Columnists,Deshan Ilangakoon,Main Slider l by Deshan Ilangakoon l 23 Sep 2021     - 158

Child Protection Force – Advocating for the Abused and Disenfranchised Youth and Children of Sri Lanka


Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood, establishing independence and intimacy, burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma” – Judith Lewis Herman (American Psychiatrist).

 

This is the reality many young boys and girls of Sri Lanka face on a daily basis. In the past few weeks and months, we have all become aware of some horrific stories of child abuse here in Sri Lanka. We are left thinking how someone can do something like this, or why are things like this happening. Sadly however, when some other story comes up to take our attention, we quite often forget these children and the injustices they have faced. Yet, for the small team of men and women working at Child Protection Force, this is just another reason for them to keep on doing what they do; to help save, protect and bring justice to these children of Sri Lanka.

The Inception of Child Protection Force

Child Protection Force (CPF) is a not-for-profit guaranteed limited organization which primarily provides free legal representation for children of Sri Lanka who have been abused, neglected, in trouble with the police or need assistance within the legal system. It was the brainchild of Attorney-at-Law Ms Milani Salpitikorala and was founded in 2017.

Facing the Law as a Child

As CPF’s main focus is -providing legal aid for children who come into contact with the justice system as victims of abuse or children who are accused of any offence, we first spoke to Milani on the laws in Sri Lanka pertaining to child rights and child abuse. Milani first spoke about the legal process that a child victim has to follow once an abuse has taken place. Firstly, the case must be reported to the police who would then launch an investigation. Simultaneously, the Probation officer must also be informed in order for them to look into establishing the child’s care and wellbeing. Then the case goes to courts and follows two paths. One is the criminal element where the suspect is produced, and the prosecution attempts to prove the case against the suspect. For these criminal cases the punishment for the perpetrators ranges from a maximum of 5 years for sexual harassment to crimes of incest and rape of a girl under 16 years of age, which carries a penalty of 15 to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.  Alongside this, an additional case is in play pertaining to the care and protection of the child.

It was here that Milani also pointed out how the child would have to relive the trauma of the abuse repeatedly at each stage of the legal process, as most steps required the child to provide their statement to different individuals involved at each stage of the process. Milani also voiced how she believed that one of Sri Lanka’s biggest failings in respect to childcare and protection was that these criminal cases would often drag on for years, and often well into the child’s adult years. She noted how countries like Singapore had a system in place to expedite child related cases and hoped to see such measures being implemented in Sri Lanka as well.

Here too Milani pointed out how in Sri Lanka, only murder and drug related crimes remain as unbailable offences while crimes against children remain to be a bailable offence. Of course, Milani did note that despite the crime being bailable, conditions of bail on most occasions would be quite steep given the severity of the crime.

The Work Done by Child Protection Force

From a legal standpoint, CPF steps into the picture at varying stages of the legal process depending on what actions have already been taken. In some cases, CPF is the first place where the abuse is reported, which means that they help the child from the very first steps of lodging the complaint  all the way till the case is completed and the child and family are back on their feet. In some other cases, the client comes to CPF when they have exhausted all avenues available. Here CPF will strive to unentangle the cases and bring it back on track to bring justice for the child.

While the main focus of the amazing folk at CPF is to provide legal aid and representation for children, this is in no way the only thing they do. One of the main challenges that Milani noted while working with these children of abuse, was that it was not just enough to provide legal representation, but it was also important to reintegrate these children and sometimes even family members of the child back into society. One of the main steps towards this was to provide the children and even the parents (if needed) with Psychological and life coaching support. To this end CPF has brought in an in-house Clinical Psychologist to tend to the needs of the children and family. And Milani herself who is an NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) practitioner, tends to the emotional needs of some of the parents and children alike.

CPF also takes the additional steps of providing for the child and the child’s family’s socioeconomic needs. Based on the parent(s) skills or likings, CPF helps to try and bring the family back on their feet and to make the family self-sufficient. Visiting CPF’s social media pages, you can see posts in support of parents as they try to launch small home businesses where they make shoes, run their own catering business or as tailors.

Milani and her team at CPF also work tirelessly to create more awareness and to provide training at a community level, at various government organizations and by even conducting awareness and training to police officers who deal with these cases on a daily basis.

