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From ‘nobody’s child’ to somebody’s child

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‘The Probable Age Certificate’ (PAC) issued to children without a birth certificate for lack of key information required for its issue often means discrimination and social stigma despite the PAC’s legal validity. In a bid to renew discussion on this social dilemma and find more socially acceptable alternatives at policy-making level, we spoke to multiple stakeholders including those who had left care homes and have been at the receiving end of the consequences.

by Randima Attygalle

Dhanushka Kumara Jayaratne was rejected by several leading schools when seeking Grade One admission on the grounds of his holding a ‘Probable Age Certificate’ as opposed to a Birth Certificate. When he was finally admitted to a school, he was shut out of cultural events and sport competitions at various levels on the basis that he had no ‘proper birth certificate’. When applying for his national identity card and travel visas on several occasions, bottlenecks were many. One of the main problems was that the probable age certificate (PAC) did not specify any guardian in the absence of names of parents.

Today a 31-year-old executive, Dhanushka gives leadership to the ‘Generation Never Give up Network’ (GNGN), an initiative of the SOS Children’s Villages, Sri Lanka which advocates the causes of care leavers (children leaving child care institutions at 18 years). Lobbying for a more socially acceptable form of a birth certificate in place of the PAC is one of the top priorities of this collective.

“PAC often leads to discrimination and stigmatization due to its format,” observes this young man pushing for a more ‘dignified’ birth certificate with ‘better terminology’ and provisions for ‘guardians’ that could either be an individual or a child care institute. “The issue was taken up by the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Children a couple of years ago and was discussed for a while but unfortunately no solution was tabled,” notes Danushka who hopes to renew the dialogue among relevant partners through the GNGN initiative.

“The probable age certificate of mine is nothing but a piece of paper with some dotted lines claiming that I was born within such a time frame. It is very humiliating to produce this piece of paper for government exams, employment etc,” says Nirmala Niroshini. Recollecting the emotionally traumatizing moments when she was viewed almost as an ‘abnormal’ individual on the basis of her PAC, Nirmala urges the authorities to revise its present format and enable a more acceptable document. She also proposes that an endorsement on the PAC by the Registrar General’s Department to make it as good as a normal birth certificate for official purposes. “It was an uphill task for me to get my NIC. I had to submit so many supporting documents verifying the legality of my PAC to convince the authorities. Finding employment was another battle,” says Nirmala, who is today employed as a clerical staffer at a dental clinic.

 

Current regulations

The Registrar General’s Department makes provisions to obtain a PAC for children who are in homes approved by the government, children who are not in such homes and even adults. Statistics on the exact number of children presently holding PACs in the country however remain unclear.

The PAC is issued to individuals (children as well as adults) who cannot be granted a ‘birth certificate’ due to lack of key information required for the latter. “This includes the absence of an exact date of birth or even the mother’s name. To issue a birth certificate, an informant is required and if the informant (who is often an authority from a child care institute in case of children under 14 years) cannot furnish the information required, providing a birth certificate would become difficult,” admits the Senior Deputy Registrar General G.A.L.D. Ganepola.

The Establishment Code and the Public Administration Circular 26/1995 provide for the acceptance of the PAC. The Public Administration Circular 26/1995 states that PAC ‘is acceptable for the purpose of confirmation of name and date of birth of persons.’

“Probable age certificate is a legitimate legal document which should be accepted by all agencies although in reality it doesn’t happen largely due to ignorance of the regulations,” notes Ganepola. Increased public awareness on this matter with wide media coverage is necessary for this, says the official. A unique ID number at birth is another alternative proposed by the Senior Deputy Registrar General which could be used for all administrative purposes including school admission, admission into children’s homes etc.

 

Social stigma

Despite the law recognizing all individuals to be treated equally regardless of any complications pertaining to their birth, children with the PAC are discriminated and stigmatized from all directions in society when they sit for government exams, apply for jobs, universitiy admission, competitive sports and government benefits, says Divakar Ratnadurai, National Director, SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka.

