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Stop Child Cruelty Trust launches project to protect children

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Encourages children to reflect on their welfare via National Art and Speech Competition

Taking a novel approach to commemorate Children’s Day, Stop Child Cruelty Trust (SCC) recently launched the ‘#JustANumber Child Protection Month’ to increase awareness of the fundamental rights of children through various public programmes. One of the key objectives of this advocacy campaign is to compel the Parliament to change the Penal Code on Cruelty to Children, especially following the Supreme Court’s recognition of corporal punishment of children by schools as unlawful and a violation of a child’s right. To bolster this purpose, SCC will also join hands with like-minded Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organizations to form Sri Lanka’s first ever Child Protection Alliance.

The highlight of the virtual event was the introduction of the first initiative taken under the #JustANumber Child Protection Month – a National Art and Speech Competition. The competition aims to create a platform for children as young as 6 years up to 18 years to share their own, unique perspective on the country’s child protection crisis and encourage them to directly get involved in the decision making related to their welfare. For more details regarding the competition, please visit www.facebook.com/groups/211381800981039.

Commenting on the purpose behind the #JustANumber Child Protection Month was Chairperson of Stop Child Cruelty Trust, Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka. “Even with the unprecedented rise in child abuse on our paradise island, the relevant authorities appear to be crippled in their efforts to protect and promote our children’s rights. Child protection is a collective social responsibility and Stop Child Cruelty is fully committed to becoming the powerful force behind increasing knowledge and engagement to empower Sri Lankans across the country to recognise the child as a rights holder.”

During the past year, five children had been physically and sexually abused and killed in Sri Lanka. Despite having signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) three decades ago and being the only South Asian country committed to Sustainable Development Goal 16.2 to end violence against children, the country still lacks a national child protection framework.

Addressing the event as the Chief Guest was former President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – a pioneering figure in implementing child protection legislation in the country. After signing the UNCRC in 1991, she authorised amendments to the Penal Code 308A Cruelty to Children in 1996, established the Child Protection Authority in 1998, and approved the Ministry of Education Circular 17/2005 to ban corporal punishment in schools in 2005.

While reflecting on the tremendous achievements of the special Child Protection Task Force of experts during her tenure, Mrs Kumaratunga reiterated that Government authorities should resolve the child protection crisis effectively without politicising matters by working cohesively with Non-Governmental Organizations. “Child protection is the ultimate measurement of the level of civilization in a society and I applaud the efforts of Stop Child Cruelty Trust in establishing the Child Protection Alliance to find solutions to the current child protection crisis in Sri Lanka,” she stated. Mrs Kumaratunga will also be the judge of the National Art and Speech Competition.

Professor Savithri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law and former Vice Chancellor at the University of Colombo was the keynote speaker at the event. As a former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, Prof. Goonesekere has been actively contributing towards legal and policy child protection reforms. “Strengthening law enforcement by rejecting the proverbial rhetoric by relevant authorities and responding to child cruelty by engaging with children is a creative strategy and perhaps the one effective way to address Sri Lanka’s child protection crisis”, she said.

The #JustANumber Child Protection Month will be hosting a range of events including a series of online forums that will take place every weekend from the 1st of October until the 20th of November 2021. To stay updated regarding the upcoming activities under the campaign and other events, visit www.facebook.com/stopchildcruelty. Those interested in getting involved towards the protection of children in Sri Lanka can visit www.stopchildcruelty.com or email info@stopchildcruelty.com.



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Prelates launch legal battle against New Fortress

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by A. J. A. Abeynayake

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera yesterday filed a fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court against the transfer of shares of the Yugadanavi LNG Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya to a US energy firm.

The petition seeks an order preventing the US firm New Fortress Inc. from obtaining the LNG supply contract.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, other members of the Cabinet, West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant, the US-based company New Fortress Energy and the Attorney General are among the 54 respondents named in the FR petition.

The petition requests the court to issue an order to nullify the Cabinet decision on transferring state-owned shares of the Yugadanavi power plant to the US company.

The petition states that the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer 40% stake in the company owning the Yugadanavi Power Plant to the US firm in question was not justified. It also says the Cabinet failed to focus on issues such as the national economy and national security before taking the relevant decisions.

The petitioners have requested the Court to declare that their fundamental rights as well as the rights of the entire citizenry and their future generations guaranteed to them under Article 12(1) of the Constitution have been infringed and/or are continuing to be infringed and/or are in imminent danger of being infringed by the actions of the Respondents with regard to the Yugadanavi deal.

