Letter from Sri Lanka.
Waldock has helped to organise a five-day training programme that
aims to encourage dialogue and information exchange about child
protection between child care professionals.
Child protection services in Sri Lanka are
inadequate and inconsistent. This is caused not least by a poor
economy, the conflict in the north and east, and ethnic differences
between colleagues. Also, police have a reputation for
institutional corruption, violence and incompetence.
in June 1998, the National Child Protection Authority is a
government body supervised by Sri Lanka’s president, Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The NCPA was set up to address the
nation’s growing concerns about the lack of protection available to
its children. Its mandate ranges from advising the government on
national policy, co-ordinating awareness campaigns, the education
of child care workers and the investigation of child protection
NCPA works with the police and health service. One difficulty is
the public perception of police officers. They are generally
considered to be uneducated. A reluctance to work alongside them
has led to a breakdown in child abuse investigations.
been based at the NCPA since March 2000. My role, as child
protection trainer, has included helping to develop guidelines and
national policy for video interviewing of abused or maltreated
children. The next stage is to encourage dialogue and information
exchange between child care professionals.
Through the NCPA and the British
High Commission, a five-day training programme addressing local
training needs was organised in which psychiatrists, psychologists,
counsellors and police took part. It aimed to bring together people
who are working at grass roots level in Sri Lanka with
professionals of experience who could share and develop
trainers from Bristol, England – part of a health trust team
working with adolescents suffering from severe mental heath
difficulties – were invited to carry out the programme. The
training covered topics such as working with paedophiles, community
safety and prevention, supervision and networking, psychiatric
assessment, and various therapeutic approaches.
was resentment from some doctors and psychologists. They felt
police were having to attend a programme that was beyond their
educational capacity. Despite this, police officers’ confidence
increased, partly because of positive feedback from the trainers
and possibly partly because of their feelings of self-worth at
being included in “important” training. Visiting foreign trainers
are valued highly in Sri Lanka and inclusion is prized.
Interestingly, it was felt that
the high social status that comes from being a health professional
in Sri Lanka often intimidated clients and prevented disclosure, as
it is not polite to talk of abuse in detail to someone of that
stature. Police officers’ experience and understanding of the
reality of clients’ lives meant victims were often more comfortable
talking with officers whom they felt understood their situations
peace process in Sri Lanka is still at an early stage but Sri
Lankans are cautiously hopeful of success. The emergence of new
partnerships in all areas of people’s lives is welcomed with the
view that this will be positive for the care, treatment and
investigations provided for child victims of abuse.
Kate Waldock is a social worker
and a VSO volunteer in Sri Lanka.
– The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri
Lanka (formerly Serendib, Ceylon) covers 65,610 squre kilometres –
about a quarter of the size of the UK – and has a population of
– Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74 per cent; Tamil
18 per cent; Moor 7 per cent; Burgher, Malay and Vedda 1 per
– Languages: Sinhala (official and national
language) 74 per cent; Tamil (national language) 18 per cent.
– A civil war has raged between the government
and armed Tamil separatists since 1983. By mid-1999, about 66,000
were housed in refugee camps in south India; more than 200,000
Tamils have sought refuge in the West.