The Government needs to respect the role of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and have a proper understanding of it, Human Rights Commissioner Ambika Satkunananthan said yesterday as she explained lack of effectiveness of the HRC in the current policy making and legal reform process.
“For the Human Rights Commission to be successful in pushing for policy and legal reform, the government has to be responsive. The government has not shared draft legislation with us, there have been instances where we have made repeated requests and to date we have not received any of what we asked for,”added the Commissioner.
She was addressing a forum at the launch of the National Partnership to End Violence Against Children by 2030.
HRC Chairman Dr.Deepika Udugama too had earlier voiced concerns over the same issue.
Satkunananthan also asked that the government take a more constructive approach to dealing with social issues and fulfilling its obligations in the international arena,
“We have a culture of denial, we have a problem in denying we have a problem in domestic violence or child abuse; especially when we are in front of international fora. When we go before treaty bodies, when we go before periodic reviews, we need to take a more constructive approach and note that these recommendations are helpful for us to bring about change and not look at it as adversarial process,”she said as she referred to Sri Lanka’s poor performance in the international human rights arena.
Despite such failures to act, the Women and Child Affairs Ministry’s efforts at launching the National Partnership to work with government and Non-Governmental Organisations to end violence against children will look at the issues of; improving quality of the evidence on violence against children, physical and humiliating punishment, sexual and gender based violence, children in institutions, child marriage, online safety and emotional wellbeing and mental health of children.
Satkunananthan who touched on a recent study conducted by the HRC on children in 11 state institutions remarked that, “Institutionalising of children was increasingly becoming a first option of care, rather than adopting other child friendly alternatives such as community integration or working closely with families to support these children”.
In addition, socio-economic factors were also driving parents who cannot afford to childcare to institutionalize their children.
A total of 14,175 children at present live in 414 state institutions which mostly lack minimum facilities and standards to operate.
Satkunananthan recommended that; a period of time for institutionalisation should be mentioned, every district should have transit home to house children, institutions should have at least one permanent counsellor in their cadre, compulsory education at least up to age of 14 be provided, more juvenile courts are needed to fast track cases and minimize psychological damage to children who are already traumatized, establish a one-stop service which provides the child with all legal and other support so the child does not have to keep repeating the same story, proper information management system of children’s information and sharing of this information with different institutions that have to coordinate, mandatory training for staff, minimum standards for institutions.
“Most importantly, the issue needs to be approached in a rights based perspective rather than that of charity”, said Satkunananthan and as she added, “The primary goal should be reunification with the families and strengthen family structures for both mothers and fathers”.