I am a no nonsense woman - State Minister Kumarasinghe | Daily News

I am a no nonsense woman - State Minister Kumarasinghe

“There will always be help for those who ask for help” said State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe. Today in Sri Lanka there is a growing consensus that the environment in Sri Lanka is not safe for women and children. Therefore, Kumarasinghe is spearheading the effort to create a society in Sri Lanka that is sensitive to the needs of women and children. The Daily News spoke to Kumarasinghe who says that speaking out is the greatest power a woman and a child can have.

Q: Madam, you are the State Minister of Women and Child Affairs. Can you identify the areas of difficulty women and children face in Sri Lanka and how you as State Minister wish to address them?

A: I think what we all must do is raise awareness. This is why I urge women and appeal to women to come forward and speak out. Be brave. You are a human being and you have your rights. Do not suffer in silence. Having the courage to speak out is your greatest power. If you know that a child is being abused, then it is your duty to bring it to the attention of the authorities. If you are a child being abused, then you need to speak out. Dialing the numbers 1929 and 1938 is the first step. If you are a woman being abused, then dial the number 1938. If you know of a child being abused, then dial the number 1929. Do not keep silent. We must encourage victims of abuse to speak out.

Q: How efficient and effective has the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs been when it comes to creating a society that is sensitive to the needs of women and children?

A: This is a very important Ministry. Children are our future. We must protect our children and women and offer them security. That is why we have a National Child Protection Authority (NCPA). We have a Chairman there. I have ordered them to take action as quickly as possible when it comes to cases involving children. We cannot allow these cases to drag on. You need to take stern action. We also have to look after pre-school children. We have around 580,000 pre-school children in the country. At some places, we believe that they do not have enough food. So what we are going to do is to provide one meal a day for 22 days per month. Our President Ranil Wickremesinghe loves children and he will do anything for them. That is why I feel so lucky working under him. I am 100 per cent sure of that. I feel so confident being a part of his team. I know that he is concerned about children. He knows how valuable children are. He has always believed that my Ministry is one of the most important ministries in Sri Lanka. I personally do not understand how an adult can be cruel to a child. It is not done. I feel that the punishments for offenders must be tough and effective. If you take women, they constitute 52% of society in Sri Lanka. Do women have equal rights? Our Ministry and Women Focus together are producing a Cabinet paper and I am sure the President will take immediate action. We intend on having a national policy for women. This is something big. I feel very fortunate being able to be a part of this.

Q: Sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse are three areas that affect both women and children. Over the past few years, do we see a rise in cases of abuse when it comes to women and children? How serious is this?

A: Yes, we do see a rise in cases of abuse when it comes to women, and it is getting worse. But more than women, we see children’s problems. These cases are going up. Though women constitute 52 per cent of our population, they still need to be protected. In Sri Lanka a woman cannot go on the roads in the night. Even the Police may harass them, accusing them of indecent behaviour. Women are humans. They have the right to lead the kind of life they want to lead. A man also has that right, but they have no right to abuse a woman. If the woman does not consent, then NO means NO. However, there must be mutual understanding, love and care in a relationship. All of that is very beautiful. A woman is not a sex toy. She is not a sexual object. Think about a single woman in this country or even a single parent? A woman becoming a mother? She is trying to bring up a child, all on her own. They are innocent women. Think of their plight if they are being harassed. As State Minister, I will fight for these women, until my last breathe. So I am asking the people of Sri Lanka: please support them. Respect women.

I feel that sexual education is very important right now. This is something we all have to agree on. I feel both children and women need to be educated on protection when it comes to sexual relationships. I see that some women are not really aware of this. That is why there are unwanted pregnancies. They should know that there are methods they may use to protect themselves. When a woman becomes careless and has a child, then that is bad for her and for the child. It may lead to years of suffering. The best thing to do is protecting yourself. Children especially must know – good touch and bad touch. Because the child in his or her innocence may think that the adult is touching them out of love. These adults are taking advantage of children. They are using the child for sexual purposes.

Q: What are the causes you attribute to the abuse of children?

