22nd  August, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 6

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


Poverty causing child prostitution

Nimalarajan murder case struck off from roll call

Jaffna undergrads smash President's photo

UNF to make representations against UPFA

Rubber production unable to meet local demand

New project to curb migrant workers facing violence

Estate unions demand wage hike

More  migrant worker abuse

Dengue rages on

Unions criticise 1000 tanks project

Tackling torture top priority - NPC

Govt. shelves polythene ban

The poor getting poorer

Breakthrough into PLOTE Mohan murder

Public limiting vehicle use


Poverty causing child prostitution

By Jamila Najmuddin

The rising rate of poverty in the island has resulted in an increase in the number of child prostitutes in the coastal areas of the country.

Chairperson, Protecting Environment And Children Everywhere (PEACE), Maureen Seneviratne told The Sunday Leader that many of these child prostitutes were from poverty stricken villages and due to the high demand for these prostitutes, a new industry had been developed - Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC).

The worst affected areas being the western and southern coast, Seneviratne said that currently there were more than 5000 child prostitutes in these areas and added that till poverty was alleviated in the country, this industry would continue to expand.

"Although there is an improvement in the attitudes of the law enforcement authorities, the police should deploy officers in tourist areas as most of the perpetrators are from abroad who visit the country on tourist visas," Seneviratne said.

Seneviratne added that today, due to the rise in the cost of living and the lack of economic development in the country, this has forced many poor parents to send their children to work as prostitutes.

"Families struck with poverty have to be educated as this will be the only way that the numbers could be minimised," Seneviratne said adding that for 12 years PEACE had continued to hold awareness programmes, and would now hold educational workshops instead.

"We hope that by educating these people, they would put their children into other forms of labour instead of forcing them into prostitution," Seneviratne said.

Nimalarajan murder case struck off from roll call

The Jaffna Magistrate, R.T.Viknarajah, Thursday struck off the murder case of journalist, Mylvaganam Nimalarajan from the roll call until the Attorney General sent his determination on the findings of the special police team which conducted investigation into the murder, legal sources said.

When this case was taken up for inquiry on Thursday, the prosecution informed the Supreme Court that it had not received any intimation from the AG's Department. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials also were not present in court.

The Magistrate struck off the case from the call sheet until the AG's Department sent its determination on the police report, legal sources said.

Counsel, M.Remedius later told Jaffna journalists his apprehension that this case could also be abandoned by the AG's Department in due course like the Chemmani massacre case and several other criminal cases involving members of security forces in Jaffna and other parts of the northeast, sources said

The special team led by Ranjith De Silva along with CID officials of the Jaffna Police conducted investigations into the murder of Nimalarajan following agitation by national and international media organisations and civil human rights groups and submitted its report to the Attorney General's Department, legal sources said.

Four suspects identified as members of the paramilitary Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) were arrested and produced in this case.

Later the Jaffna High Court enlarged them on bail and ordered them to report on the last Sunday of each month to the Jaffna Police.

Few days ago the Supreme Court, which inquired into the fundamental rights applications of the suspects, ordered them to report to the Vavuniya Police instead.

The suspects in their FR applications submitted that they felt insecure in Jaffna, legal sources said.

Jaffna undergrads smash President's photo

A large group of undergraduates on Friday forcibly removed a portrait of President Chandrika Kumaratunga from the general hall of the Jaffna University and smashed it in protest against her government's policy on the Tamil question, staff said.

Students of the university had earlier petitioned the Vice Chancellor urging him to remove her photo from the general hall.

The undergraduates carried away the photo to the university ground shouting slogans against her and smashed it there, according to members of the staff.

UNF to make representations against UPFA

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti 

The main opposition United National Front (UNF) is to make representations to the Geneva based UN Human Rights Body regarding alleged harassment and arbitrary arrests of party legislators by the incumbent United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government.

A group of UNF legislators are currently gathering data to be submitted to the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), the European Parliamentary Union (EPU) and the UN Human Rights Committee in this connection.

