There is no keener revelation than a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children – Nelson Mandela

Historical first record of the brutal murder of four children in 1814 – “One single instance of no distant date will be acknowledged to include everything which is barbarous and unprincipled in public rule, and to portray the last stage of individual depravity and wickedness, the obliteration of every trace of conscience, and the complete extinction of human feeling. In the deplorable fate of the wife and children of Ehalepola Adikari these assertions are fully substantiated; in which was exhibited the savage scene of four infant children, the youngest torn from the mother’s breast, cruelly butchered, and their heads bruised in a mortar by the hands of their parent; succeeded by the execution of the woman herself and three females more, whose limbs being bound, and a heavy stone tied round the neck of each, they were thrown into a lake and drowned.” — Extract from Sir Robert Brownrigg’s (the Governor) official declaration to the Kandyan chiefs after the taking of the Kandyan country.

The Evolution

A fundamental universal fact is that all living beings nurture their young and protect them from harm. What distinguishes humans from other animals? Charles Darwin believed we are similar to animals and merely incrementally more intelligent as a result of our higher evolution. Our conscience and higher intelligence are the most influential distinguishing factors of Homosapiens

He would be seriously re-evaluating this theory if only he knew the rapidity at which convicted murderers on death row are released in Sri Lanka. The island paradise of Sri Lanka, aka Thambapanni, Serendib, Ceylon, Pearl of the Indian Ocean, also evolved through 72 years of independence to its current state of wannabe Wonder of Asia, Democratic Socialist republic of Sri Lanka. A truly magnificent political pickle led by an Executive President who is not a Member of Parliament and immune to legal jurisdiction who enforces incomprehensible powers to release convicted cold blooded murderers.

Rewind November 2019

Jude Jayamaha from a wealthy high profile family was convicted to 12 years in prison. He murdered a Swedish teenager in 2005 outside of her family apartment. His subsequent appeal against his jail term was rejected and he was sentenced to death instead, a sentence upheld by the Supreme Court in 2014. The victim’s sister, Caroline Jonsson, said the killer had shown no remorse. Lock him up and throw away the keys, the people rejoiced In November 2019, Maithripala Sirisena as outgoing President caused a devastating shock by pardoning Jude Jayamaha, ‘Royal Park’ murderer. The island paradise was stunned on a Richter scale of 7.0 – Simply outrageous.

Slow Motion 1991 To 2000

Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC) in 1991. In December 1996, the Presidential Task Force on child protection was appointed under the patronage of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the only Head of State that did substantial amount of work to protect our children.

One of the most important recommendations of the Presidential Task Force was the establishment of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), by Act No.50 of 1998 under the Presidential Secretariat. In the year 2006, under the leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, NCPA was transferred under the purview of a separate ministry established to ensure proper protection and welfare of children and women. The downfall of child protection commenced soon afterwards.

The failures of Police, Judiciary and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) in protecting children and promoting their rights have resulted in frustrating inadequacies and lengthy and painful progression of inquiries.

By the end of 2017, there were over 17,000 cases of child abuse stalled at Attorney General’s Department dating back as long as ten years. This figure is believed to have risen over 20,000 by end of 2018. The victims have lived a life of hell tormented by the horrendous memories without any hope of justice.

In January 2018, in the concluding observations of the UNCRC on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Sri Lanka, serious concerns were raised at the lethargy of child protection by the Government of Sri Lanka.

This is further endorsed by the alarming rise of complaints received by NCPA. In 2010, NCPA received a total of 3892 cases staggering to a total of 8558 by end of 2019.

Since 1992 Sri Lanka has held 6 Parliamentary Elections and elected 6 Executive Presidents and 12 Prime Ministers with no significant improvement in child protection.

Chief Government Whip of the newly established pickled government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka declared to Parliament that 142 incidents of rape, 42 cases of serious sexual abuse and 54 cases of child abuse have been reported from various police divisions in the country in the first 15 days of 2020. Hurray! Unsurprisingly, the pickled onions cheered as the numbers were sky rocketing.

Fast Forward March 2020

Army Staff Sargent Sunil Ratnayake was found guilty of 15 offences and sentenced to death by a Trial-at-Bar comprising of three High Court Judges in 2015 of the murder of eight unarmed civilians including four children, one of whom was just 5years old. They were found brutally slain in an empty well in 2000. His appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court in 2019. Lock him up and throw away the keys, the people rejoiced…more profusely!

However, on 28th March 2020, the release of Ratnayake, ‘Mirusivil murderer’, rocked the Covid-19 ravaged island paradise on a Richter scale of 8.9 – People fumed in disbelief. A difference of one represents an approximate thirtyfold difference in magnitude.

Amnesty International was quick to condemn President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision. Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has called on the Presidential Secretariat for public disclosure of documents pertaining to the release: Report of the Trial Judge, Advice of the Attorney General and Recommendation of the Minister of Justice.

Social media has been ablaze and much has been written about this. It seems like the top man is engulfed by amnesic paralysis of all senses when ruthless killers are released to society without any qualms, the proceeding man competing to beat a time line as if to supersede an inferiority complex.

But, why all the fuss when it appears to be the normal practice to make a mockery of the justice system and de-robe the learned members of the judiciary by each Executive President.

Unlike a man imprisoned for life, a man on death row does not receive rehabilitation within the penal correction system. Our children are in imminent grave danger by releasing murderers capable of heinous crimes. THAT is the missing key!

When jungle law prevails, our animal instincts kick in to protect our young. The successful registration of the first ever Communication (Appeal) vs Government of Sri Lanka Submitted For Consideration Under the First Optional Protocol To The International Covenants on Civil And Political Rights (ICCPR) at United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) will give hope to 5 million children in Sri Lanka.

Reignite the citizens to devour the pickled onions and demolish the putrid coconut that govern the island paradise – make Mr Darwin proud!

*Dr Tush Wickramanayaka, Chairperson, Stop Child Cruelty Trust