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Opinion

Juvenile crime and the law; an untended dilemma

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By SANDIL MALLIKARACHCHI

The Sri Lankan law does clearly define the term ‘child’. From this and other factors, many issues arise, which deeply concern the future of our nation. Juvenile delinquency is one such matter that warrants our attention and should be dealt with carefully.

Crimes committed by persons under the legal age of 18, may range from petty thefts, trespassing, and vandalism, to more serious offences such as drug abuse, assault, and even murder. Deficient upbringing, domestic abuse, peer influence, intellectual disability, and mental illness are common elements that drive minors towards crime. A majority of such acts tend to be unplanned, opportunistic, and attention-seeking.

Young offenders are usually tried at juvenile courts, which were created on the understanding that youths did not have the rational and cognitive development that adults had and required more protection. Thus, it has been the international practice to resort to restorative means of justice, rather than retributive measures, when minors are concerned. Children are ideally penalised less than the adults who are found guilty on the same charge. The justifying philosophy is the same that prevents children from voting, owning property, and entering into legally binding contracts.

Sri Lanka has been progressive in enacting legislative reforms to ensure a fair judiciary procedure for juvenile offenders. The statement is reinstated by the Children (Judicial Protection) Bill (CJPB), which has been drafted by the Ministry of Justice, and several other similar acts. However, certain legal clauses and practices continue to exist, which impede the effectiveness of Sri Lanka’s youth justice system.

 

Questionable Laws, Practices, and Technicalities

 

There are only two specialised Juvenile Courts in Sri Lanka. This inadequacy leads to a majority of children’s cases being heard in ordinary courts, that might not be so susceptible to the needs of children. The Penal Code does not recognise the distinction between the age at the time of the offence and the age in which the verdict is passed. Sans the jargon, this means that crimes a person committed as a child, are often tried not so different from those of an adult. The gravity of the same is to be realised with regards to numerous persons that have been imprisoned for life and sentenced to death, for crimes they committed, as a person below the legal age of 18.

If it were not for the increasing backlog in our courtrooms, which often sees years passing between the commencement of a trial and the passing of the verdict, those sentences would have been considerably reduced.

Our law fails to prioritise the diversion of children away from the formal justice system. Juvenile offenders are subjected to increased institutionalisation, often at the expense of their social and psychological well-being. Even though international communities have been continuously advancing legislation to ensure that children are not deprived of their liberty as a last resort, in the local context institutionalisation is not particularly resisted. In 2013, there were over 14,000 children institutionalised across the country. As Sri Lanka has ratified agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), we are further obliged to incorporate the progressive international practices into our frameworks.

The future of a child that is sentenced to a remand home or some other institution, is a matter that seldom makes it to our roundtables. At the end of such a sentence, the child’s education is irreparably damaged. This is more often than not, the beginning of an unavoidable descent to the world of crime, as their chances of decent employment opportunities are minimal. Furthermore, those children do not come out to a welcoming society, and in most cases are severely marginalised by the families, teachers and peers.

The raft between prevailing global standards and the domestic framework for children’s justice, is further evident in the area of pre-trial detention. A Juvenile Court can remand an alleged youth in a remand home or in the custody of a ‘fit person’ for a period not exceeding twenty-one days, to collect the information necessary to establish guilt. These time-limits do not align with the international frameworks, and give way to the possibility of children being unduly detained without sufficient oversight.

Under the Children and Young Persons Ordinance (CYPO) of the Sri Lankan law, a detention order by an approved or certified school lasts for three years, which is potentially longer than an adult’s detainment for an identical offence. CYPO does not require that a parent or a guardian be notified before a child is brought before a Magistrate. Moreover, law enforcement officers are not required to explain to a child the reasons for their arrest.

Human resource constraints in our juvenile justice institutions also raise several red flags. Police, Department of Probation and Child Care Services, and National Child Protection Authority are some of the establishments that frequently encounter children that clash with the law. Administrative capacities in those offices are often minimal, and Children’s and Women’s Desks are severely understaffed. This has been the cause for systematic delays in those offices, which in turn impedes the effectiveness of the Sri Lankan child justice system as a whole.