“We are very proud to say, that we have been working for the past 4 years also sometimes in collaboration with Government institutions of Sri Lanka to ensure that this safety network is created for the children of Sri Lanka”, Milani told us as she spoke about their continuing efforts to bring awareness and help foster the need for the protection of children as a community’s responsibility. Milani also talked about the #ChildForceTrooper initiative by CPF, which was part of CPF’s awareness campaign, and which hoped to enable people in the community to stand up for child rights and to help prevent child abuse. The #ChildForceTrooper campaign has drawn some notable celebrities to join in the cause including Sri Lanka’s master blaster Mr. Sanath Jayasuriya.

While talking to Milani about the work done at CPF, it is almost impossible to hold back tears as Milani explained some of the cases that CPF has taken on. Milani told stories of a 10-year-old girl who had been subjected to grave sexual abuse on many occasions, where it had come to a point where the child had become addicted to the abuse. Milani explained how her team had also faced serious anguish while listening to this story being told by the child and in many, many more cases just like it. For the team at CPF, taking on these cases is no easy task. They themselves have on occasions, fallen emotionally and mentally owing to the emotional strain of some of these cases.

This was another reason why the work space at CPF has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere. She explained how it was not only to help the children feel more comfortable, but it was also to help herself and her team be able to cope with the huge emotional toll of listening to some of the most horrific stories of abuse against children in Sri Lanka.

CPF also works hand in hand with several NGOs and government offices in order to share resources and expertise as and where needed. Of course, all of this is focused towards helping children and their families overcome their challenges.

The Child Protection Force Team

When considering the amount of work and the number of cases that CPF has to deal with on a regular basis, you would be forgiven for thinking that there was a large team behind all this work. However, Milani’s team at CPF is actually quite small. The team comprises of two additional Attorneys at Law, Ms. Wasana Kannangara and Mr. Prathibha Gamage, the in-house Clinical Psychologist Ms. Uttara Gunasinghe, the administrative officer Mr. Dulaj Kavinda Silva, the Accountant Mr. Sameera Wijemanne and three legal research interns Ms. Daneka Wanduragala, Ms. Dinuri Gunatilaka and Ms. Kanchana Rajakaruna.

Of course, while the size of the CPF team may be small, they more than make up for this with their fierce passion towards the cause and their unwavering dedication and commitment despite the many challenges that they have to face on a daily basis. Milani also pointed out the teams need to be extremely efficient in order to stay on top of the manageable yet overwhelming caseload at CPF.

How Can we Support the Cause?

Before concluding our time with Milani, we asked her how we the general public can help her and support the cause of CPF. Here Milani mentioned that one of the biggest ways to support the cause is through donations, either as money or by supplying items requested by CPF to help support a child and his/her family.

Milani also mentioned how people are allowed to Volunteer and help out with the work at CPF but stressed the need for only those who could commit for a long term to offer their services and willing to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, as the work done at CPF required building bonds and relationships with these individual children and their families who had been gravely wronged.

 

To learn more about CPF and the work they do, you can visit their website www.childprotectionforce.org  or their Facebook page @childprotectionforce or Instagram page @childprotectionforce.sl. You can also call on +94 (0) 114 848 856 or email on admin@childprotectionforce.org to offer your help or if you are aware of a child in need of CPF’s support or protection.

You can also donate towards the work done by CPF by sending your donations to the below bank account as each case can cost approximately Rs. 42,000 a month. This includes the legal costs, the cost of psychological and medical support, transport, documentation and other related costs.

BANK:  NATIONS TRUST BANK PLC, SRI LANKA
BRANCH:  BORELLA
ACCOUNT NO:  100 150 003 460
ACCOUNT NAME:  CHILD PROTECTION FORCE
SWIFT CODE:   N T B C L K L X

CPF not only tries to stir up awareness within our society but also brings actionable solutions to the table to help make lasting and meaningful changes to Sri Lanka and how Sri Lanka moves forward towards protecting our children. So, let us take a stand and help fight for the rights of this country’s future.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deshan Ilangakoon

"A creative writer, photographer, traveler and cyber security professional, Deshan has worked with several local and international travel magazines and other sources, to publish stories and reviews of places, sights and experiences around Sri Lanka. He has a passion to share his experiences through stories and pictures of the wonders of Sri Lanka."

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