Demon scene from Mulkirigala, tho I think these demons are actually women.
Lately there’s been a spate of child killings in the news – a seven year old raped and killed in Kirulapone, a dead nine year old retarded boy found in a dirt pit in Kadawatha. There’s also been a horrific case of a 13 year old girl in Tangalle abducted and raped for days, including by local politicians and businessmen. What on earth is going on?
These are persistent problem that the war obscured for years. A 2009 survey by the Ministry Of Justice found that nearly 30% of pending court cases were for child abuse. A recent statement by the police said that nearly 70% of rape cases are for statutory rape – ie rape of children. And the problem isn’t unique to Sri Lanka. Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate show quoted a 2007 study in India saying that over 50% of children there had faced some sort of abuse.
While it seems obvious that this type of abuse is bad, in practice it isn’t quite so. Satyamev Jayate took up the issue and had parents and children in the studio. What emerged was that children were often afraid to talk, and that parents actually didn’t believe them. In many cases the social pressure acted to shield the abuser rather than protect the child. It was an uncle or trusted friend and no one wanted to disturb the social order. This pressure to save face and preserve the appearance of a coherent family can be very strong.
In the Tangalle case, a poor girl was abducted and repeatedly raped – and yet the police were reportedly slow to react until the National Child Protection Authority intervened. The reason was that prominent politicians and businessmen were involved and their interests counteracted those of the child.
In all of these cases the common factor is that the victim is weaker and that the delivery of justice would disturb the status quo. It’s important to remember this social pressure when trying to solve the problem instead of just saying that abuse is bad.
So, how can we turn social pressure to protect the innocent? The first and most major step is education. In Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan sat down a group of children, told them what was and what is not OK and told them to scream and tell their parents. Parents and adults, of course, need to be educated too. As do the police.
This attitude has to extend beyond rape and abuse to ‘casual’ harassment as well. Every Sri Lankan woman has been harassed or even masturbated at on the streets. Recently a group of young people organized by Sri Lanka Unites took to the buses of Colombo to apologize for this behavior and educate people about their rights and responsibilities as decent citizens. That’s a start. In the same way, women and children need to know that they can report and get support against more severe types of abuse, and people in authority need to be educated to listen.
In that way, all of this terrible news coverage is a starting point for a better society. We are now hearing about rape and abuse and recognizing that it is bad. Hopefully the media will also take the next step to educate people on what to do. That is how we begin to change the social norms that keep abuse and abusers in place and create a better society for us all.
originally published in The Nation