Sudden attention on child labour: Whither police intelligence?

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Much hype has been suddenly generated over the employment of children as domestic aides. The reason for this sudden awakening is the suspicious death of a 16-year-old female domestic aide at parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence.

Investigations are underway and may be those responsible will be brought to book. But what about those who were tasked with the responsibility of preventing employment of children? What have the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and the Police Children and Women Protection Bureau (PCWPB) been doing until this ghastly death was reported?

Now, after this event, the authorities are agog with ‘child employment’. As reported in the media: “Police investigations have tracked down eleven domestic aides who had worked at Mr. Bathiudeen’s household since 2010.” – “Police in Colombo and suburbs this week carried out raids on suspected households which employed underage children as domestic aides.”

Ponniah Bandaram, a suspect in this case, is on record admitting to providing domestic aides from the upcountry and stating that the practice is common in the upcountry. He has said that, in this case, it was the girl’s mother who had called over and asked him to find a job for her daughter.

It is quite clear that all these transactions have been taking place over a long period and openly too. For all intents and purposes, this practice has been permissible by all concerned. Even a semblance of intelligence gathering by the police would have revealed the despicable practice of employing children and the cruelties the children have to undergo. The blame is not only on the police. All the State authorities tasked with the protection of children have reacted only after the media hype. Investigations should also be made in regard to the abject failure on the part of these authorities.

All State authorities have been activated, as usual, only after the crisis was exposed in the media, and even then, the action has been to change heads at the NCPA. The motive behind such action is perhaps to placate the media, and in fact nothing else can be expected beyond this knee-jerk action.

The State authorities do not acknowledge the fact that the problem is long drawn over the years as annual statistics show. The problem is then the failure to use the available intelligence and is glaring in the face.

These instances should have been dealt with at early stages before the worst has happened and complaints made and media hype generated. It is not a problem that can be solved by rotating heads at NCPA. It is quite likely that none of these chiefs, including the new one, knows of it and has the capacity to set intelligence in motion. This is not a big deal if you only apply yourself to it with plain common sense. In fact, common sense is becoming a rare commodity as a result of being unused.

Plain common sense coming down from over one hundred and fifty years ago when the intelligence system was much in place, brought results. But, from about 2019 and later, and now, are heard sounds of intelligence sections with a difference; more expressive in the Sinhala term, buddhi angshaya, which sounds more like a hit squad than an intelligence coordinating bureau. As a result of this secretive arrangement, the normal legal intelligence function of the police at grassroots level, and grama niladhari division level, involving every single police officer, top to bottom, is lost to all. To some political authorities this is convenient and useful, because intelligence at grassroots level has no space for politicking.

This clandestine arrangement may continue for quite some time yet.

You can fathom the level of importance the Government and the Opposition place on this problem of child abuse, when you listen to them trading charges as to who should be held responsible. They do not seem to know there is a law book, ‘Code of Criminal Procedure’. And what of the Police? They seem to be waiting for directions!

All that is now happening is superficial. It may remain so till the next child crisis is reported.

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Disclaimer: Sudden attention on child labour: Whither police intelligence? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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