In Sri Lanka sexual offenders are pretty much the same as petty thieves. After all, assaulting and raping a 12 year old girl is the same as stealing mangoes from your neighbours garden– at least that’s how our judiciary see it.
In 1995, after much coercion by women’s rights lawyers and activists, a law was passed stating that anyone found guilty of committing a sexual offence will receive a minimum prison sentence of seven to ten years. Now that law acted as a deterrent. It was a strict sentence that would ensure that the more devious of men would not act on their lascivious urges for fear of being contained behind bars for several years. Progress was being made up until 2008, when a particular High Court Judge in Anuraddhapura, felt it wasn’t fair to dispense such a harsh ruling on a man who had consensual sex with a 16 year old girl. The victim and the accused had eloped, gotten married and started life together as a married couple. With consent from the Supreme Court, the judge simply ruled a ‘suspended sentence’. A suspended sentence is the blacklisting of criminals who are free from any form of punishment unless another complaint is made aganist them.
Using this verdict several criminal lawyers have helped sexual offenders escape serving a prison term. Since 2008 to 2009, it’s been found that of 129 reported cases identified by LHRD, an alarming 114 received a suspended sentence which included a paltry compensation fine and freedom to harass the victim and maybe even commit the crime over again but this time around make sure the victim doesn’t spill the beans on him.
That’s 88% of the reported cases. 88% of those who have been found guilty of sexual offences- some as harsh as violently assaulting and raping a woman, ganging raping a woman who was waiting for her bus in the middle of the night, and a man who repeatedly raped his niece and threatened to kill her if she spoke about it- all free to walk among us.
Will the ‘suspended sentencing’ of sexual offenders be lifted? Going by what the Attorney General’s Department said at a press conference organised by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD) on the matter- not too soon; if anytime at all.
Attorney, Kalyananda Thiranagama who is also the executive director of Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRW) stated that court proceedings must speed up. One of the reason’s a suspended sentence is declared is because the court cases are prolonged. While Dr. Mario Gomez of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka said that at the very least the Supreme Court should set up guidelines to direct High Court Judges when passing verdicts on sexual offenders. The Attorney General’s Department however, did not have a satisfactory response, instead they were vague and uncommitted.
So what hope is there? Well for now we can raise awareness. Having read this do share this information with friends and family, if we can make enough noise about it, maybe the government will finally realise that intimidation and forced sex is nothing close to a petty crime.
– Megara Tegal
Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist, part time TV show host, 3rd grade caricature artist, student in social sciences and she holds the world prize for klutz-iness. Her opinions are her own. She blogs here.
Rajiv is torn between pleasing his parents and pursing his passion. Time is running out and he’s cornered into choosing a safe but dull career in the field of commerce or trying his luck as an artist. As the walls close in on him, Rajiv picks the latter; but at a dire cost of losing his family.
What would you suggest could improve the course of events and bring about a happy ending?
All those who’d come for the Galle Literary Festival had the chance to help Rajiv and his family, as the BB FT team staged ‘Bohemian Pursuits’. Enacting events from Rajiv’s life from making his decision to becoming a successful albeit uncaring artist- callously refusing to attend his father’s funeral.
The overall play highlighted many pertinent issues brought up by the youth in Galle. These include the influence of foreigners who seems to be taking over the fort, parent-child relationships, ambition, career guidance and the Sri Lankan mentality regarding ‘acceptable careers’.
The FT was performed twice at the Galle Literary Festival and here are some scenes from play.
And we present the FT team-
Hard work, sleepless nights and a bumpy ride to Galle- the team charged on and performed the first BB FT down south.
This is the first of many more FTs by BB that will be performed out of Colombo this year. Watch this blog for more updates.
No; not like a virus circus that can only be viewed through an electron microscope. This was a notch better. Our Forum Theatre group staged a play about HIV AIDS- how the disease is contracted, how to protect yourself and wrong notions about the disease.
It was back on 10 December at the Royal Skills Centre Auditorium. It went pretty well with several interventions during each scene, questions raised, answers delivered and a happier not-so-oppressed character in the end.
