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COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF SRI LANKA UNDER THE OPTIONAL PROTOCOL ON THE SALE OF CHILDREN

21 May 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon considered Sri Lanka’s initial report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Introducing the report, Dharshana Senanayake, Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development of Sri Lanka, said Sri Lanka had a number of pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the sale of children, child abuse and child pornography even prior to becoming a party to the Optional Protocol. This legal framework was further strengthened with the ratification of the Optional Protocol; accordingly, the national legislation now covered all offences that the Protocol covered.   In addition, the Government had established a robust institutional mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of laws and policies related to children. The Government remained vigilant and committed to apprehend perpetrators through its network of over 490 police stations, which all had a women and children’s desk.  The Government had also established a 24-hour toll-free hotline so the public could make complaints relating to child rights violations in all three languages.  With a view to minimizing delays experienced in prosecuting cases related to child abuse, a special unit had been established in the Attorney General’s Department to deal exclusively with children-related cases. Training had been provided to officers dealing with children’s cases on conducting their work in a child-friendly manner as well as to increase their technical skills in investigating such cases.  The Government acknowledged that it could not be complacent—its work was not over. 

Committee Experts commended the delegation on the quality of its report. They enquired about cases for which only fines were imposed for violations against children.  Did the delegation believe that those fines were commensurate with the gravity of the offence committed against the child?  Given that many national plans were coming to an end, an Expert asked if there had been efforts to evaluate their impact. Experts also asked for details about the penalization of offences covered by the Convention.  There still seemed to be some gaps, due to harmonization issues.  Would the Government consider conducting a thorough review of existing legislation, to fully comply with article 3 of the Optional Protocol?  Regarding the imposition of fines, they asked if some offences would only be punished by this type of sanction. Pointing out that the minimal imprisonment sentences for the offences covered by the Optional Protocol varied in Sri Lanka, Committee Experts asked why it was lowest for child pornography-related offences.   Despite the existence of specialized women and children’s desks, it seemed that some cases had not been investigated.  Could the delegation explain why?  On hotlines, they noted that the Government had set up a number of them. To which extent were the child hotlines used by children themselves?  Were they aware of their existence?  Turning to the training offered by the Government, Experts asked if it included gender-sensitive components. 

In her concluding remarks, Mikiko Otani, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, thanked the delegation for its constructive spirit. The additional information received today was very much appreciated by the Committee.  It was a critical time for Sri Lanka to integrate the Committee’s recommendations, she noted.

Ms. Senanayake expressed heartfelt appreciation for the Committee’s comments. Further exposure to the Committee’s technical expertise was amongst the key benefits of the discussion. The Rapporteurs’ constructive comments would enable Sri Lanka to work towards its goals and objectives with renewed vigour.
 
Luis Ernesto Perdernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked Sri Lanka for its goodwill. The Committee’s role was to support States in complying with the Convention and its Optional Protocols; its will was to do its best so that children in the country benefited from the very best outcomes.

The delegation of Sri Lanka consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development, the Department of Probation and Child Care Services, the Attorney General’s Department, the National Child Protection Authority, the Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Children and Women, the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms, and the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
 
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 22 May at 3 p.m. to review Cabo Verde’s second periodic report (CRC/C/CPV/2).

Report
 
The Committee has before it Sri Lanka’s initial report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/LKA/1).
 
Presentation of the Report
 
DHARSHANA SENANAYAKE, Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development of Sri Lanka, said Sri Lanka had a number of pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the sale of children, child abuse and child pornography even prior to becoming a party to the Optional Protocol. This legal framework was further strengthened with the ratification of the Optional Protocol; accordingly, the national laws now addressed all offences that the Protocol covered.  In the last two years, the Government had undertaken legal reforms to further the rights of children in general.  It had adopted laws and regulations to increase the minimum age of compulsory education; raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years; formulate a Child Protection and Justice Bill in line with international standards to protect children who were in conflict with the law or in need of care; and set up guidelines on the operation of day-care centres.

