The death penalty is not the solution to child abuse and murder. Ending abuse requires a lot more work than typing KILL THEM on Facebook – everything from reducing poverty to improving policing and the courts. To focus on the last stage of that process – the punishment – and acting like that is the solution is not correct.
I’ll discuss the death penalty and child abuse separately because they’re not actually related.
The Death Penalty
An Imperfect System
I don’t know if you’ve ever been arrested or in court, but it’s obviously not a perfect system, especially in Sri Lanka. The idea that people are crying out for the perfect punishment (death) from an imperfect system is wrong. This also gets to my broader point – that people are focusing on the punishment rather than the process.
In Sri Lanka the police routinely use beating and torture to extract confessions. There are cases where the parents of abducted children have been beaten. Beyond that, our handling of forensic evidence is not good and I’m not sure that we use any proper rape kits at all. The possibility of mob ‘justice’ or personal vendetta putting an innocent person on trial is high. The lack of solid physical evidence for this type of crime also makes the probability of error high as well.
Given that the process is so flawed, you have a huge risk of someone innocent being killed. How is that justice? How is that fair?
Honestly, I won’t even get into the broader moral side of it besides to say that Sri Lanka cannot retain an executioner. They all quit. Of all the people calling for the death penalty, none of them wants to take the job.
The Actual Problem
I think people call for the death penalty for the same reason that it is inherently unfair. It’s a paradox. People do not trust the police and the courts, so they call for death. But that sentence has to be carried out by the police and courts that you don’t trust in the first place. It may make emotional sense, but it doesn’t actual work, unless you’re calling for mob justice which has the same problem. How much do you trust the mob?
You can’t ask for the perfect punishment from an imperfect system. It’s unsatisfying, but true. If you actually want to address the problem, you have to do the painstaking work of fixing the system.
However, when you see crimes like this you just want to find the perpetrators and thrash them. Crimes like this throw the balance of the world well out of whack and you want to see it put right. However, the nature of the crimes is also such that there is usually little physical evidence (murder yes, but rape not so much) and you’re dealing with children, who have numerous issues as witnesses. Add in the fact that the police and courts are poorly resourced and often dubious themselves and you have a situation where justice is delayed and denied.
That frustration and anger at this is strong, and it leads to calls for the strongest penalty – death. What that emotional response elides, however, is the fact that you’re depending on the same broken system to deliver the penalty. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.
The Actual Solution
We have situations where the mother and sometimes both parents are working in the Middle East in order to make money, at the risk of their kids being abused. We have cops which women and children don’t feel comfortable talking to. We have situations where abuse is within the family, sometimes even known within the family, and we don’t have education or counseling to even give better information. We don’t have shelters for women or children to escape to, and we don’t even have people they can talk to.
Child abuse happens everywhere – houses rich and poor – but the risk factors for poor children are just much higher. So, in addition to targeting the specific problem, we have to also look at poverty if we’re serious about this issue.
At the same time, however, there does need to be specific education across the country about rape, child abuse and gender issues – and that includes educating the cops and judges. Law enforcement also needs training and equipment for proper forensic investigations.
In the immediate term, however, the best thing would be if people funded and manned a call center where people could simply ask for help. And a physical place where they could escape to. Because there are countless situations even now where abuse is going on and people feel like there’s nowhere they can go.
Killing whoever the cops collar and push through our sausage grinder of a system won’t actually solve these problems. If we’re thinking about the victims rather than the perpetrators, we have to think of making a better life more than a swift death.
Lead image via Amnesty International. I don’t think we really want to join China and Saudi and much of Africa in this death penalty thing.