UNF Parliamentarian, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena who will attend the IPU sessions this September said that information is being collected as to how many incidents of arbitrary arrests, intimidation and abuse of power concerning opposition parliamentarians have occurred since the UPFA government came into office four months ago.

He said that the attempted arrest of Colombo MP, Ravi Karunanayake and arrest of Kandy MP, A.R.M. Abdul Cader were two glaring instances when the law of the land and the procedures laid down for arrests were ignored.

In addition to this, the UNF is gathering information relating to similar acts of intimidation, arrests and abuse of power committed against its provincial council and local government members. " It has been a complete witch hunt. In addition to the more serious offences, there have been many instances when former ministers and members have been brought to disrepute," Dr. Jayawardena said.

 He added that the UNP members are being subjected to vicious prosecution, pledging to take up the matter with all international bodies concerned.

Rubber production unable to meet local demand

By Shezna  Shums

CHAIRMAN, Rubber Research Institute (RRI),  Dr. L.M.K.Thilakaratne says the current rubber production is insufficient to meet local demand.

He says the current production of an average of 920 kilograms per hectare should be increased to 920 kilograms per hectare per year, for optimal use of rubber in the local market.

He said rubber cultivation has also been introduced to non traditional rubber growing areas such as Moneragala and Bibile and added efforts must be made to increase rubber production in Sri Lanka to meet the growing local demand.

He pointed out that since the demand for rubber was increasing in Sri Lanka, the rubber industry should find ways and means to increase its output to cater to the increasing local and foreign demand.

New project to curb migrant workers facing violence

By Jamila Najmuddin 

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) will implement a new project soon with a view to curbing torture and harassment of house maids by their foreign employers.

The return of over 285 expatriate workers to the island in the past few weeks from the Middle East following harassment by foreign employers has alarmed the government.

Chairman, SLBFE, Karunasena Hettiarachchi said that this new project would help minimise the levels of harassment the workers face in the hands of foreign employers.

He said as workers leave the island either with forged passports or without attending the special training designed to face such harassment, workers found it difficult to cope with the situation of facing torture by their employers.

According to him, the new project would require workers to produce six new documents to the SLBFE which would include a letter from the foreign sponsor, foreign agent, foreign missions, a local guardian, the local agent and a letter from the SLBFE, identifying the individual as a potential migrant worker.

Hettiarachchi said that currently the only documentation that is required from a migrant worker is visas, passport and the service agreement.

"Since only these three documents are required workers find it easy to apply under false job categories such as waitresses or nannies. However, when these workers go abroad, they are sent to work as housemaids, peons and drivers. Since these workers are not used to handle the household appliances, the employers beat them," Hettiarachchi said.

Estate unions demand wage hike

Three major hill country based trade unions have decided to bring pressure on the government to raise the wages of plantation workers in view of the present unprecedented increase in the cost of living.

The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee (JPTUC) have all informed the Employers Federation that the wages of plantation workers must be increased.

At present, a worker earns Rs. 147 per day. Union sources said if a 'reasonable' increase was not granted by the government, then the unions would resort to serious trade union action.

Describing the present cost of living as 'unbearable', Administrative Secretary, CWC V.Puthrasigamany told The Sunday Leader that these major plantation unions have decided to demand a wage hike. He said that as responsible trade unions they would not make unreasonable demands and make the industry suffer. "We must firstly safeguard the industry that provides jobs to tens and thousands of plantation workers," he said.

Referring to some of the protests undertaken by small trade unions backed by some non-governmental organisations in the hill country, he said it was unfair for such unions to make unreasonable demands.

"We will demand the correct increase at the right time," he said. These three unions also met the Employers Federation last Friday to discuss their grievances.

More  migrant worker abuse

A Dubai-based employer of a Sri Lankan maid has allegedly inflicted second-degree burns on her hands for failing to cook to suit the palates of the eight-member family.

