MP Bathiudeen’s family under the microscope | Daily News

MP Bathiudeen’s family under the microscope

Police officers escorting MP Bathiudeen's wife after she was remanded
Police officers escorting MP Bathiudeen's wife after she was remanded

The string of ugly details about the inhuman treatment and abuse of young girls at the hands of an affluent family with political might has sent shockwaves across the country.

The untimely and tragic death of a 16-year-old girl who was serving as a domestic aide at the Colombo residence of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Leader Rishad Bathiudeen, received wide attention over the past couple of weeks.

She was from a poverty-stricken family in Dayagama in the Central Hills. The Police went on record that evidence had surfaced that she had allegedly suffered sexual assault and harassment by MP Bathiudeen’s extended family members over a period of time.     

Law enforcement and investigative bodies have disclosed more skeletons in the cupboard of former Minister Bathiudeen when digging deeper into the case. It has now come to light that more young women, hired as domestic workers, had been victims of corporal punishment and molestation at the same residence. These findings have no doubt opened a Pandora’s box for the ex-Minister, who was already in hot water over a number of other unrelated allegations.

At the same time, a fresh dialogue on the need to impose stringent measures to prevent child labour and abuse has also surfaced in the aftermath of the incident. A new set of laws is in the works in this regard, and the Government has decided to fast-track that process in the wake of the recently disclosed information.

Delving deep

The girl was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital (CNH) with severe burn injuries on July 3 and she succumbed to her injuries on July 15. According to Police Spokesman SDIG Ajith Rohana, the Police investigations on the minor girl are three-pronged – firstly, to find out whether her death was a suicide or a homicide, secondly, to trace the culprits who allegedly molested her, and thirdly, to find out the truth about the claims of physical cruelty to her at the former Minister’s house.

The Police had recorded statements from 36 persons in connection with these investigations as at Monday. A team headed by Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Pieris has been appointed by the Attorney General (AG) to provide legal advice regarding police inquiries into the incident. The Court on Monday ordered a fresh post-mortem examination by a board of three senior Judicial Medical Officers (JMOs) after exhuming the body, as there were growing suspicions over her death. 

SJB MP and ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen

Two days after the death of the girl, MP Bathiudeen, who is currently detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in relation to investigations pertaining to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on April 21, 2019, was also admitted to the Colombo National Hospital over an unspecified illness. After a week of hospitalization, he was transferred back to the CID last Saturday. It was reported in the media that the MP was caught throwing his prescribed medication out of the hospital toilets.  

MP Bathiudeen and his brother Riyaj were arrested in a joint operation by the CID and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) on April 24 over their alleged links with the Easter Sunday suicide bombers. They are under investigation for allegedly aiding and abetting, especially financing, the terrorist activities of the suicide bombers.   

On top of those charges, the latest scandal related to his extended family, of which his complicity is not ruled out as yet, has compounded matters for the ex-Minister. MP Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and the mediator (broker) who brought the domestic aide to Colombo have been remanded till August 9 by the Police on the orders of the Court for further questioning, while the MP’s brother-in-law has also been remanded on suspicion of rape of another 22-year-old girl, who served at the same residence as a domestic servant from 2015 to 2019.

It has been found out that the broker from Dayagama, who is now under detention, had supplied 11 young upcountry women as domestic workers to the extended Bathiudeen family. The Police investigators suspect that this could lead to the trail of a more organized racket of child slave trade and human trafficking in the country, where children from impoverished families with financial hardships are provided to well-to-do families in Colombo and other main cities as domestics.   

In the light of recent events, the Police have launched a special operation in the Western Province from yesterday to trace households where minors are hired and employed as domestic aides. This could be extended to the other provinces.

Calls for justice

The estate community joined hands with the bereaved family members who were pleading for justice for the victim, and the politicians representing the estate population and women’s organizations were seen leading the demonstrations in solidarity with them. Later, the Tamil community in the North and the East too held demonstrations to extend their solidarity to the victim’s family.

However, many argued that what the political representatives of the estate sector and other organizations working for the welfare of women and children did was too little, too late. Many pointed out that they, even including the relevant State institutions such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), have a bigger role when it comes to looking into the plight of these underprivileged people to prevent this type of incidents at least in the future.   

SJB Leader and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, breaking his silence on the incident, told the media on Saturday that his Party stands for giving maximum possible punishment against any individual who has committed offences against women and children. It could be seen that he was keen on lessening the damage to the Party’s image from the latest controversy surrounding MP Bathiudeen.    

“We are bound to protect the rights of women and children. We are not particular about the individual, his ethnicity or religion. We want the law to be implemented correctly and swiftly. However, this issue should not be politicized. The investigations must also be impartial and transparent,” he commented.

State Minister Piyal Nishantha De Silva, under whose purview the subject of Women and Child Development comes, vowed that the investigations into the incident would be carried out swiftly without giving in to any political pressure from any quarter.

New legislation

SJB MP Eran Wickramaratne, addressing a press conference on Sunday, extended the Party’s full support in amending the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act to identify ‘domestic labour’ as a hazardous form of occupation for children. SJB MP Imthiaz Bakeer Markar too expressed similar views at another press briefing.

Sri Lanka has ratified all key International Conventions concerning Child Labour, and the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) is one of them. It defines hazardous forms of child labour as work in dangerous or unhealthy conditions that could result in a child being killed, injured or made ill, physically or mentally. Sri Lanka has included 52 categories of occupations to the hazardous child labour list, but domestic labour has been an exception to so far.

Having realised this vacuum, the NCPA together with the Labour Department is working on a powerful piece of legislation to add more selected categories of occupations to the list, most importantly domestic labour, and thereby prevent employment of minors (girls and boys) as domestic servants. NCPA Chairman Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana pointed out that the said Amendment, which is now at the Legal Draftsman’s Department, would get priority and gather pace in the wake of the latest string of disclosures. The minimum age for most employment categories will also be raised to 18.

It will be a progressive Bill for which both the Government and the Opposition Members can raise their hands together in agreement in Parliament in a rare show of unity.

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