GBV victims appeal for a holistic service provision in the Batticaloa District

by Hasarel Gallage

By: Eastern Social Development Foundation, Batticaloa

Gender based violence is a crime which has serious physical, emotional and social consequences. Women and girls in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka suffer from increased vulnerability in the aftermath of war, family conflicts and natural disasters due to displacement, migration and loss of the traditional male breadwinner.

Especially in the post war context in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka sexual violence incidents are increasing due to various reasons such as the lack of safety and security for women and girls, an increased number of widows have become vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual abuses. Due to the lack of proper law enforcement towards the perpetrators and social and cultural practices, the medico-legal professionals have identified that sexual and gender based violence have increased during and after the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, not only in the North-East but also in other districts, and that this is a worldwide issue following any form of disaster.

Although there are no reliable statistics available, reports indicate that the number of domestic violence and sexual assault incidents reported to the police  (Edirisinghe,2014) are increasing (Crisis Group Asia report 16 April 2009) .The statics of GBV reported cases in the district of Batticaloa, for 2017 and 2018 clearly illustrate the increased rate of suicide of women in parallel to the domestic violence including physical and emotional violence. 

In order to restore a sense of safety and security, it is vital for providing the necessary assistance to victims of GBV and prosecuting gender based violence issues productively and competently. The majority of GBV cases which went unreported were due to the lack of trust in the judicial system and the rule of law in general. ESDF carried out a GBV survivors' satisfaction survey to measure the service delivery towards GBV survivors in the Batticaloa district. For this the following service institutions were assessed. The research looked at the service provision of health, medical institutions and police, legal system and the judiciary, Probation Department, NGOs and CBO’s, mediation boards and Quazi court systems. In this study 106 GBV survivors were identified from the above mentioned service delivery institutions to conduct the survey.

According to the survey results, nearly 71% of respondents were satisfied with these services in the health sector, however, 26% of respondents were unsatisfied.  While the overall health service is at a satisfactory level the various aspects of the health service are in poor condition such as there is no permanent JMO, the facilities to examine the victims of SGBV remain very poor. For instance, the examination room is too small, there are no proper examination beds and utilities, there is no cooler to store the samples and lack of ethics in dealing with survivors. Further, the examination process and the details of the examination are not explained to victim and the victim consent is often ignored.

60% of respondents were unaware of the GBV Desk and Legal Unit situated in the hospital and 63% were unaware of the medico-legal service.  This indicates that GBV survivors have been given poor direction and guidance to access the appropriate services in the hospital premises.  GBV Desk officers stated that proper mechanisms have not been defined to adequately assist GBV survivors.  Doctors tend to refer cases to the GBV Desk and the police, and the WDOs are also informed during their field visits, however there appears to be no other involvement for GBV cases.  Case follow ups and monitoring have also posed challenges due to the lack of communication and sharing of information between service providers.  One of the largest barriers to the effective and efficient service delivery by the GBV Desk is that there is no official recognition of that desk in the hospital premises.

Out of 106 GBV survivors, there were 42 respondents who stated that maintaining confidentiality by the police in GBV cases is at an unsatisfactory level and improvement is needed in this aspect.  This is a major reason why GBV survivors are unwilling to complain to the police.  However, there were only 14 respondents who stated that the police services were poor and 74 respondents who were generally satisfied with the police services. These numbers indicate that the police services have vastly improved in the post-war context which may, in itself, be considered a great achievement by ensuring the enforcement of the law and order in the country.  GBV survivors stated that the services they accessed from the police were effective and operating in an efficient manner which is a good indicator that Police service has adequate services. 

79% of respondents were satisfied with the ability to file reports in their native language and 85% of respondents were satisfied with the presence of Tamil speaking officers showing indications of improvement in rights and inclusiveness as part of an overall process of peace and reconciliation in the country.  There were certain provisions of services, such as being informed of a complaint number and adequate time allocated to explain an incident, of which 70% of respondents were satisfied. 

NGOs and CBOs have a great potential to respond to GBV issues.  These organisations have the ability to maintain confidentiality, have systems in place to guide the access of services, are able to provide moral support and counselling, continuously provide follow-up on GBV cases, integrate GBV survivors back into their families and society, and provide additional supports such as livelihood assistance.  These sectors have the proper technical skills and commitment to work on human/women’s rights with a rights-based approach.

Nearly 50%-60% of respondents were unsatisfied with the services provided to them in the lack of information shared.  This is an indicator that GBV services must be vastly improved in the legal sector. The legal services still have some components which need to be addressed and altered to effectively respond to GBV cases.  For example, written information must be provided about GBV cases, with the appropriate written case details and information about that case file and under which law the case was filed.  .

The services provided by Social Service Officers to GBV survivors is also at a satisfactory level which indicates that these officers’ attitudes on gender equality have improved as well as their commitment to provide effective and efficient support and services.

In the Mediation Board service sector, certain levels of satisfaction were indicated while others did not have confidence in the services they provided. The Mediation Board is concerned with the lack of space to conduct their activities since meetings take place in schools and public areas which is a challenge to maintain confidentiality.  A separate space is required for GBV cases but to date this has not been the practice. Further, half of the respondents questioned the confidentiality practices of the Mediation Board indicating a lack of proper skills and training when dealing with GBV cases in a sensitive manner and with a concern for gender equality.

Services provided by the Quazi Courts are not fully at a satisfactory level.  Those in responsible positions at the Quazi Courts need to be sensitised to gender equality concerns.  They must ensure the confidentiality of each GBV case, provide information of the case details to the GBV survivor and ensure that follow-ups are conducted throughout the case proceedings.  Half of the respondents stated an unfavourable response as to how their case was handled and are afraid to access the system again.  This is a good indicator of the serious concerns towards the Quazi Courts in dealing with GBV cases.

The service providers also expressed their views and challenges when delivering their services.  GBV survivors stated that they found the services in this sector to be poor and unsatisfactory overall, however, the service providers feel they have a lot of challenges in providing good services such as lack of resources and facilities.  Some service providers face heavy workload with little to no human resource support while others feel there are discriminatory practices for the allocation of resources between departments.

Safe house facilities were discussed with a few service sectors.  Currently, the safe house is run with the support of NGOs but it is not a permanent facility.  Therefore, the government should assume responsibility for the safe house.

The research identified that gaps in service provision and pointed out the service delivery should be coordinated and improve in order to protect the rights of GBV victims in the Batticaloa district.