The 21-year-old maid, Fathima Fazana, who had come to Dubai on a visa provided by an employment agency in November 2003, said that she had fled from the household in Jumeirah after three months of torture culminating in the lady of the house actually heating a knife and pressing it down on her right hand in four different places.

"They are a huge family with seven children and I used to do a lot of hard work, but even then they would not give me enough to eat. Every time they decided that they did not like my work, they would starve me, but even then I continued to work for them because I had paid Rs. 15, 000 to the recruitment agency in Sri Lanka to get myself this job. Finally after three months, they claimed that the food that I had prepared for lunch was not good and the lady in a fit of rage took the red hot knife and burnt my right hand," explained an agonised Fathima.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Sri Lankan Consul-General, Dubai and Northern Emirates, P.D. Fernando, , said that the consulate had sent an official with the maid to the immigration office to trace her passport. In the event of it not being found, they would issue an emergency certificate so that she could travel to Sri Lanka.

She subsequently lodged a complaint with the Jumeirah Police Station, but her employer refused to turn up for the police inquiry.

After lodging the complaint she had to stay in the detainee cell of the Immigration Department for 14 days before she was allowed to leave. Without any documents or money, Fathima then took shelter in the quarters of an associate who also works in a villa in Jumeirah and has been working part time since then to earn money to buy herself a ticket to return home.

Fernando said that laws governing overseas employment were being made more stringent in Sri Lanka and that labour contracting companies like  the 'Al Enjaz GE Services' that had arranged for Fathima's job would be blacklisted so as to reduce such incidents of migrant worker abuse.

Dengue rages on 

By Jamila Najmuddin 

Medical authorities have warned that the number of dengue cases were expected to rise further in the next couple of weeks due to the continuing rains in the Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces.

According to Medical Officer, Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Hasitha Tissera, there have been 65 deaths reported to date islandwide with Colombo and Gampaha being the worst affected by the epidemic.

Dr. Tissera added there was also a significant increase reported in the Kalutara District adding that the only two districts that showed a slight reduction was Kandy and Kurunegala.

"There have been 11,266 cases reported to date with 2535 cases reported from the Colombo District, 2069 from Gampaha, 903 from Kalutara, 1923 from Kandy and 724 from Kurunegala," Dr. Tissera said.

He added that the public must be cautious to prevent the number of cases increasing further. Dr Tissera said that to date there were 22 deaths reported in the Colombo District, 11 in Gampaha, five in Kalutara, eight in Kandy and five in Kurunegala.

Meanwhile, medical experts have also warned that the number of dysentery cases were also expected to increase due to the ongoing rains.

Medical Officer, Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Jagath Amarasekara said that till the first week of August, there were a total of 4720 cases reported islandwide with the month of June alone recording 1182 cases. "Although the numbers have decreased in the month of July with only 903 cases reported, we expect the number of cases to increase in the next couple of weeks again," Dr. Amarasekara said.

"The public has to be warned to take precautionary measures as prevention is better than cure," Dr. Amarasekara said.

Unions criticise 1000 tanks project

The government's 1000 tank project has been condemned by some of the hill country trade unions.

Union sources say with the implementation of the project, most of the plantation workers are going to be displaced as large extents of land would be required for this purpose.

A recent survey conducted by some of the unions reveal that in the Aislaby estate in Bandarawela, large extents of land have been earmarked for this project and as a result, nearly 300 to 350 plantation families might be displaced.

"Around 25 such projects are to be implemented in the hill country alone and this is going to result in more workers losing not only their lands but their income also," union sources said.

Tackling torture top priority - NPC

The National Police Commission (NPC) is to put 'police torture' on the top of its priority list commencing this week, according to NPC chairman Ranjit Abeysuriya PC.

New investigators are to be recruited shortly to probe the increasing rate of police torture in Sri Lanka, the NPC Chief said.

According to him, of the complaints received from the public up to the year 2000, 15% have been related to police torture while 40% are related to police inaction in the face of public complaints.