A: In some cases we encounter, when the child is two years, the mother goes abroad. The mother should stay with the child until the child is at least five years. Our children need their mothers. This is because we know that children are raped, even at the age of two or a few months. And what about drugs? This is a terrible problem in society. So many people in our island nation are selling drugs. Drug dealers are killing this country. Action needs to be taken. The fathers who often use drugs are semi conscious. They are not in their right mind. Because of this the child is neglected and sometimes the child is abused. The father does not recognize his child. Sometimes these fathers do not even feed their children. At that point the father is not thinking about the child. Even child sex trafficking is another problem. The relevant authorities need to look into this and take responsibility. The mother goes abroad and the children are vulnerable. The mother should not leave like that. Children are in danger. We have to put in place rules and regulations. If the mother leaves at five, then at least the child can talk and complain. I am confident that the President will assist. I am asking the President to reverse that Cabinet paper which allows women to go abroad when the child is two years. That we can reverse. As for the drugs, the Police have to do something. Otherwise what is the point in having a Police? I wish to also point out – why can’t the fathers go abroad and why can’t the mothers stay back? As a labourer he can go abroad. Why only women?

Q: What is your vision and mission as State Minister when it comes to Women and Child affairs? What are the goals you wish to accomplish as the State Minister of Women and Child affairs?

A: Children should have their educational qualifications and they need to be protected. Children’s education is very important. Those in probation, their education is very important. As State Minister, I have to work hard. I have no great goals when it comes to politics. I am a woman who works hard. I feel the whole system has to be changed. People should respect the woman. That is something you cannot buy. The mother figure is very important. We are not involved in a battle between men and women. When it comes to children, every child is a child. From childhood a child’s attitude must be formed. Because when that child grows old, attitudes are very difficult to change. This will change the way men look at women, and how they treat them. Women should not be objectified. The woman goes through great pain, giving birth to the child. They are strong enough to bear that pain. And when the mother sees the child, all the pain is forgotten.

Q: Compared to other countries in Asia, how far ahead or behind is Sri Lanka when it comes to affairs concerning the rights of women and children?

A: I would say that as an Asian country we are not in a very bad position and at the same time we are not at the very top of the table. There is so much to improve on. There is still so much to do.

Q: Many say the National Child Protection Authority is like a toothless Tiger. Are you going to give more powers to the NCPA?

A: I am a tough person. I demand efficiency. Now they are taking quick action. They should. I am pushing them and warning them. I am a no nonsense woman. I am not taking part in a popularity contest. I am here to do a job. And I intend on doing it. Since I came, the NCPA is now on track. So I will observe for another three or four months. I have given instructions which should be followed. There are some shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Q: Law delays is a big problem in Sri Lanka. Cases of child abuse drag on for years. Can you comment?

A: I know it is harrowing! Especially for a child. The NCPA and the Police must act fast when a complaint comes in. I fully understand the need to expedite the process.

Q: What can be done for women in abusive marriages?

A: She can call the Police, or at least call the number 1938. Under the normal law in a country, the husband cannot physically, sexually or mentally abuse the wife. Within the legal marriage, you cannot rape your wife. You cannot do anything without her consent. The Police must take quick action when informed. In the Police station, we have what is known as a secretive place - a single room for women. There is privacy. There she can talk safely. There must be four women constables for each Police station. So the two ladies can talk to the woman and she can explain everything. So everything has been put in place to help the woman. At all times the women must be protected from further harm. If the husband learns about it, then he might retaliate. Therefore there must be privacy. There also should be protection for the woman (the Police have to look after this lady). Then if they want to get a divorce, they have to go to the Police. If the children are under 18, money can even be claimed. The entire system should be changed because the lawyers are very expensive.

Q: You are one of the most influential women in Sri Lankan society. You are the State Minister of Women and Child affairs, but you are also a woman. What message would you like to give out to women in Sri Lanka?

A: Women are very powerful. Women are strong. Be independent. You have to learn how to earn and stand alone. When you are financially independent, you don’t need to depend on anybody. Your heart will tell you what you have to do. Know that God will always help you.

Pictures by Thushara Fernando


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