Out of 900 children currently living in SOS villages, around 300 have PACs. Also, many who have left the homes are similarly burdened. Lobbying for the reintroduction of the Extract (a shorter version of the birth certificate) with certain modifications enabling practical options where the required information is not available is a possible solution says Ratnadurai. This Extract which was once available was discontinued in the 1970s.

Constraints in obtaining basic information of destitute children is another bottleneck which has led to certain children receiving the PAC instead of a birth certificate, he points out. “Sometimes children are enrolled in care homes without basic information and care givers are faced with difficulties searching for this information.”

Ratnadurai proposes several measures to raise awareness among multiple stakeholders including school authorities to eliminate discrimination. Establishing a special unit in the Department of Probation and Child Care Services to provide continuous awareness on the PAC; lobbying policy makers and administrators for the ‘Extract’ to be given legal recognition etc. are among the correctional proposals made to make life easier for those carrying this burden.

 

Sensitizing stakeholders

Proposing a probable ‘birth’ certificate replacing the present probable age certificate, Commissioner, Department of Probation and Child Care Services, Chandima Sigera calls for sensitizing the stakeholders at every level including education authorities, other government officials, private sector and the community at large on this issue. In the best interest of children moving for a more socially acceptable form of identity which wouild eliminate dicrimination is urgent says the Commissioner who alludes to the fundamental rights of ‘non discrimination’ and and ‘best interest’ of children upheld in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

 

Determining the age of a child

The current regulations require for a medical certificate estimating the age of the child (probable age) to be submitted to the Registrar General’s Department to obtain a probable age certificate. This is issued by a JMO who collaborates with other specialists.

“In estimating the age of a child, factors such as development of teeth and bones are taken into account. If there is any other medical evidence such as a diagnosis card, we take it into consideration as well,” explains the Consultant JMO, Dr. Uthpala Attygalle. Once the probable time frame of birth is established, the applicant’s date of birth is recorded either as January 1 or July 1, depending on each case.

 

A vicious cycle

Care leavers sadly become victims of a vicious cycle points out Prabodhini Munasinghe Wickrematunga, Attorney-at-Law with special interest in gender issues. “When women are unable to care for them, children are abandoned. Often the mother is unable to reveal the identity of the father because the pregnancy is a result of rape, sometimes by a relative.

Most employers know nothing about PACs making it difficult for their holders to find decent work and sometimes out of sheer desperation are driven to prostitution. This vulnerability exposes them to risks both in terms of health and security.

Uncertain identity arising as a result of not having a birth certificate which is regarded as an essential document can lead to many negative emotions, explains Dr. Neil Fernando, Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer from the Kotelawala Defence University. “Uncertainty frequently brings with it unpredictability which reduces the mental well being and frequently acts as a stress factor. Long term stress is a predisposing factor in causing many non-communicable diseases which include heart disease and diabetes,” he said. Feelings of alienation from the community can lead to social isolation and depression, he added.



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‘Manamala Hendewa’ at Nelum Pokuna today

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The Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Theatre will once again play host to the solo music concert titled “Manamala Hendewa” by the popular vocalist and musician Keerthi Pasquel on occasion of his birthday today.

The concert titled “මනමාල හැන්දෑව” will likely be Keerthi’s most successful performance to date. The show’s music will be provided by a seasoned band led by Nalaka Saji Jayasinghe, with guest appearances from artists like Chandralekha Perera, Nirosha Virajini, Samitha Mudunkotuwa, and Dammika Bandara for duets. Each member of the audience should leave with a lasting impression of the performance.

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A fish that sparked a national obsession

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Bacalhau (salt cod) is a deep part of Portugal’s culinary identity. But the fish is found far from the country’s shores, so how did this love affair come to be and continue today?