The NPC Chief said though complaints related to police torture have been received by the NPC, the Commission could not commence investigations due to the dearth of properly trained investigators. He said the NPC has already advertised in the local newspapers calling for applications.

"I understand police torture is terrible. This goes entirely against the rights of citizens. But this happens in our country and we need to take stock of the issue," Abeysuriya told The Sunday Leader.

"Earlier, this issue was handled by the IGP, but under the 17th amendment this responsibility has fallen upon the Police Commission. So we are attending to it and giving police torture priority," he said.

Referring to the prevailing misunderstanding between the Commission and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Abeysuriya said this issue would be laid to rest, with proper understanding.

He said Wednesday (25), both his Commission and the IGP would be meeting to sort out differences that arose because of the police transfers.

"We can't afford to blame each other and expect to serve society. We have to iron out matters fast. So there were some misunderstandings over the police transfers and most of them have been resolved. The rest will be sorted out this week," he told The Sunday Leader.

Govt. shelves polythene ban

By Risidra Mendis 

The availability of recycling machines in the country has prompted the government to give up its original plan to impose a total ban on polythene.

Earlier the government planned to ban polythene but Environment Minister A.H.M. Fowzie says as the private sector has come forward to recycle used polythene, there is no necessity to ban polythene. He also said this would enable the government to stop importing polythene.

For many years Environment Ministry officials and environmentalists have tried to find an alternative product for polythene but have been unsuccessful due to the cost factor.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Minister Fowzie said at present his Ministry had appointed a committee to look into the aspect of finding an alternative for polythene. Despite the many discussions held between Ministry officials and plastic and polythene manufacturers, an alternative cost effective product is yet to be found" says the Minister. 

"Polythene is very cheap and can be conveniently used for many purposes. If we were to introduce a substitute it would have to be affordable to the public" says an environmentalist.

With no other alternative for the usage of polythene at present the Environment Ministry has decided to create awareness programmes among the public on proper usage of this product.

According to Minister Fowzie, the Environment Ministry is working closely with the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to create an awareness on the advantages and disadvantages of polythene usage. "We have to make people understand that polythene has to be used and disposed of in the correct way" added the Minister.

Meanwhile Director General, CEA, Manel Jayamanna said due to the inappropriate disposal of polythene in the country the public continues to suffer. "If there is proper management of polythene in the country we can continue to use this product without a problem. There are many institutions in need of polythene for recycling," he said.

The poor getting poorer

By Jamila Najmuddin 

Due to the skyrocketing prices of essential goods, poverty, especially in the rural areas has risen to more than three times that in the urban areas.

With 31.3% of people living below the poverty line in the rural areas, 8.6% of the population affected in the urban areas are also in the same predicament. The official poverty line for the month of May was recorded at Rs.1526. However, the official poverty line for the year 2002, was recorded at Rs.1423.

According to statistics revealed by the Census and Statistics Department, the basic amount that a person currently needs to meet  basic needs in the Colombo District is Rs.1537, whereas in districts such as Hambantota and Anuradhapura the amount required is Rs.1338 and Rs.1380 respectively, which implies that the living standards in those areas are relatively higher and these people could afford to purchase more products than those living in the city.

Urban poverty worse

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Director, Census and Statistics Department (CDS), A.G Nanayakkara said that although only 6% of Colombo's population lived below the poverty line in comparison with 31% and 30% in districts such as Puttalam and Matale, the poverty-stricken in Colombo suffered more than those in other districts due to the high cost of living in the city. "When compared to the city, the prices of goods available in other areas are much cheaper which is the reason that the poor in Colombo suffer the most," Nanayakkara said.

He also said that latest statistics proved that 15.6% of households were affected by poverty in the Western Province, 25.8% in the Central Province, 24.7% in the Southern, 21.6% in the North Western, 20.4% in the North Central, 27.0% in the Uva and 26.8% in the Sabaragamuwa Province.