Even though child justice institutions are required to have a separate child-friendly area which is overseen by plain-clothes officers, this rarely happens in real life. The prevalent attitudes of the officers in the youth justice system can undoubtedly be subjected to improvement as well.

 

Policy Interventions

Legal reforms should be sought, especially bearing the purpose of judicial intervention in mind, which primarily is to prevent recidivism. It should also be noted that children are more susceptible to forms of rehabilitation than adults. A majority of persons that come to conflict with the law in their youth, grow up to be righteous citizens. Every step we take should be to hasten that process.

The Penal Code is recommended to be amended, so a line is drawn between the age of commission of a crime and the age in which the conviction is made. Developing an alternative legal framework to handle children in conflict with the law, without resorting to judicial proceedings, should be prioritised. It is strongly suggested that a circular be issued by the Judicial Services Commission that instructs magistrates and judges to order the institutionalisation of a child as a final recourse.

Limiting juvenile delinquency should be attempted by facilitating effective educational opportunities and counselling, stabilising family environments, and promoting community-based programmes. Perfunctory reforms that fail to address the root cause of the problem will only sanction further exacerbation of the same.

The attitudes of the policymakers towards international ratifications should also be subjected to change. Those agreements should not be viewed in terms of a burden. Effective compliance with such treaties will not only further the course of justice, but might as well be instrumental in soliciting additional international funding.

Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and social workers should be made aware of existing international standards concerning juvenile justice, and also should be trained to handle the sensitive issues that involve minors.

However, the areas focused in this brief article cannot be regarded as an exhaustive examination of every issue that falls under the scope of juvenile justice.

When a child reaches the point of consciously defying the law, something somewhere has undeniably gone wrong. The society is as reprehensible as the child is. The society of which, we are all inextricable constituents. Thus, it is our collective duty to push for lasting reforms towards a fairer law for all.



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Opinion

Power tariff hikes and need to revamp CEB

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By Ordinary citizen

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has again requested for an increase of 70% in electricity tariffs to settle its past losses. What are these losses and how can the CEB be run as a profit-making Institution? Recently, the Chairman of Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) has claimed that the CEB had a net profit of Rs. 1 billion last month owing to the increase in rates a few months ago. Is it fair to burden an already economically oppressed public with a 70% increase in rates? While the CEB is making these unfair claims, the minister is silent on solving the problem which is the CEB itself. He even claimed that half the employees of CEB are redundant and what has he done to remedy this situation? CEB and Ceypetco are the biggest loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOE). In spite of losses they continue to pay bonuses and huge salary increases to its employees. They get a 25% salary increase every three years and recently CEB paid Rs. 3679 million to its employees under various ruses. In spite of that CEB employees recently demanded a 36% salary increase and the management has agreed to pay the usual 25% increase and this is at a cost of Rs. 9 billion! A meter reader in the CEB gets a salary of Rs. 120,000, about twice paid to a graduate teacher. General Manager of CEB gets a salary of Rs. 655,310 and a Grade 1 engineer gets a monthly salary of 533, 895 according to their own circulars. In addition, they get additional remuneration for site inspection, overtime, fuel allowance, telephone bill reimbursement etc.

These disproportionate salaries have arisen owing to the high handedness of the Board of Management which has taken decisions against court orders, cabinet decisions and Management services decisions. Since the whole country is dependent on the electricity supply, all Governments in the past have conveniently sidestepped confronting the CEB employees and given all what they ask for.

The Auditor General has pointed out that CEB has paid 1712 million in 2018 and 1873 million in 2019 going against cabinet decisions made in 2007 and Management services circular of 2009. In 2014, CEB Board proposed a 100% salary increase to only Engineers (circular no. 2014/GM/46/Pers dated 27 November 2014 and according to a Court decision (CA/WRIT/193/2015) this circular is illegal, null and void and any payments based on this circular is illegal. However, flexing its muscle, CEB granted a 85% of the salary as an allowance to engineers through Presidential decision on the advice of the attorney general which tantamount to contempt of court. Our politicians have been intimidated with the threat of strikes so as to cripple the entire country and they have no spine to oppose such exorbitant salaries and allowances of CEB employees. They have openly flouted the Government rule that limits all allowances to a maximum of 65%. If we consider other allowances on top of this 85% salary it comes to a whopping 138% of the basic salary! Furthermore, even the PAYE tax of its employees is paid by the CEB in clear violation of the Inland Revenue Act which specifically says that the income tax of an employee has to be paid by the individual and not the employer. These matters have been questioned by the COPE on several occasions but no corrective actions have been taken.

