help to ease these forms of child abuse. In part the answer may lie in the fact that there is no broader spectrum of suitability of a film. Presently there is only one restrictive category. That is Adults Only. The government should review the codes of practice, and in that exercise consider the introduction of an escalating scale of suitability as in the United Kingdom where there are several categories to guide parents and viewers. Similarly the cinema and TV channel owners and operators, must be encouraged to introduce socially and ethically responsible practices. I believe these will go some way towards protecting our children from ABUSE.
Today we see in this country the reappearance of cholera and the continuously increasing number of cases which has been going on for some time. It can be taken as an axiom that in the modern world the appearance of a number of cases of cholera in any country shows that country is right at the bottom of the ladder in health and sanitation. In this present epidemic there have been a number of deaths, especially amongst children. In a country which boasts that we have the capabilities of doing even heart surgery, the deaths amongst cholera patients is inexcusable and intolerable.
Earlier too we have had serious epidemics of diseases like cholera and small pox, which did spread to parts of the country. But in most cases we were able to control them and stop them on the tracks. We had the machinery to do that. At that time health was a centralized subject. We had one minister, one director and under the director was the officer responsible for the control of epidemics, called the epidemiologist. It was this centralized machinery which was able to stop on the tracks any epidemic before it spread like wild fire throughout the country.
It must be mentioned that we did have men like Drs. Chellapah, W.G. Wickremasinghe, W.A. Karunaratne and V. Herath Guneratne and epidemiologists like N.M.P. Mendis and A.V.K. de Silva who did their work wholeheartedly and in a dedicated manner, when it came to such situations as we see today.
Today after the devolution of power and the formation of provincial councils and with a plethora of bureaucrats, politicians and ministers at provincial level and health a good deal a “devolved” subject, the present machinery in place has not proved that it can prevent epidemics and associated deaths and most importantly prevent the spread to other provinces. Today with provincial councils and devolution there appears to have been no quick response to the epidemic, although the personnel may be doing a great job. In the circumstances it is worth finding out what is going wrong, where even the minister and the President have to intervene. To those who say that devolution is the answer to all our present ills in every situation the present cholera epidemic is a good eye opener.
Devolution of power in other disciplines like education and agriculture and the maintenance of law and order would probably have the same ill effects, but they remain dormant and invisible but the present cholera epidemic is a good “marker” which shows that devolution of power over a wide spectrum is probably not a good solution in providing services to a small country like Sri Lanka.
Dr. B. Wijeratne,
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