A big thank you out to all of you who attended the performance! Keep watch of the blog; we’ll be posting teaser trailers of the next Forum Theatre performance- ‘Bohemian Pursuits’ which we’ll be performing for the Galle Literary Festival. Here’s hoping we see you there!
We didn’t get up early in the morning, as is customary when going our of Colombo, to catch a bus. Rather we decided to go a little late and well late we did become. However, we managed to have a lovely bus ride to Galle, chilled, well rested and ready for action!
We spoke to youth residing both within the Galle Fort and outside, and were enlightened to a variety of issues that were unique to that area.
The youth we spoke to, between the ages of 16 and 20, mostly felt that their parents were not giving them the freedom they sought. This was the key issue, resonating the discussion throughout the time we spent in discussion with them. This when questioned, boiled down to external problems like the Western influence within the Fort. According to the children, the parents felt that they were unable to give too much freedom to their children because they might run astray. We realised the locals were experiencing a certain reverse culture clash. The group we spoke to felt that their parents were not like the ‘cool’ Colombo folk who gave their children ample freedom to engage in youth activities and social work. However, most of the youth were rational, citing the pros and cons of their parents’ reasoning, but they wished that they had less restrictions on socialising.
Another problem that arose was on the topic of education. Like youth from most other places, the youth from Galle too felt that the education system does not allow them the best of opportunities to showcase their talents. They felt the current education system only made them ‘bookish’ and did not allow them the chance to engage in the sporting activities they are otherwise good at. We found that this is the same story everywhere. When the child comes to higher levels of education in school the parents want their children to prioritise on their education, keeping all other extra-curricular activities at bay.
Of course, the guys felt that they couldn’t talk to the girls and that they were shy; but that was besides the point during the interactive session we had with these energetic youth.
The Galle Literary Festival will be held from the 18th to the 22nd of January 2012 and beyond Borders will be performing on the 20th and 21st of January.
– Bhagya Senaratne
Bhagya is a board member of Beyond Borders. She is currently reading for her MA in International Relations and she’s our mole in the government. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.
Day sixteen features a photograph by Raashid Riza.
It’s the final day of the campaign and we’re highlighting how children affected by domestic violence. Contributing to the topic, the following post was made by Bhagya Senaratne.
It’s not my story to tell. However, I have been privy to this for a few years now. I was shocked to say the least, when I got to know her story, their story.
The story’s my friend’s, her family’s. To any outsider, even myself, they would fit in to the neatly worded “happy family” category. Or so the exterior did seem. But the insides of this happy family were crumbling.
It was the usual story of abuse towards the wife. The husband or my friend’s father would have one too many to drink at home and would find sorry excuses to beat his wife. He would leave her with bad bruises after thrashing her around the house, screaming at her, throwing things at her if not her.
If only he stopped at that. He used to take his intoxicated anger on his children as well; pulling them by their hair, throwing them against the walls etc. My friend used to go through the worst of fits, with being flung down stairs and smashed against cupboards on top of the other abuse.
Even a call to a friend during an episode like this is life threatening. The father would come looking for her, even if she were to lock herself in the room. Her physical bruises weren’t that visible but her mother wasn’t that lucky.
What I found intriguing about this was that, their’s is an educated family. Both parents are in respectable professions, and it really made me wonder why a man of with his background would do something like this to his loved ones and also why a lady of her nature would endure this.
However, this doesn’t end like most of the other stories where the victims don’t stand up. My friend took the courage to stand up to her father and made him sign a ‘letter’ when he was sober, stating that he will seek counselling and that he won’t hurt his family again. This was before she was to go to the police and make a complaint and there after go to the Child Protection Authority. It was a tough decision for her and I respected her [and still do] very much. It was heart breaking for me to see her go through this and not be there during the worst of a series of situations and only help her sitting at a pc thousands of miles away in a different land. Unfortunately, the ‘letter’ didn’t work, but she used another technique in the form of non-violent communication which has thus far worked for her, with her father’s responses to her changing.
It has been a year now, and to this day I haven’t heard her complain about his behaviour. So I guess, one can get lucky if they stand up and express their feelings.
It’s admirable to know that there is at least a certain section of society concerned about the mental and physical violence that women and men have to undergo, but I believe that activism which encourages victims to voice their sufferings should not just stop there.