This reminds me of the courage Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew had in dealing with a work to rule campaign of the Singapore airline pilots union in 1980. He summoned the pilot’s union representatives and gave them a choice. In his legendary remarks, he told them, “If you continue this I will by every means at my disposal teach you and get the people of Singapore to help me to teach you a lesson you won’t forget. And I’m prepared to start all over again or stop it,” Lee said. He further said, “They know that I’m prepared to ground the airline. They know that I can get the airline going again without them. And let there be no mistakes about it. Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I spent a whole lifetime building this. And as long as I’m in charge, nobody’s going to knock it down.” And with that, the matter with the Pilots union was resolved. We do not have leaders of Lee Kuan Yew’s calibre and put the country first leaving aside politics. They meekly surrender to unfair demands of strong unions such as those of the CEB who hold the whole country to ransom with strike actions.

Other actions of the CEB have contributed to the losses incurred by the CEB. They have continuously scuttled cheaper energy options such as solar and buy power from private power plants at exorbitant rates. The powerful Engineers union has blocked new power generating projects such as the 300 MW LNG plant Sobodhanavi. According to them it is cheaper to purchase emergency power from private power plants which is far from the truth. Also, some of these plants could have been absorbed by the CEB through the initial agreement, yet they continue to pay not only the unit cost but also their investment expenditure. CEB has procrastinated actions on at least eleven low cost renewable energy projects in the Long Term Generation Expansion Plan (LCLTGEP) for reasons best known to them and although former President Gotabhaya in his election manifesto promised to get 70% of our energy from renewable sources, the high handed CEB Engineers: union has continuously opposed the implementation of any of the renewable energy projects. Some examples are the 100 MW solar projects at Siyambalanduwa and Pooneryn and the 100 MW wind power project at Pooneryn.

It is grossly unfair to burden ordinary consumers with high electricity tariffs when a complete overhaul of the CEB is what is needed. If the engineers’ union completely blocks such low-cost projects, it is better to go for a 100% privatisation of the CEB, which appears to be the only solution. No politician either present or past have the courage to face the unfair practices at the CEB and this requires the action of the Government at the highest levels and the parliament should debate this crucial issue in parliament and come out with a long-term strategy to provide for our energy needs. Our President appears tough on hapless student leaders and what actions he proposes to take against them. However, he has been silent on this crucial issue while the treasury is pumping around Rs. 500 billion annually to sustain the corrupt CEB and this amount has not even been included in his budget speech. No wonder why we are in such a precarious position where our economy is crumbling.

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Opinion

Alan Henricus- A Stalwart Sportsman Of Yesteryear Passes Away

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Alan Henricus (10-Feb 1933 – 26 Nov 2022)

by Hugh Karunanayake

Alan Henricus the youngest of five outstanding sporting brothers who represented their school Royal College, and their country then known as Ceylon, passed away a few days ago. He would have been 90 years of age if he survived up to his birthday in February next year.

The Henricus brothers grew up in Kohuwela where their father a former Feather Weight Boxing Champion of Ceylon lived. He served as an administrator of the sport first as Hony Secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association of Ceylon and later as its President. He helped build the Baptist Church in Nugegoda and was its Treasurer for 25 years. The road leading to their property was named Henricus Mawatha in honour of this outstanding family.

Alan represented Royal in Boxing, Athletics and Rugby, and won school colours in all three sports. He was also a school prefect, highly respected and regarded by both his schoolmates and staff. The family consisting of five brothers and two sisters were all nurtured in the best sporting traditions of colonial Ceylon. Eldest brother Barney represented Ceylon in boxing at the Empire Games and won a gold medal winning the feather weight title. The next, Basil, held the national record for 100 yards sprint and I believe his record still stands. He also represented the Havelocks Sports Club and All Ceylon at Rugby. The next brother George, for many years the Master Attendant in the Colombo Port was also a champion boxer, as was Derrick the fourth in line.

