Ensuring the rights of children, a priority | Sunday Observer
‘Chronicles of Melancholy’ (Noridaviya yuthu ridena kathandara)

Ensuring the rights of children, a priority

23 July, 2023
Dr Tush Wickramanayaka
Dr Tush Wickramanayaka

Stop Child Cruelty Trust (SCC) with Child Protection Alliance (CPA) launched yet another historical event to protect and promote the rights of children across Sri Lanka. with 17 children were physically/sexually abused and murdered within just two years -from 2020 to 2022- child protection in Sri Lanka is undoutedly a national crisis. ‘Chronicles of Melancholy’ (Noridaviya yuthu ridena kathandara) which will be published soon in Sinhala, Tamil and English to create awareness of the escalating crisis is a collection of true-life stories of victims/survivors of various forms of child abuse. Speaking about the upcoming publication, Chairperson of SSC, Co-convener of Child Protection Alliance and Global End Violence Champion, Dr Tush Wickramanayaka said that whilst there are many government organisations meant to protect children, none of them seems to work on a recognised, sustainable, national plan to protect and promote the rights of children.

Q: Tell us about this upcoming publication , Chronicles of Melancholy?

A: Child Protection is National Crisis in our paradise island. Recent police data reveals that Child Abuse is the second highest grave crime next to burglary and theft. Whilst there are many government organisations meant to protect children, none of them seems to work on a recognised, sustainable, national plan to protect and promote the rights of children. The system is completely child unfriendly and even promotes secondary/tertiary abuse of the child victim and witnesses of the family.

Reporting of child abuse in media is sensationalised for commercial value without any ethics or empathy. ‘Chronicles of Melancholy’ is a collection of real-life stories of survivors of various forms of child abuse, across ethnicities and geographical borders. The stories are narrated in their own words and some of them are revealing the ordeals of the past for the first time. The primary objective is to raise awareness amongst children and adults and the secondary objective is to educate and empower them on how to identify if they are at risk and what affirmative action must be taken.

It is extremely courageous for the survivors to confront their demons and expose the trauma they were subjected to. Reading these stories may enhance one’s own reflection of similar episodes from the past; something they can isolate as the trigger. This may help heal many other wounded souls who may have been suffering for many years. It also supports caregivers to get a deeper understanding of the challenges they may experience if their own child was in similar circumstances. It is particularly informative for parents and educators.

Q: Why is this book so unique?

A: The most unique thing is that we have launched an art competition ‘Me Unhurt – Stop Child Abuse’ for 12-18-year-old children. The closing date is October 31, 2023. Further details can be obtained via www.stopchildcruelty.com

The winner’s entry will adorn the front cover of the book and other commended entries will also be published inside the book. As this book is bound to get international recognition, this opens up many opportunities for talented young artists to showcase their work globally.

The book is suitable for children above the age of twelve years and adults. We hope to publish seven individual stories, each with a unique and powerful message. The book is written in Sinhala by a young author, Dinithi Gunathilaka and translated into Tamil and English. We are also negotiating for it to be published in one/two UN-recognised regional languages.

There will be a highly informative chapter from imminent experts in law, child rights, child psychology and education and amazing illustrations to capture the imagination of the children. I believe this is the first time that such a book will be published, which is a historic first for Sri Lanka.

Q: Can you explain why it is important to have a specialist speak about how to manage a situation and give practical advice on child psychology, parenting and legal issues?

There is no manual to good parenting. However, we can offer key strategies for preventive measures on child safety. It is crucial that children and parents are both aware of what curative procedures must be taken if an unfortunate incident occurs. Almost 90 percent of child abuse happens within home surroundings by the people whom the child loves and trust. Other common places of abuse are schools, religious institutions and public transport, etc.

Incidents of abuse are a very sensitive subject with a ripple effect on many players within homes and communities, complicated by ethnic and religious norms. Many adults are confused about what is best for the child and many authorities are unaware of the global principle of child protection ‘In the Best Interest of the Child.’ The experts can alleviate some established myths with evidence-based information.

Q: Can you tell us some of the work done by Stop Child Cruelty Trust (SCC) and what you have planned for the future?

A: We focus mainly on ending violence against children, especially physical abuse. Our advocacy work has resulted in the historic verdict of the Supreme Court in 2021 recommending legal reforms to ban corporal punishment unequivocally as per the obligations to the UN Child Rights Convention. SCC was the only child rights organisation that represented 5.2 million children at the Sri Lanka Sessions of UN UPR in Geneva 2022/23 where a record number of States gave recommendations to end violence.

I have been appointed to several committees on juvenile justice reforms and we hope the Child Protection and Justice Bill will be introduced in Parliament soon. In addition, we are driving the campaign to make sex education compulsory and resolve the issues of child abuse occurring in religious institutions, including the age of ordainment of child monks. Our pinnacle project is the ‘Happier and safer Education - #Noguti zone Schools’, which will be piloted in nine provinces to encourage global citizenship without violence.

Q: Why are you so persistent in driving this cause?

A: There is very little help and support for children where they can speak freely and understand for themselves what it means to be a child as a rights holder who is entitled to equality, justice and hope as much as an adult citizen of Sri Lanka. Whilst other countries that have gained independence are moving at remarkable speed toward civilised development, this island is stagnant, shackled by its historical and cultural heritage. Without any visionary leadership and rhetorical excuses perpetually regurgitated by the authorities, this island paradise is now a living hell. Millions demanded a better country for our children during the recent public uprising. But what we should really be demanding for is better children, unscathed and unscarred for our country. I vow to continue my efforts towards the dawn of a new era without violence for the true beneficiaries of the future, our children.