Following the consultation at which the Probation Department produced an illuminating note about Children’s Homes, members of the contract group worked out suggestions to prevent what might be termed SECONDARY VICTIMISATION OF children brought before the courts. Though procedures have been laid down, they are often observed in the breach, as with the failure to specify and enforce limitations on those deemed to need care and protection.
This is unfortunately not unique in Sri Lanka for similar things happen with regard in general to those who are remanded, and in particular women arrested under the grotesquely outdated Vagrant’s Ordinance. This has been noted and a few years back reports were commissioned to proceed with reforms. But not all the reports were handed in, and they seemed to have been long forgotten, when we brought the matter up at the Parliamentary Consultative Committee.
One report that had been completed, characteristically, was that of Shiranee Tilekawardene, and it made some excellent recommendations with regard to children. However, again perhaps characteristically, it has not been acted upon systematically, one excuse given being that the Ministry was waiting for all the reports to come in.
The suggestions that were sent to me are in conformity with the Thilakawardhana recommendations, though they go further I think in specifying details of time and place and personnel with regard to the measures to be taken.
They begin with actions to be taken on the very first day, to ensure that children do not get lost in the system. The Magistrate’s Court Registrar should be required, at the end of each working day, to send the following particulars of institutionalized children to designated fax numbers of the NCPA and Provincial Probation Commissioner:
Name and age of child
Nature of case – whether care and protection or child offender
Placement to – whether Remand Home/Voluntary Home/Hospital/Adult Remand
Name and Mobile Number of Escorting Officer
Next court date and order (for example probation report/further police investigation report/any other orders)
To ensure an immediate protective response –
The Probation Commissioner should call and inform the relevant Probation Officer immediately.
The NCPA should contact the official in charge of the relevant institution – ward of hospital by 9 pm the same day and
Verify arrival – Speak to the child and ascertain if basic needs met/inquire if any complaints related to safety and well being/record any requests
Communicate as appropriate with officer in charge of the institution to address needs/concerns of the child
Identify special cases – for example custodial assaults/other special situations and needs – refer to designated supervisors at NCPA for action
Communicate with the designated representative of the Probation Commissioner and ascertain the responsible Probation Officer
Thereafter, the NCPA should promote quick resolution with regard to the custody of the child by –
- Speaking to the Probation Officer and ascertaining the next steps with regard to care and custody of the child and the time required. Prescribed format to be filled by the NCPA Officer.
- Providing necessary support for Probation Officer to complete the required actions by the next court date.
- Ensuring that the Registrar of the Magistrate’s Court notifies the proceedings and orders made at the end of the working day on the first and second court dates to designated fax numbers of the NCPA and Provincial Probation Commissioner
- Filling in the prescribed status report after the second court date with observations and recommendations and submitting it to the designated supervisor within 3 days of the second court date.
- Looking into unresolved protection issues, tabulating them and preparing a quarterly report for analysis and action at a higher level if required.
Obviously putting such procedures into place requires administrative action, so it is suggested that there should be discussions with the Secretary Ministry of Justice, the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development, the Chairperson NCPA and the Probation Commissioner of the Central Government. Once there is agreement on the process to be followed, the Ministry of Justice should seek the approval of the Chief Justice/JSC for the new reporting procedure to be established island-wide in all Magistrate’s Courts.
Given that probation is a devolved matter, the central authorities (Ministry, NCPA and Probation Central Office) should have consultations with Provincial Commissioners and then develop amendments to the Children’s Protection Ordinance to incorporate the new procedure. The Ministry of Justice will need to frame Regulations under NCPA Act sec. 14(j) and 38, while the NCPA and the Children’s Ministry must also take follow up action, notably identifying suitable human resources. Magistrates will need to be informed of the new procedures by the JSC, which must put in place measures to ensure that these are followed.
Additionally, the Probation Central Office and Commissioner Western Province should work towards a national hotline and a 24 hour response facility to be operated by the central office with the support of Provincial Departments. The NCPA and Provincial Probation Commissioners should arrange training to ensure implementation of the new procedures in the best interests of children. It would make sense also to have a user satisfaction survey to obtain the feed back of children. A baseline should be established and periodic reports obtained and analysed to measure effectiveness of the procedure. If necessary the new procedures might be piloted in a selected province, but they should be finalized and rolled out nationally as soon as possible.
I have sent the suggestions to all stakeholders, and also to the President, given his commitment to promoting the rights and the interests of children. Of course I cannot expect everyone to act quickly, but the energy displayed by for instance the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice and the Chair of the National Child Protection Authority in supporting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan suggests that there will be at least some sense of urgency and corresponding action. Meanwhile I hope that interested members of the public and civil society will also urge swift reform, as recommended so many years ago in the Tilekawardene report.