Key recommendations made to strengthen justice for children

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), today launched ‘A Legal and Institutional Assessment of Sri Lanka’s Justice System for Children’, a new report that recommends a set of 27 key long and short term actions, that if implemented will further strengthen the administration of justice for children in Sri Lanka.

Attended by the Minister of Justice and Foreign Employment, Thalatha Atukorale, officials from Government Ministries, UN Agencies, civil society organisations and the diplomatic community, the report provides a key insight into the justice system for children, and will act as a guide to ensuring the protection of children who are in contact and conflict with law.

Specifically, the report examines the existing legislative framework and institutional practices in Sri Lanka in terms of justice for children, and analyses its administration and enforcement.

“While Sri Lanka, particularly the Ministry of Justice has already initiated actions related to some areas which the report highlights – such as increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility as well as amending the Children Judicial Protection Bill (CJPB) to include the principle of best interest of the child as the predominant consideration in all matters related to the child, there remains areas for improvement that need to be addressed with utmost urgency,” Minister of Justice and Foreign Employment Thalatha Atukorale said.

Of the insights provided by the report, there are two key areas that are identified for priority action. Firstly, addressing the lengthy judiciary processes that results in long delays in bringing children’s cases to trial. The report notes that it is common for cases to be so delayed that the child involved may have grown into adulthood by the time of hearing or conclusion. In instances of child abuse cases, delays in investigation process result in a severe backlog of cases. Secondly, addressing the high rates of long-term institutionalisation especially among children who are orphaned, disabled, or who come from poor and vulnerable communities and backgrounds. Children experiencing judiciary delays or who face long-term institutionalisation are prone to an increased risk of re-victimization, stigma and key rights violations.

Tim Sutton, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka commented, “Ensuring that children are protected from harm – be it violence, neglect, abuse or exploitation – is vital and must be a priority for all.  Yet undoubtedly, a key mechanism to achieve this is the justice system. We must ensure that the justice system acts in the best interests of children, and that it responds in a timely and efficient way. This report provides us with key insights and recommendations to further build a system that protects one of the most vulnerable and important groups in our society – our children and young people. UNICEF stands ready to support the Government of Sri Lanka in making these improvements a reality.” (Colombo Gazette)

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