On a cold winter’s evening in Portugal, it might come to your table com natas – fresh from the oven and bubbling in cream – layered between fried potato and sliced onion and spiced with nutmeg. Weaving through Lisbon’s steep and cobbled streets, it wouldn’t take long before you found someone serving it as a light and crispy fritter, dusted with a little coarse salt and dished up with a pot of pungent aioli. You could buy it shaped as mouth-sized fried potato dumplings pastéis style, flavoured with parsley and garlic, for a walk along the banks of Porto’s Douro River. You might even come across it as part of a hearty southern bread soup, topped with coriander and a poached egg.

That’s because bacalhau – or salt cod – which sits at the heart of all these dishes, runs deep through Portugal’s culinary identity, with the country consuming 20% of the world’s supply. In fact, so central to Portuguese hearts (and stomachs) is this ingredient, that the saying goes “there are 365 ways to prepare salted cod, one for each day of the year”.

But for a fish that is found only in the icy depths of the North Atlantic Ocean – far from Portugal’s shores – the country’s love affair with salt cod is a puzzling one. How exactly did it end up on Portuguese plates? The answer is wrapped up in more than 500 years of intriguing history.

Take a trip today to most restaurants, markets and cafés across the country and you’ll find salt cod in one form or another. It even plays a starring role at hip Lisbon restaurant Alma, which earned its first Michelin star within nine months of opening and added a second star soon after.

“It’s funny, sometimes Michelin star chefs or high-end cuisine chefs don’t value salted cod because they don’t see it [fitting] within this type of gastronomy,” said Alma executive chef and owner Henrique Sá Pessoa, of the typically humble comfort food. “But I always have and always will have cod on my menus.”

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

He assures visitors that a salt cod creation will also feature on the menu of his new restaurant, JOIA, which will open in London later this year. But though bacalhau is a traditional and well-explored ingredient for many natives across the country, Pessoa is still finding ways to push Portugal’s love for it into new territory.

Case in point: his “most Instagrammable” creation, Cobblestreet Cod, named for its likeness to the centuries-old streets outside Alma’s front door in the historical Chiado district. It’s a modern twist on an old peasant dish and one of the country’s most beloved salt cod recipes – bacalhau à bras – where typically shredded salt cod, fried matchstick potatoes and onions are all bound together with scrambled egg and garnished with black olives.

“I knew I couldn’t call it bacalhau à bras because the Portuguese are quite traditional, and people sometimes get offended when you play around with classics,” he explained. “I wanted to get inspired by this dish but elevate it presentation-wise, texture-wise and detail-wise into something more delicate and elaborate.”

The outcome is far removed from the version you’d find on family dinner tables. A creamy mixture of salt cod, fried potato, egg and onion arrives at the table hidden under a veil of wafer-thin slices of cod that have been coated in a black olive tapenade to create a cobbled visual. A final surprise comes when you break into the cobbled dome and spilt a confit egg yolk that has been resting in the middle of the salted cod mixture.

“I wanted to dislocate all these elements of the dish and try and make it as perfect as possible. When we launched it in the restaurant, it was an instant success. It was especially popular on social media because visually it is quite striking,” said Pessoa.

Pessoa’s bacalhau

dish is just one of the latest evolutions of a long culinary legacy, one that’s wrapped up in centuries of history little-known to those outside the country. It started towards the end of the 14th Century, when the Portuguese navy found that the dried and salted fish could be stored for years in holds, making it the perfect food for long ocean voyages.

In the mid-1500s, during Portugal’s maritime explorations and hunt to find the coast of India, they stumbled across waters rich with cod around Canada and Greenland; a major discovery that kickstarted Portuguese cod fishing. But by the 16th Century, Portuguese fishermen were pushed out by the French and English.

In the centuries that followed, Portugal became heavily dependent on England as the main exporter of cod, and by the 1800s, the ingredient was something enjoyed only by the aristocracy. However, cod’s popularity expanded in the 20th Century during the reign of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, who wanted to bring it back home. His “cod campaign”, launched in 1934, looked to reignite Portugal’s fishing (and drying) industry and instate cod as a national symbol. Thousands of Portuguese fishermen were sent to Canada and Greenland to fish for cod, with some bringing back up to 900 tonnes per boat.