In addition, the Government had established a robust institutional mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of laws and policies related to children.  This was an inclusive mechanism under the oversight of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development, and it encompassed all Government stakeholders such as ministries, agencies and law enforcement authorities, including the police and the Attorney General’s Department. The Government remained vigilant and committed to apprehend perpetrators through its network of over 490 police stations, which all had a women and children’s desk.  The Government had also established a 24-hour toll-free hotline so the public could make complaints relating to child rights violations in all three languages. With a view to minimizing delays experienced in prosecuting cases related to child abuse, a special unit had been established in the Attorney General’s Department to deal exclusively with children-related cases.  Training had been provided to officers dealing with children’s cases on conducting their work in a child-friendly manner as well as to increase their technical skills.

On the prevention front, the Government was mindful of vulnerabilities of children that were related to tourism. It had therefore initiated a number of measures including awareness-raising, collaboration with foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and economic empowerment programmes to prevent child prostitution and child pornography that may occur in the tourism sector. Building on these measures, the Government had adopted and was implementing a Tourism Strategic Plan 2017-2020.

The Government acknowledged that it could not be complacent -- its work was not over. Despite the many challenges faced by Sri Lanka, the Government was determined to survive as a nation and overcome these challenges in fulfilling its commitment to create a safe and secure country for all its children. Ms. Senanayake requested that the members of the Committee recognize these challenges.  The delegation looked forward to receiving its suggestions and recommendations.
 
Questions by the Committee Experts

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, commended the delegation on the quality of its report. There were a number of positive developments on the ground.  Noting that the head of the delegation had talked about 490 police stations, he asked about the strategic coverage ensured by these police stations and if they were accessible to families and victims. On the number of reported cases, had there been any cases of illegal child marriage and adoption?  He enquired about cases for which only fines were imposed. Did the delegation believe that those fines were commensurate with the gravity of the offence committed against the child?  Given that many national plans were coming to an end, he asked if there had been efforts to evaluate their impact.

Turning to the issue of coordination, he asked about the reported cancellation of meetings due to resource allocation issues. What impact did this have on children on the ground?  He also requested more information on training within the judiciary.  On prevention, he asked if there had been efforts to sign memoranda of understanding with the countries that provided the largest number of tourists to Sri Lanka, such as Germany and India. The Committee did not have data to assess the magnitude of sexual exploitation, notably that of boys, including the so-called beach boys on the coastal line.  Could the delegation comment on this issue?

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, offered her condolences for the recent attacks in Sri Lanka, the victims of which included numerous children.  She asked for details about the penalization of offences covered by the Convention. There still seemed to be some gaps, due to harmonization issues.  Would the Government consider conducting a thorough review of existing legislation, to fully comply with article 3 of the Optional Protocol? Regarding the imposition of fines, she asked if some offences would only be punished by this type of sanction.  Pointing out that the minimal imprisonment sentences for the offences covered by the Optional Protocol varied in Sri Lanka, she asked why it was lowest for child pornography-related offences.

Despite the existence of specialized women and children’s desks, it seemed that some cases had not been investigated. Could the delegation explain why?  On hotlines, she noted that the Government had set up a number of them. To which extent were the child hotlines used by children themselves?  Were they aware of their existence?  Turning to the training offered by the Government, she asked if it included gender-sensitive components.

Another Expert asked if the Government intended to regulate surrogate motherhood. While surrogate motherhood by no means amounted to the sale of children, there were risks that such a lack of regulations could facilitate the sale of children.

Another Expert requested information on the collaboration between the child protection services and the police to prevent the “re-victimization” of child victims. There was a lack of information on treatment offered to child victims in the report.  Could the delegation provide more information on this matter?  He also enquired about the existence of a sex offender management system in Sri Lanka.
 
Replies by the Delegation

Members of the delegation recalled that prior to the ratification of the Optional Protocol, Sri Lanka had taken steps to address the offences that it covered. There was a minimum mandatory sentence in place for cases related to the sale of children, for example.  The provisions of the penal code were gender neutral and therefore applied to all children, male or female. The sale of children was sufficiently covered by the penal code, even though there were practical challenges related to its enforcement, the delegation said. 

The Government was preparing new legislation that would address child pornography-related offences and would take into account modern technological developments, such as live streaming. As for child prostitution, there were two main provisions of the penal code that dealt with it, namely 360a and 360b.  They were designed to cover all possible means of child prostitution, including, for example, knowingly permitting the offence.  In Sri Lanka, the penal code had been amended because the punishments that it provided for were not sufficient. Mandatory minimum sentences were later introduced.  This clearly demonstrated that national legislation contained stringent penalties, and that the Government acknowledged and addressed the gravity of these crimes.  Fines were always coupled with other sentences.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked about ancillary criminal responsibility for children. He asked for clarification on the practice of sending child victims and child perpetrators to the same facilities.

