Sexual Offenders Go Scot Free (Only in Sri Lanka)
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.