But this was long, gruelling and often dangerous work, and many men never made it back home to their families. It continued even during World War Two when one Portuguese lugger – the Maria da Glória – was bombed as it headed towards the fishing banks on the west coast of Greenland, killing 36 people on board. These conditions still plague the industry today, with global fatality rates thought to top 24,000 a year, according to the Seafarers Rights International.

It’s this complex history that makes Portugal’s love for cod so deep-rooted, and it’s why Portuguese food expert and chef Leandro Carreira dedicated more than 50 recipes to the product in his new book Portugal, The Cookbook. In total, it features more than 550 traditional recipes from across the country, including a raw salt cod salad, which mixes bacalhau together with barbecued red bell peppers, onions, garlic and parsley.

“If I didn’t include [salt cod], I would have been in a lot of trouble,” said Carreira. “Cod has become so embedded in our culture over the centuries, since the trade of salt began so it was so hard to choose which recipes would feature in the book.”

That love of salt cod still rings true today. “I know people who have eaten cod for more than 30 years every day,” Carreira said. “My grandmother used to eat the same cod dish – cod with boiled potatoes, raw onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and parsley – every single day for lunch. Even I, and everyone I know, had cod at least twice a week.

“Cod is an incredibly flexible product. You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water. So, if you combine this with its affordability and its accessibility, you can see why [it’s popular].”

You can grill it, steam it, bake it, deep fry, you can make a cake with it, have it raw after soaking it in water.

Portugal today imports around 70% of its cod from Norway; the Norwegian Seafood Council describes Portugal as “by far the biggest market for Norwegian cod”. They add that out of the 100,000 tonnes Norway exports annually to Portugal, 95% is salted.

In Norway’s remote and icy fishing island of Røst, they even have a name reserved for the heaviest of cod catches: “Portuguese cod,” said Pessoa, who, as a former ambassador for the Norwegian Seafood Council, visited the island several times. “They know Portugal will pay the best price for that cod.”

This is echoed by Rita Karlsen, chief executive of Norway’s Brødrene Karlsen, which has been exporting salted and dried cod to Portugal since the company’s beginning in 1932. “Portugal is very important [to Norwegian cod exporters]; it’s the most important country that we sell to,” she said. “We couldn’t have survived without Portugal.”

This influence has spread far and wide to countries like Brazil, which imported 8.6 tonnes of salt cod during the Easter period alone in 2019, or Angola, which imported 308 tonnes of salt cod from Norway in 2012, according to the Interpretative Center of the History of Cod, Lisbon’s museum dedicated to the fish. In Italy, they even hold a salt cod festival, Festa del Bacala, every year near Venice, and in the Tuscan region they favour classics such as baccalà alla livornese, which marries salt cod with a rich, garlicky tomato sauce.

For other chefs in Portugal, salt cod bridges the past and present. Like Marlene Vieira, MasterChef Portugal judge, head chef of two Lisbon restaurants and the only female face within the chef’s wing of Lisbon’s Time Out Market, where her salt cod pataniscas (fritters) have won her accolades.

She explained how the fritter recipe was passed down from her grandmother, who came from a poor background. This meant she typically used the cheaper tail cuts of the fish in the batter, which had less moisture and resulted in a crispier finish “like tempura” – an excellent companion to the roasted red pepper and garlic mayonnaise that Vieira now serves with it.

As a child, she remembers helping her grandmother in the kitchen “to do the things she wouldn’t like to do”, like peeling onions, garlic and of course carefully picking out any bones left in the salt cod.

Today, while nodding to tradition, Vieira is keen to further promote the fish along with seafood local to Portugal – and her high-end restaurant Marlene focuses on just that. She even cooks it at home for her daughter, who, she said, “loves, loves, loves cod” – proof perhaps that despite the lengths the country has to go to secure this North Atlantic fish, the passion for it will continue to flow through Portuguese veins for generations to come.