Another Expert asked if the possession of child pornography was in and of itself a crime. Did the law make a distinction for children who took pictures of themselves and sent them to other people?

Responses by the Delegation

Possessing a pornographic picture of a child was an offence, stated the delegation, recalling that the age of criminal responsibility was 12 years. On memoranda of understanding, there were only mutual assistance and extradition agreements with the countries mentioned by the Committee. The delegation would, however, be open to talk with Committee members on this matter.  Regarding action plan evaluations, the National Human Rights Action Plan had been monitored, the delegation assured. Although they varied from one sector to the other, generally, there were monitoring and assessment measures in place.

In addition, the Government was taking gender issues into consideration, and gender had been identified as an area that involved a lot of sectors, such as the economy and agriculture. On surrogate motherhood, the delegation referred to section 360d of the penal code, which stipulated that it was forbidden to obtain the consent, whether written or oral, of a pregnant woman, for money or any other consideration, for the adoption of the unborn child of such woman or recruit a woman or a couple to bear children.

The Government had established different instruments to foster sustainable tourism and ensure child protection. Measures were in place to screen passports and visas as well as verify that the names of visa applicants were not on watch lists.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked if adoption institutions had to obtain a licence and, if so, what happened when they failed to do so.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, expressed concerns about underreporting. What measures were in place to identify victims early? What happened when teachers, social workers, doctors or other professionals suspected that a child was subjected to abuse?  Did they have an obligation to report it?

Another Expert asked about the services offered to children who wanted to file a complaint.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, said the establishment of entities tasked with coordinating the implementation of action plans was a positive development. What measures were being taken to avoid overlap?  He enquired about the Government’s efforts to address the root causes of children’s vulnerabilities.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that stakeholders were discussing the recommendations of a committee that had been tasked with examining potential amendments to the legislation regarding the legal age of Muslim marriage.

On data management, the delegation said that it had been identified as a key challenge by the Government. Various initiatives had been launched to build capacity, with the goal of improving the process and addressing gaps.  This had been a somewhat slow process, but the Government endeavoured to do its best. Given the complexity of the task, the delegation would be grateful for the Committee’s technical advice.   The creation of a centralized database of complaints had proven challenging. The blanks in the report were due to categorization issues.  For instance, there was a blank next to “child marriage” in the report, but it was not because there had been no child marriage cases, but rather because these cases had been filed under rape, as they amounted to statutory rape.

Furthermore, the delegation explained that the bureau for the prevention of abuse of women and children had been established in 1979 and had been later expanded.  This bureau recorded the complaints and participated in the inquiries and prosecutions.  They also conducted awareness-raising activities. There were two helplines in the police department: one related to the bureaus and a general one.  The bureaus also maintained a database of complaints and offered training programmes to administration officials, teachers, and law-enforcement officers, amongst others.  In order to protect the privacy of victims, complaints were recorded in appropriate places. On child prostitution, the delegation added that the Attorney General had never sent out charges for cases involving child prostitution; it had always sought indictment. 

Sri Lanka took its responsibilities under international conventions very seriously and appreciated the constructive dialogue. Capacity building remained a key priority, and it was important to focus on the practical challenges to be able to address the problems that might appear in the future.

Concluding Remarks
 
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Sri Lanka, thanked the delegation for its constructive spirit. The additional information received today was very much appreciated by the Committee. It was a critical time for Sri Lanka to integrate the Committee’s recommendations, she noted.

ASSANE THIAM, Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and Dry Zone Development of Sri Lanka, expressed heartfelt appreciation for the Committee’s comments. Further exposure to the Committee’s technical expertise was amongst the key benefits of the discussion. The Rapporteurs’ constructive comments would enable Sri Lanka to work towards its goals and objectives with renewed vigour.
 
LUIS ERNESTO PERDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked Sri Lanka for its goodwill. The Committee’s role was to support States in complying with the Convention and its Optional Protocols; its will was to do its best so that children in the country benefited from the very best outcomes.



For use of the information media; not an official record

CRC/19/16E