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Rape of underage girls in Sri Lanka becomes endemic

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 24th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The high instance of child rape in the nation of Sri Lanka has moved the local government to consider tighten relevant laws and make the offense punishable by death. According to a government statement, of the 1,450 female rape cases reported last year, child rape accounted for 1,169, alerting authorities and activists to a rising trend.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Police reported that over 700 complaints of rape or abuse of children were filed in the first half of the year, with at least four cases were being reported daily.

According to the National Child Protection Authority -- the situation is far worse. Law enforcement estimates that over 20,000 cases of child abuse may have occurred in the first half of this year.

The insecurity of children, popularity of mobile phones with internet facilities among young people, access to pornography, increasing substance abuse and lack of sex education are the chief reasons behind the increase, NCPA says.

An October 2011 study of child abuse in Sri Lanka's north-central region showed that 30 percent of the cases were of female minors, less than 15 years of age having consensual sex with a male partner.

Other child rape cases were attributed to the "strength, power and dominance of perpetrators who could be relatives, teachers or religious dignitaries," a senior prosecutor at the attorney general's office told IPS. "While we do our part, society also needs to take a serious look at this issue," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Women and Media Collective, a campaign group, has denounced these alleged crimes, saying that Sri Lanka has become a society where "perpetrators of heinous crimes against women and children can live with little fear of the law."

Child Development and Women's Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda says that he has drawn up plans to tighten the laws that deal with child abuse, including making it punishable with the death sentence.

Authorities are also trying to sharply reduce the time taken, which takes six years on average to complete a prosecution, and thereby reduce impunity to offenders who often go free on bail.

"But I think there are many runaways (under-age couples eloping) cases and sex with consent which appear in the first complaint (to the police) as suspected rape and provide somewhat misleading data," Dr. Hemamal Jayawardena, child protection specialist from UNICEF says.

Under Sri Lankan laws, those under 16 years are defined as minors and sex with a minor is considered rape, with or without consent.

A maximum jail term of 10 years is imposed on offenders. Authorities are now examining proposals to enforce the death penalty and make it an offense for which no bail can be posted.

Menaca Calyaneratne, director of advocacy at Save the Children's Colombo office, warns about a new breed of abusers called "professional perpetrators" who are "professionals in their own fields but carefully choose an area of work that gives them unhindered access to children in order to abuse them."

Fields such as education, sports, childcare organizations and children's institutions harbor predators such as principals, teachers and sports coaches who are known to abuse their positions, she said, adding that about 90 percent of child abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the victim.

"We used to tell children to be careful of strangers, but that does not seem to be valid anymore," Calyaneratne says.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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