–BBC

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Chef Heenkenda, Thai Mama and Chef Singh join Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts.

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Mövenpick amplifies its Japanese, Thai, North and South Indian offerings

In the city hotel’s endeavor to continually provide guests with novel and refreshing gastronomic experiences, three talented chefs – the famed, Chef Heenkenda, the much-loved Thai Mama and Indian culinary wizard Chef Mangal Singh have joined Mövenpick’s galaxy of shining culinary experts. These brilliant Chefs who have excelled in their respective gastronomic genres have joined the hotel’s exceptional culinary team to provide guests with unforgettable dining experiences. Culinary Services Director Chef Priyantha Weerasinghe heads the handpicked culinary team at Mövenpick.

Chef Heenkenda who has introduced incredible Japanese offerings in multiple hotels has transformed The Robata, Thai and Japanese Restaurant with an outstanding culinary repertoire of Japanese Cuisine with over 30 exciting sushi dishes along with 115 new dishes that will take tastebuds straight to the land of the rising sun. Having excelled in Japanese Cuisine for nearly 2 decades he has worked in local 5-star hotels and overseas as a mentee under Japanese chefs. In Abu Dhabi Chef Heenkenda worked together with Michelin Starred Chef, Chef Eric Hunter who was his mentor for 5 years. Chef Heenkenda is a talented culinary maestro who excels in the entire gamut of Japanese Cuisine, including Sushi, Teppanyaki and Hot cuisine. His wide culinary experience will combine to make unique and inimitable, Japanese creations that Mövenpick guests can savour and enjoy with friends and family.

To greatly augment the Robata repertoire Mövenpick also welcomed Chef Arjee Jithman famously known as Thai Mama, who has transformed Thai cuisine in Sri Lanka. Hailing from Bangkok Thailand, Thai Mama discovered her passion to pursue culinary arts at an early age while helping her mother cook authentic Thai dishes at home. She later moved to Sri Lanka to further her knowledge and has made this her island home for over nine years, tantalizing both local and international tastebuds with her exceptional Thai culinary skills, taking guests on unforgettable gastronomic journeys infused with delicate herbs and sweet and sour tones. Thai Mama is delighted to provide diners at Robata with a brand-new array of her notable Thai dishes such as the spicy Tom Yum Soup, Pineapple Fried Rice, Thai Papaya Salad, Chu Chi Goon and fish fresh from the sea, marinated in curry chili paste infused with special Thai herbs.

Chef Mangal Singh, who specializes in South and North Indian cuisine, has been curated the most flavorsome Indian cuisine for a decade at Sri Lankan 5-Star resorts and trendy restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi. Chef Singh will be heading the brand-new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Movenpick. Chef Singh has also studied under Chef Bruno and Chef Anack during his career stint in Thailand. With 13 years of experience in preparing Indian cuisine from the North such as Chicken Makani, Biriyani, Goan Curry and Mutton Roghan Josh, Chef Singh’s Indian repertoire is wide and colourful. Guests can expect special Thalis featuring both North and South Indian favourites. Having grown up in the snowcapped misty Himalayas, Chef Singh was inspired by his mother’s recipes, many of which will be delightful features at the new Indian Restaurant to be launched at Mövenpick. His favourite dishes that promise to tantalize guests include, Mutton Biriyani, Rasams, butter chicken, including a very special Indian homemade chutney.

For over half a decade the famed Swiss Brand has introduced guests in Colombo from across the world to an intriguing and fascinating gastronomic journey, encapsulated in a luxurious and artistically stunning interior. Mövenpick Globally holds a growing portfolio of more than 80 hotels in 24 countries and is a part of AccorHotels, a world-leading travel and lifestyle Group comprising 5000 hotels, resorts and residences with over 1 million rooms worldwide.

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