"The CSD is currently conducting a survey on the poverty lines in the north and east which started last month and will conclude in December," Nanayakkara said.

Conflict induced poverty

Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Leader, Principal Researcher, Point Pedro Institute of Development, Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan said that although there was not much reliable data available for the NE since the early-1980s, with the limited data that was available, the north and east was the poorest in terms of various measures of poverty. "According to the CSD, if we use the measure of income poverty, at the very beginning of the 21st century, the Northern Province was the poorest in terms of per capita income followed by the Eastern Province. In contrast, in the early-1980s it was Sabaragamuwa Province that recorded the lowest poverty levels followed by Uva Province. If we use the measure of human poverty the north and east is again worse off than rest of the country," Dr. Muttukrishna said.

He added that while nationally 45% of households had access to safe water, only 20% of the households in the north and east had access to safe water and 73% of households islandwide had sanitation facilities in comparison with only 48% in the north and east. Islanwide,  17% of babies were born underweight, while in the north and east, 26% of babies were born underweight.

He further added that though the ceasefire being in effect for the past two years had improved the general socio-economic conditions of the people of the north east considerably, he was unable to ascertain whether poverty had decreased, had remained unchanged or increased during this period. "Firstly, we do not have records of the poverty levels in the north east during the conflict and secondly, we do not have statistics during the ceasefire. Therefore, we are unable to compare the present situation with the past," he said.

He was also of the view that the areas worst affected by poverty in the north and east would be the LTTE controlled areas, because these areas had been under an economic embargo since 1990 until January 2002.

The lack of an open market and freedom of movement would have also contributed to such acute poverty. "During the last two years of the ceasefire, a large number of internally displaced people have returned to their original homes in the Jaffna peninsula. Besides, the bulk of the refugees who fled to Western countries were from the Jaffna peninsula and the remittances from them has mitigated the impact of the conflict in Jaffna. Therefore, the people in Jaffna would have been relatively better off, both during the conflict and the in past two years of the ceasefire, as oppsed to people living in the Wanni or the Eastern Province," Dr. Muttukrishna said.

He also said that there were some specific features of conflict-induced poverty in the north and east which may not be quantifiable. "There is mass displacement of the populace resulting in loss of livelihood, identity, self esteem and cultural degradation. Besides, trauma, torture, and violence have resulted in psycho-social deprivation of the people as well," he said.

He also said that there was a huge unemployment and under-employment problem in the north east and   while the national unemployment rate was about 8%, a survey by the Council of NGOs in Jaffna District in late-2002 showed that the unemployment rate was 28% in Jaffna and the under-employment rate was 37%.

"This huge unemployment / under-employment problem in the north and east is a major cause of poverty in the province," he said.

He also said that the school drop-out rate in the north east was much higher than in the rest of the country and studies had revealed that the lack of access to basic education was a major cause of poverty in the region.

Breakthrough into PLOTE Mohan murder

By  Risidra Mendis 

A major breakthrough in the assassination case of PLOTE Mohan has resulted in a number of suspects being arrested, police officials say. During the ongoing investigations it has been revealed that PLOTE Mohan was befriended by a man who had claimed his brother needed a beer licence. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Director, Colombo Crimes Division SSP Sarath Lugoda said over a period of time, the man from Batticaloa had been in contact with PLOTE Mohan prior to his assassination in Bambalapitiya.

According to SSP Lugoda, during the investigations PLOTE Mohan's wife had said she overheard her husband planning to meet a friend at 10 a.m. on July 31 at a lodge close to a prominent clothes shop on Duplication Road, the day before he was assassinated.

"During the investigation we found out that the van in which the assassins travelled belonged to a person in Batticaloa. The driver of the vehicle who drove from Batticaloa was not the driver behind the wheel when the assassination took place on July 31," explained SSP Lugoda.

