Sri Lanka, Pallewela 22 June 2015 – A beehive of delightful little girls and boys dance to traditional drums welcoming the dawn of a fresh new beginning for the small village preschool of Pallewela. Their voices reach a joyful crescendo as they sing their favourite nursery rhymes in unison to the group of parents and […]
A Police Officer Can Be a Friend
Understanding Children and Recognizing the Needs of Childhood
Mannar, Sri Lanka, 24 July 2017 – Shalika Madumali Silva is a young police officer from Southern Sri Lanka working in the Northern district of Mannar. Her posting to the Women and Child Desk at the Talaimannar Police Station posed a clear challenge: the ability to be an effective first contact point on law enforcement matters related to children.
For many police officers, the concept of child rights and protection is new – and it requires special training to make this possible. “I realised how much I didn’t know only when I started learning about policing and child protection,” says Ms. Silva, on her way to a home visit, which she finds the most fulfilling aspect of her work. “After the training, I now have the confidence to work closely with people. I have visited seven schools in Talaimanar and shared the knowledge I gained.”
The training Ms. Silva followed – improving the capacities of police officers of the Women and Child Desks – was an important activity of the child protection component of the European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP). Its objective is to ensure that vulnerable children have a protective space that is sensitive to the trauma that may affect them, respects their dignity and their right to privacy. The police officers also learnt appropriate law enforcement responses in child abuse cases, which are crucial for their effective engagement with Village Child Rights Monitoring Committees (VCRMCs). The Police Department, the Ministry of Law and Order, the Department of Probation and Childcare Services, and the National Child Protection Authority were all part of this initiative.
Ms. Silva works closely with people from the Tamil and Muslim communities, engaging with them as a friend, rather than a police officer, focusing on the children, continuing to gain their confidence and putting them at ease. She recognizes that child risk and abuse is not something that people think about in an informed way and considers it her responsibility to share what she has learnt with the general public.
“When I visit schools, the children, especially the girls, ask me what it is like to be a policewoman. They want to join the police themselves.” says Ms. Silva, “They ask me lots of questions. They are beginning to understand different aspects of abuse. I talk to the primary school children and secondary school children separately – and differently. In communities, I share child abuse prevention messages that take a positive approach; emphasizing the many ways people can support and strengthen families, by protecting their children. I also speak about the dangers of social media, the importance of school attendance. I think people – both parents and children – take what I am saying seriously because I am a police officer. I want to make sure that parents are more concerned about and vigilant of their children.”
The Talaimannar Police Station is one of the most remote stations in the Northern Province and Ms. Silva believes the Women and Child Desk gives purpose to her life. “It’s a special unit that has been created because children are afraid to visit the police station,” explains Ms. Silva, “We also need to ensure that we maintain a certain degree of confidentiality in the work we do. This is for the benefit of the child’s wellbeing. Children can also be open and more direct with us when they trust us. We are concerned about their psychological wellbeing.”
The EU-SDDP training for police officers was a comprehensive one: “We had over ten lectures, and every single one was interesting,” remarks Ms. Silva, “We learnt about the rights of children, about child abuse and child maltreatment, about conflict resolution. We had specialists talking to us about the subjects. We can address these issues better now. We learnt how to manage our home visits, about the psychological and emotional aspects of children who are abused.” EU-SDDP has strengthened the capacities of over 350 police officers and improved the facilities of Women and Child Desks in seven districts.
Ms. Silva is happy that parents are becoming more aware of children’s issues and are more open to the police. She is concerned, however, that so many people are unable to prioritize the education of children because making a living is their main concern: “We have been addressing the problem of out-of-school children through the Village Child Rights Monitoring Committees. Most of its members are women because the men are mainly involved in fishing. VCRMC members too have learnt a lot about child wellbeing through the EU-SDDP.”
“I speak not just to the parents, but also directly to the children,” smiles Ms. Silva. “I think that’s important. A police officer can be a friend. It’s important to understand children and recognize the needs of childhood. Sometimes children just want to have fun. They want to cut school and go out to swim in the sea!”
WHAT HAS CHANGED
- Women and Child Desks at police stations have improved their capacity to more effectively and sensitively serve the public.
- Police officers have a more comprehensive understanding of the range of issues related to child rights and protection.
- Police authorities are reaching out to and supporting communities to ensure the well-being of children.
- Village Child Rights Monitoring Committees are better able to work with police officers to achieve their objectives.
The European Union Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP) is a Euro 60 million partnership between the European Union, the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF and other UN agencies to create greater access to social infrastructure and services for vulnerable communities in the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya and border villages in the districts of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Monaragala.