Interview with Hon. Mrs. Thalatha Athukorale (Attorney-at-Law),
in celebration of Children’s Day, International Day of the Girl Child,
International Day of the Elderly
and International Day of Rural Women
With the drastic increase of domestic abuse cases being reported during the pandemic, what kind of impact has it made on children of such families? Are there measures available to protect such affected children?
There are laws that are applicable in this context. There are a lot of officers appointed to look into this problem. For an example, we have 371 divisional secretariat areas, and every such divisional secretary office has designated officers to take care of women and children affairs, within their jurisdiction. Further, in any police station, there is a separate desk allocated to inquire into such complaints. The problem here really lies with the implementation.
Also, there is a problem with the reporting process, due to cultural beliefs that persist in our country. Our women do not like to come forward with these matters.
I think the officers should be trained and be given streamlined responsibilities. Maybe it would be possible allocate tasks by the smallest administration unit, the Grama Niladhari divisions.
Then, maybe it will be useful to conduct some awareness programs where we can really communicate to communities the impact of domestic violence especially on the children. This could hopefully increase reporting. I really believe that parents should be made aware of the adverse psychological impact of domestic violence on children. Most parents think that it is something that affect only them, especially in the villages. But abuse in the home, affects children more than any adult, really.
Do the measures we have currently have specifically take children into consideration as well? Or are they only focusing on women affected by domestic violence?
There is a need to improve those measures. But I believe that parents have a more significant role to play in protecting children from such abusive conditions. Parents should be very careful in their parenting process. The acts of parents have a huge impact on child psychology. There should be parallel guidelines issued for the parents or programs tailormade for them, to make parents aware of such conditions.
A study reveals that only 30% of the Sri Lankan children have access to online education. Considering the importance of education in Sri Lanka and given our longstanding history of providing free-education to all children equally, what can we do to rectify this situation of inequity?
It is indeed a very sad situation. Unfortunately, currently, the Wi-Fi coverage in whole island is low. Although most urban areas are covered, rural areas are not. So that hugely contributes to this situation of poor access to online education. This needs a prompt response. However, with the economic crisis the country is facing right now, it is questionable as to how the Government would find the means to rectify this situation. But education plays a crucial role in any society. It has a big impact on not just children, but society in general. So, it should not be viewed as something dispensable and so easily cast away as an irresolvable issue.
Our country does have a proud history of providing free education to children. School uniforms, text books are provided to students free of charge because it is vital to have an educated population.
The government should take immediate steps not only to open schools, but also to provide facilities such as Wi-Fi coverage at least to student who are studying for their OL and AL. However, I must say that the amount of money that is allocated to education in our country at present is not at all satisfactory.
In light of the fact that in the month of October, we celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child as well, how has the pandemic impacted on the safety, rights and opportunities of the girl child? With children being confined to homes due to the pandemic, and mothers getting overburdened with care work, is there a risk of girl children being compelled to undertake care work at the cost of their education?
As a matter of fact, when it comes to children, whether it is a girl or a boy, it does not matter. If someone is getting abused, we cannot separate them as a girl child or boy child. All children are affected by the pandemic. They are confined to homes and not getting involved in any activities. So, any child would be affected by this situation. If both parents go to work, then the children are at more risk.
However, our culture is such, our society is such, that there is a tendency of getting girls involved in such care work. Also, if the parents have to go for work, and there is no one to take care of the children, then it terms of safety, girl children are at more risk. So physically, concerning safety and security, the girl child is more vulnerable. However, in terms of mental, or psychological impact of dangerous situations, there is not much difference between the girl child and boy child. So irrespective of gender, we need to approach issues pertaining to all children.
In view of the Day of the Elderly that we celebrated in the month of October, along with the International Children’s Day, what kind of challenges are faced by the elderly population due to the pandemic and what kind of challenges would be faced by them in a post-pandemic society?
The thing is, at some point, elders also become ‘children’. They need to be taken care of. But with the pandemic, the health sector is overburdened with work. The focus on other aspects is really low as the main attention is really on combatting Covid-19. With this, the elderly population is facing a great disadvantage.
Further, with the rising cost of living, elder care can easily become too expensive for many families. This could lead to violence against elders and also increase situations where elders are neglected by their own families.
In any case, even the values of society seem to have changed for the worse and seem to be even deteriorating further. We see a lot of news in the media, where elders are getting abandoned on the road etc. Recently, something like that happened in the Rathnapura town as well. It is a very sad situation.
In the month of October, we also celebrated the International Day of Rural Women. What kind of challenges are faced by women living in rural areas due to the pandemic?
In the remote areas, people were affected economically. It was not as bad as last year, really, where people in the rural villages were so badly affected by the lockdown measures. People in the rural areas are now more familiar with safety measures and have developed their own, new and alternative avenues of earning a livelihood. They have got on with their life an
d jobs, irrespective of the lockdown. A reason for that is partly because of the fact that in this year, movement restrictions were not strictly implemented in the rural areas.
But of course, self-employed women were badly affected and people who are engaged in agriculture found it difficult to find markets to sell their products. As a result, they could not yield the maximum benefit out of their harvest.
It is common knowledge that women living in rural areas are adversely affected by the micro credit crisis that is prevailing in the country. What has the State done (or can the State do) to mitigate the plight of such women and provide relief?
That of course is a big problem. Now, with the lockdown measures imposed last year, the Government promised that they would give some concessionary reliefs to such women who are in debt. But that has not happened to the detriment of such impoverished women.
Due to the lockdown, many self-employed women who were engaging in jobs like selling ‘wadey’ and short eats etc. really had no means of earning an income. But despite such hardships, such women were pressured by these money lending companies to continue on with their loan payments.
I know some cases where mothers from rural areas have obtained credit to buy a laptop for their children in order to make sure that they have access to online education. But when they defaulted on the loan, those companies have come and seized the equipment which the children were using for their education. They were not even given an opportunity to settle their arrears in a peaceful manner.
Women who have got wrapped up in micro-credit schemes really have got no chance. The Government really has to take proper measures against these predatory companies. Some of these companies operating especially in rural areas have not even got registered as finance companies. These companies really act like typical loan sharks and measures must be taken to stop this from happening.
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