Voicing to the world about the brutality one undergoes or underwent is the first step to empowerment and emancipation. However, to see the end of gender based violence, victims should not be empowered to shed light about the violence they endure but also offered a strong safety net that allows them look beyond their past and begin a new life, free from violence. This safety net and support system is what will encourage other victims to shed light about their situation.
Victims should not be subjected to victimization yet again by an unforgiving society. Stigma will only kill the victims’ spirit to move on, and build a safe life away from violence, that dogged their past. I personally believe that the foundation of gender based violence begins with attitudes. A man’s inherent superiority complex and a woman’s strong feelings self unworthiness, leads one gender to believe that it has unconditional power to oppress the other and the other accepts this repression as a norm.
This superiority complex among men, which is subtly drilled in since childhood becomes a fire breathing monster when one becomes an adult, thus giving them the notion that abusing a woman is a natural right that has been bestowed to them. Most women on the other hand, have been made to believe by archaic societal norms that men are the superior beings; therefore they create this notion in their subconscious mind that it is acceptable to be beaten, harassed or abused.
Sadly, most married women, have become silent victims who suffer the most, because of a ‘so called’ legal bond that prevents them speaking against the violation of their rights. I believe that gender based violence will end that day parents treat their sons and daughters equally, thereby setting an example that women and men are of equal status. Whether you a man or woman, you should not tolerate any kind of mental or physical abuse hurled at you by anyone. Violence is unacceptable- tolerating it will only validate it, further. Everyone deserves better.
Guest post by Shabnam Farook. She is a food columnist whose passions include good cheesecake, sushi and music by John Mayer.
Day fifteen features a photograph by T.
Intimate partner violence is a little studied, yet frequently occurring phenomenon in Sri Lanka. IPV occurs in many ways, including physical, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse by a spouse. Reports show that there is a high prevalence of abuse such as marital rape and sexual abuse, wife beating and assault with a weapon.
Sri Lankan society tends to take the very backward view that what happens within the home should stay within the home, and that some abuse is always a part of marriage. The Demographic and Health Survey 2006/2007 shows that between 20-50% of women think a husband is justified in wife-beating for reasons such as “argues with him”, “goes out without telling him” and “refuses to have sexual intercourse with him”. A study conducted among a sample of undergraduate medical students at the University of Colombo revealed that “33.4% of the students justified wife beating, and 63.1% stated that they believed women bear a proportionately larger responsibility for the violence perpetrated against them” (Jayatilleke et al, 2010)
Perceptions and attitudes play an important role in how women are perceived within a relationship, but also affect the help that is available to them after violence occurs. The attitudes and sensitivity of police, healthcare workers and the community are important in helping to alleviate IPV.
While society turns a blind eye, many reasons have been cited for IPV. Alcoholism, early marriage age, low income and existing patriarchal attitudes, among a slew of other reasons, all contribute towards IPV. None of them, however, are an excuse.
One day left of the 16 day campaign… Tomorrow 10 December, will feature the last photograph of the 16 day online campaign against gender based violence by the WMC campaign against GBV.
For more information about this campaign click here
T is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She works in the development sector and has mad culinary skills. She’s a writer, a poet and she dabbles in photography. She blogs at Dance in a Triangle. Her opinions are her own.
Day thirteen features a photograph by Rushda Mohinudeen.
While gender-based violence has recently emerged as a salient topic in the human security community, it has been framed principally with respect to violence against women and girls, particularly sexual violence. In this article, I argue that gender-based violence against men (including sexual violence, forced conscription, and sex-selective massacre) must be recognized as such, condemned, and addressed by civilian protection agencies and proponents of a ‘human security’ agenda in international relations. Men deserve protection against these abuses in their own right; moreover, addressing gender-based violence against women and girls in conflict situations is inseparable from addressing the forms of violence to which civilian men are specifically vulnerable.
– Sage Journals Online
Watch this blog for the next 4 days. We’ll be posting a featured photograph each day till 10 December as part of WMC campaign against GBV.
For more information about this campaign click here
Rushda Mohinudeen is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She heads ReachOut (a women’s rights group), works at an advertising agency and enjoys calling people koonjis. More of her photography can be found here.