Puppet in jail. Dehiwela Puppet Museum.
The death penalty is not a solution to the problem of rape and child abuse. It’s not an especially effective deterrent and I’m shocked that a Buddhist country is even considering it. The death penalty was reinstated in 2004 as a knee-jerk reaction to the killing of a judge. We still don’t have the executioners or the capacity to even carry out the sentence. Perfectly reasonable people are outraged at constant news of rape and child abuse, but killing isn’t an answer. Not a good one.
The final punishment isn’t really the issue. The issue is that A) women don’t know their rights B) families don’t do what’s right so much as what looks right C) police don’t take complaints seriously and D) some dudes are sexual criminals. If you have death at the end of a bad system it’s not suddenly a good system. What’s more important is educating people, changing attitudes within the family, changing attitudes with the police, and basically ensuring that the first part of the system works, the part that prevents and deals with abuse.
Saying ‘kill rapists’ presumes that you can find and prosecute the rapists in the first place. Even assuming that, killing is more about vengeance than justice in any real sense. There’s numerous arguments as to why the death penalty isn’t an effective deterrent, why it’s an expensive one, and why killing for any reason remains morally dubious. I won’t even get into it, but suffice it to say that innocent people get executed where DNA and other evidentiary standards are higher. I don’t believe in a perfect punishment within a perfect system, but let’s leave that aside now.
Sri Lanka is still at a point where we don’t entire recognize sexual harassment, abuse or rape as crimes (socially), where families and institutions often cover up rather than protect, and where police don’t take complaints seriously and, in at least one case, further rape the girls. Talking about the death penalty is a knee-jerk reaction, it’s not a serious response to an immediate problem. It’s just like, ‘uh rape is bad, kill them’. Well, OK. Not especially helpful.