Remarkable sportsmen such as Alan reached their great heights from a base of raw innate talent fostered by regular training and a disciplined approach to life. When I was a 10-year old schoolboy I used to watch with awe and admiration Alan doing his training run at 6 a.m in the morning, jogging all the way from his home in Kohuwela to the Havelock Park and back on most weekends. Alan was senior to me in school by about three years and in those days that was an age gap filled with respect and admiration for a senior student. To us younger kids the high achieving Alan was a hero.

I recall in one Public Schools Athletics meet for the Tarbat Cup, either in 1950 or 1951,Royal College was able to obtain a total of 15 points only, and were never serious contenders for the trophy. However the 15 points that Royal earned was almost single handedly collected through Alan’s efforts. He won the pole vault event, was first in the 120 metres hurdles, and was a member of the 4 X 400 metre relay team which won the event. Although the Tarbat Cup was won by another school, the assembled gathering of Royalists carried Alan shoulder high around the grounds!

From school he was selected for training as a Naval officer cadet in Dartmouth in Devonshire in England. Fellow Royalists the late Norman Gunawardena, and Humphrey Wijesinghe were among the cadets who were selected for Dartmouth together with Alan. On returning to Ceylon after his naval training at Dartmouth, he served the Royal Ceylon Navy and its successor Sri Lanka Navy for several years until retirement. On retirement from the Navy he served for a short period as an Executive in a Mercantile firm in Colombo, before migrating with his family to Australia.

The stint at Dartmouth would carry many precious memories for him, as that was where he met Maureen the love of his life. On migrating to Australia in the 1970s Alan joined the Royal Australian Navy which he served with distinction as Lieut Commander. On my migrating to Australia in 1984 I met Alan and Maureen at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the late Brendon Goonratne. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Alan and Maureen remained very close friends of ours.

Over the years we used to meet every three months at lunch at the Rosehill Bowling Club organized for old Royalist Seniors through the initiative of Chandra Senaratne. Other social engagements over the years have strengthened our friendship, and it is with deep distress that I heard of his terminal illness about two months ago. I rang him immediately and he was stoic as ever, the brave naval officer that he was. He said in no uncertain terms that he was not seeking to extend his life on this earth, and that he would wait in his home until the final call.

Alan’s departure marks another severance with the old Ceylon we knew, and its traditions and honorable ways. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at the Baptist Church, Epping on Friday December 2 at 3pm. He is survived by his dear wife Maureen, sons Andrew and Richard,, daughter in law Caroline, and grandson Ryan.

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on “

Farewell dear Alan.

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Opinion

Controversy Over Female Teachers’ Dress To School

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Our country and its people always get involved with unnecessary things which is of no interest to the majority of people. The latest debate in this never -a -dull -moment country (as always for the wrong reason) is the dress the female teachers are expected to wear to school. This is something that should be decided by the Ministry of Education in respect of the teachers of government schools.

I recollect when we were students the majority of female teachers wore saree to school. Then there were several teachers who wore frocks. These were the Burgher ladies. And there was no problem at all. I am not indicating this to show support that the teachers should be left to decide on their dress.

Now the strange thing about this controversy is that Buddhist monks have got involved in the debate and they are trying to determine the dress that teachers should wear. They do not seem to realize that the teachers must pay for the sarees. And they need to possess several sarees as they cannot wear the same saree over and over again. Given the monks get their robes free from the dayakayas, they should never get involved in matters of this nature, even though the female nurses may be happy to have one as the president of their union!

This controversy, if settled in favour of the teachers being given the option to decide on the dress and if they wear various types of dresses, the students too might get a bright idea to wear anything they want rather than the uniform that they have to wear at present.

It might be a good thing if the Ministry of Education could decide on a uniform for female teachers in Government schools. Some private hospitals, private firms and Sri Lankan Airlines have uniforms of their own and one could identify them easily. If there is such a uniform in saree and blouse for teachers in government schools, everybody outside too would be able to identify them as teachers and give the respect due to them.

However, this is not the time to worry about dress for teachers when there are children who do not get a proper education and suffer from malnutrition. It seems our rulers always get their priorities wrong, and this always affects the country and the people adversely. First, the teachers must do their job properly so that the schoolchildren do not have to attend tuition classes. We hear that sometimes only one teacher is available, and as a result the children keep away from attending school.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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