They have requested the Court to quash the decision of the Cabinet authorising the procurement of LNG from the 53rd respondent – the New Fortress Energy.

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Financial crisis so acute teachers’ demands cannot be met – SLPP Chairman

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300,000 entering schools for first time this year among those victimised

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (18) emphasised that the worsening financial crisis experienced by the country was so acute the government wasn’t in a position to grant the salary increase sought by school principals and teachers.

Prof. Peiris, who served as the Education Minister till August this year said that the public realised the government lacked the wherewithal to meet the striking teachers’ demands. The academic said so at the weekly SLPP media briefing at the party office in Battaramulla.

Responding to media queries, Prof. Peiris stressed that the government expected the striking teachers to facilitate re-opening of schools on a staggered basis beginning Oct 21 (Thursday). The Minister indicated that striking unions shouldn’t expect to settle the salary issue on their terms as the government lacked the means even if it wanted to do so.

Referring to the rapid deterioration of public finances in the wake of Covid-19 eruption in early 2020, Prof. Peiris said that Budget 2022 was presented amidst an extremely difficult time.

The top SLPP spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to grant strikers’ demand in two stages as announced by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with striking unions at Temple Trees. Premier Rajapaksa on Oct 12 told a delegation of striking unions that the government would pay one third of the increase through the Budget 2022 and the remaining two in the following year’s budget.

The Premier’s Office quoted him as having told the delegates that the sharp drop in government income deprived the administration of an opportunity to grant the increase. Striking unions want the government to settle the issues immediately in one go.

Prof. Peiris appealed to those who have been on strike for 100 days to resume teaching. The student community really suffered due to the Covid 19 eruption and further delay in resuming studies would be catastrophic, Prof. Peiris said, underscoring the importance of restoring normalcy as about 300,000 would go to schools for the first time in their life.

Prof. Peiris said that schools that conduct classes from Grade 1 to 5 and those with less than 200 students would be re-opened on Oct 21. According to the minister, approximately 3,800 schools would be re-opened as scheduled.

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Lankan authorities must end violence and discrimination against Muslims, says AI

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Kyle Ward, AI’s Deputy Secretary General

The Lankan Muslim community has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment and violence, since 2013, culminating in the adoption of government policies explicitly targeting the minority group, said Amnesty International, in a new report published yesterday.

The report titled From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This discrimination has evolved from a rising series of mob attacks committed with impunity, into government policies explicitly discriminating against Muslims, including the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to ban both the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).

“While anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka is nothing new, the situation has regressed sharply in recent years. Incidents of violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, have occurred with alarming frequency. This has been accompanied by the adoption by the current government of rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Muslims,” said Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must break this alarming trend and uphold their duty to protect Muslims from further attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and end the use of government policies to target, harass and discriminate against the Muslim community.”

Incidents of violence towards Muslims have risen in frequency and intensity since 2013, with a series of flashpoints in which attackers and those responsible for hate speech have enjoyed impunity for their actions.

This escalating hostility began with the anti-halal campaign of that year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to end the halal certification of food, which demarks food permissible for consumption by Muslims, in accordance with Islamic scripture and customs. The campaign gave rise to a number of attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with the lack of accountability for those responsible acting as a signal to others that acts of violence against Muslims could be committed with impunity.

The following year, anti-Muslim riots in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama began after a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group held a rally in the town. Here too, perpetrators of violence enjoyed impunity and authorities failed to deliver justice to victims.

Despite a new government in 2015, which promised justice and accountability for ethnic and religious minorities, attacks against Muslims continued to occur. Shortly after the election, anti-Muslim mob violence flared in the southern coastal town of Ginthota in 2017, while similar violence was seen in 2018 in Digana and Ampara, towns in the central and eastern provinces respectively. Not only did the perpetrators escape accountability, victims and witnesses alleged the police and armed forces did not offer sufficient protection or act to prevent the violence.

Hostility towards Muslims increased markedly after more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks committed by a local Islamist group and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019.

Following these attacks, on 13 May 2019, Muslims in several towns in the North-Western Province of Sri Lanka came under attack during Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. Mosques across the country were also attacked and a spate of ‘hate speech’ posts and anti-Muslim vitriol was seen on social media. Emergency regulations rushed through by the authorities were also used to arbitrarily arrest hundreds of Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

Since taking office, the current government has continued to target and scapegoat the Muslim population to distract from political and economic issues.

This was evident in the mandatory cremation policy on the disposal of the bodies of Covid-19 victims, which was implemented despite cremation being expressly forbidden in Islam, and a lack of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims that burying victims would further the spread of the disease.

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