According to Lugoda the assassins' vehicle had left Batticaloa carrying five people on July 30. "On the morning of July 31 the man who hired the vehicle got it collected by another person who also took the keys to the van. After PLOTE Mohan was killed at 11.30 a.m. the van was returned to the original driver at 12.00 p.m." says SSP Lugoda.

Lugoda said that the original driver unaware of what had happened had driven the van back to Batticaloa on July 31. "The driver reached Batticoloa at 10 p.m. and handed the vehicle to the owner.  Further investigations have revealed that the man who took the vehicle from the driver was a Muslim from Batticaloa. According to the SSP, the Muslim man who drove the van to the scene of the crime did not know that an assassination was about to take place. We have arrested a number of suspects and investigations are under way to arrest more," explained SSP Lugoda.     

Meanwhile, a spate of killings of EPDP members allegedly by the LTTE has caused concern among the general public who feel threatened by the deteriorating security situation in the country. 

While four top EPDP members lost their lives during the course of this year allegedly at the hands of the LTTE, the most recent victim was EPDP Minister Douglas Devananda's media secretary and former EPDP election candidate K. Balanadarajah on August 16, 2004 in Wellawatte. Balanadarajah was shot at by two unidentified gunmen near his home at W. A. Silva Mawatha.

The first incident was on March 1, 2004 when an EPDP member Ponnaiah Yogendran alias Daya was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at 9.45 p.m. in Valachennai. Then the assassination of EPDP member Ravindra Welaudan by unidentified gunmen, on July 21, took place in Ampara.

On August 10, EPDP member, Ramani Thirunayagam alias Pandian was shot dead by a a person believed to be a member of the Tigers pistol gang. Despite having numerous accusations thrown at them about violating the ceasefire agreement, the Tigers continue to assassinate EPDP members due to political differences between the two parties.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, promised to bring down the crime rate in the country when her party came into power and appointed Ratnasiri Wickramanayake as minister of public security, law and order. Contrarily, the crime rate in the country is on the increase and death threats on Minister Devananda and other members of his party continue unabated.

Public limiting vehicle use

By Dhananjani Silva 

While the rising fuel prices have placed the largest burden on the poorest of the poor, the suburban middle class too finds itself struggling to cope with skyrocketing prices and have begun to limit expenses.

Most have had to rethink using their personal vehicles for transportation all the time, especially when their jobs do not entitle them to a fuel allowance.

The Sunday Leader spoke to Dilan, a computer programmer who travels from Piliyandala to Kirullapone in his diesel van every day. He believes that his daily fuel bills are going through the roof. "The situation is getting steadily worse every day but even with difficulty, I still continue to go to work in my own vehicle everyday. I decided I would wait and see for how long I can go on like this," he lamented adding that fuel was only one of his main expenses.

For Medananda, a pensioner who is now employed as a lecturer, it is a whole new life  now. Although he used to go to work daily in his petrol vehicle before, he now finds he can no longer afford to do so because of the rise in fuel prices. "How can we afford to travel daily by car when a petrol litre costs Rs. 68? Especially when travelling in Colombo, a great deal of petrol is wasted during heavy traffic jams.

The pension and my tiny income are just not sufficient enough for me to maintain a petrol car. We are worried about what the future holds if the government continues to increase fuel prices at such a rate," he said.

Fathy also spoke to The Sunday Leader and said that fuel price hikes have a major impact on their daily travel. "There is very little difference even if you decide to travel by trishaws; very soon they will increase their charges as well. It might be better to try and manage with our own vehicles," she said.

According to Fathy, she has not started to feel the pinch of the fuel hikes as yet since it has only been a few weeks since the increase. "But in the future, we will definitely find it difficult," she said.

"The only option we have is to leave our vehicles at home and travel by bus," added Jeevaka who used to find it convenient to travel to work in his own car. "We do not get petrol allowances and therefore we cannot use our private vehicles any longer," he lamented.

Despite the public grievances and suffering however, the government claims that it has no choice but to go ahead with price revisions because of escalating global oil prices.

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