The Sunday Leader

Sexual Exploitation Of Women In The North-East Continues

Government officials, Non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff, workers and military personnel continue to exploit women in the North and East.

While domestic abuse and sexual violence or exploitation are problems across Sri Lanka, its higher prevalence in the north and east is a consequence of armed conflict and continued militarisation, exacerbated by the culture of sexual exploitation and harassment, intimidation and fear that now exists there, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report on Friday based on interviews conducted by the organisation.

Many women interviewed described routine exploitation by men in a range of positions: state officials, non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff, workers and military personnel. In return for providing help to find their loved ones or improve their economic status, men often demand sexual favours.

Women also report an increase in demand for sex work from men drawn to the provinces by post-war business opportunities. In other cases, facing physical and economic insecurity, some women heading households enter into short-term or informal sexual relationships in return for economic benefits or protection.

Women interviewed spoke of military personnel frequently trying to befriend women, visiting their homes and approaching them on the streets, which left them feeling vulnerable.

Gender-based and sexual violence is reportedly very high in both provinces, though there is little detailed documentation. Community-based activists in all seven districts where this research was conducted said they had received complaints of sexual violence, including rape. The victims were reluctant to pursue legal cases, however, fearing reprisals and stigma.

Activists believe the cases reported to them are only the tip of the iceberg. Women’s groups are also working on incidents of domestic sexual abuse and violence, among them a significant number of incest cases.

Justice for sexual and gender crimes are rare: few cases are prosecuted, especially if the alleged perpetrator is in the security services, and even fewer end with convictions.

Court procedures are long and not gender sensitive; delays, the adversarial approach of lawyers and social stigma all combine to re-traumatise many victims and discourage others from seeking justice.

This contrasts starkly with the level of security women felt when they lived under the rule of the LTTE, which had strictly enforced prohibitions against sexual abuse.

Nearly every woman interviewed for this research spoke with regret of no longer being free to walk safely at night, expressing contempt for social behaviours, such as the casual harassment of women, which they found degrading and disrespectful.

ICG says the injustices women have experienced and the pressures they continue to face are at the intersection of Sri Lanka’s most important post-war challenges and require urgent attention. Addressing these issues skilfully could reinvigorate the larger justice agenda and reaffirm that positive change is still possible.

ICG notes several steps are especially important: First, although families of the disappeared currently evince little interest in the missing person’s office, it would be the most systematic way to address the needs of relatives of the disappeared. It must be provided with sufficient resources and include branches in the north and east that are staffed with local personnel, as the families prefer. The office should not function, however, as a substitute for credible police investigations into cases of enforced disappearances where evidence exists.

Second, an office of reparations should be created to coordinate efforts to address the needs of conflict-affected women. In principle, this could be done through existing government programs. Myriad government action plans and scant effective action, however, suggest the need for a powerful body authorised to monitor the efforts of different ministries, guided by a clear purpose and enjoying both adequate resources and top-level political support.  An office of reparations could fill that role.

To that end ICG says the government should invite public feedback on the draft reparations law already prepared for the Prime Minister. This should be shared widely, along with findings by the consultation task forces on reparations.

The Government also should make a major effort to win support from Sinhalese and Muslims by explaining the benefits of the new office for all those affected by the war, not just Tamils in the north and east.

The rights group notes that Government initiatives to reduce sexual exploitation and violence against women in the north and east are essential. For military and government offices, this means enforcing strict codes of conduct. For the police, it means training and deploying more Tamil-speaking and female police officers plus establishing dedicated units in the north and east to investigate gender-based crimes, which should work closely with a sexual crimes unit in the attorney general’s department.

The Government should also consider creating a special division of the high court to handle sexual crimes against women, supported by an independent unit to protect victims and witnesses, ICG said.

Finally, while planning and implementing these national reconciliation and reparations policies, the government must directly engage women and other survivors, rather than relying on intermediaries or ignoring grassroots opinions. Donors should consider providing financial support to community- and district-level women’s groups, including female members of the zonal task forces, all of whom constitute a vital social resource.

No complaints says Government

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The Government says it has not received any complaints alleging sexual exploitation of women in the North and East.

Minister of Prison Reforms and Resettlement and Rehabilitation, D.M Swaminathan said that if a police complaint is filed it will be investigated.

The Minister also said that if anyone feels uncomfortable to go to the police then they can speak to him or his Ministry.

Swaminathan assured that if the allegations are true appropriate action will be taken.

6 Comments for “Sexual Exploitation Of Women In The North-East Continues”

  1. Sangaralingham

    Society must behave like humans with high moral values. Think all women as your mother sister daughter not an animal to pollute your sexual appetite. Respect trust must come first. Violation of morals should be reported by sll women to a established human resource department the head should be a well qualified female who herself should be good character morals and educated

  2. kudson

    what do you expect when the politicians themselves are sexual predators
    the ministers demand sexual favors for providing government jobs

  3. raj

    Mr.Sumanthiran would say that people cannot make complaint about sexual violence because justice system of Sri Lanka or UN is not going to believe it like the way he said the UN is not going to believe or agree that there was a genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka. Please, Mr.Sumanthiran say something about it and dowry system existing among Tamils. Mr.Sumanthiran, did you get dowry when you get married?

  4. raj

    In some countries, governments put uniforms and let them to involve in sexual violence against women.

  5. Dadaddaaggyaggydaaggyddddsd

    Oh someone has got his or her wires mixed up.
    NGOs coming out once again with lame accusations as their money making has dried up after the end of the was. They need to sex up things but unless they take a tablet John took nothing is going to be erect.

    Its better if these NGOs singing for their supper cameout with “Homosexual Exploitation ” story.
    At least they could have pointed the finger at Ranil, Mangala, mallik, Sagala, Akila,
    poojith for some solace and buckshees.

    No complaints says Government as exploitation of MEN only now.
    Ashanthees are safe now.

  6. Daya

    People living in Colombo 7 will not understand problems faced in interior part of the countries.

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