08/07/2021, 14.38
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Colombo: 16-year-old Tamil maid dies

by Melanie Manel Perera

The young woman died in hospital from burns. The case has again highlighted the problem of child labour in Sri Lanka. Bishop Fernando of Kandy wrote a letter to the government with a seven-point proposal to protect children. More than 12,000 complaints of child abuse have been filed in the past 18 months.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – A young Tamil woman who worked as a maid for a former Muslim lawmaker died in hospital after she suffered burns to her body.

Ishalini, 16, attended the parish of St Anthony in the Diocese of Kandy, whose bishop said he was "shocked" by the incident.

The case highlights again the problem of child labour in Sri Lanka, which remains widespread, especially in rural areas.

"I am convinced that a girl like Ishalini should have been in school, with her family, not working without protections,” said Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy. 

“It is a shame on us as Sri Lankans,” added the prelate, that the girl’s “parents were in debt and in an economic situation that compelled them to send a young daughter to work”.

Ishalini had already worked as a maid elsewhere before she was hired by Rishad Bathiudeen, a former MP and minister, who was arrested over the girl's death along with two other suspects.

Unfortunately, legal proceedings often lead nowhere in Sri Lanka. Bishop Fernando remembers the case of a 17-year-old domestic worker who was raped. After 20 years of legal wrangling, no one has yet been convicted in connection with this case.

“It is also shameful that our country's legal and institutional framework is unable to protect our children,” Bishop Fernando told the media. “We are painfully aware that there are many other children from our diocese” in similar circumstances.

The prelate inked a letter that was also signed by local vicars and deans, addressed to the government with a seven-point proposal to improve the condition of children and teenagers in Sri Lanka.

The letter calls on the country’s leaders to “desist from using this incident to gain political mileage or discredit any ethnic or religious community", urges them to “take proactive steps to prevent school dropouts”, and asks them to “ensure that Up-Country, the [mostly Tamil] community has access to dignified employment opportunities”.

According to Muditha Vidanapathirana, president of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), 12,165 complaints of child abuse have been reported in the past 18 months, 4,000 in the first five months of this year alone.

In 2021 the NCPA received 48,000 calls regarding violence against minors.

The Up Country is home to a large impoverished Tamil community, employed mostly on tea plantations. Many migrate to cities like the capital Colombo in search of employment.

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