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Sri Lankan Teenager Sent to Court Over Theft of Coconuts Despite Mediation Act

Thursday, February, 21, 2013

A 13-year-old girl in Sri Lanka was arrested for stealing eight coconuts from her neighbor and was turned over to the Sri Lankan courts for her offense.  However, information has surfaced about her family’s economic circumstances—circumstances in which the family was unable to pay money that was requested of each student at the 13-year-old girl’s school in order to paint the school’s exterior.  According to her own report, the young girl stole the coconuts in an attempt to raise the money the school expected her to raise.

When asked why this particular case was sent to court rather than to mediation, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan police media unit said this: “If the complainant had agreed to an amicable settlement out of court, and agreed to discuss the matter with the child’s parents, something could have been done to prevent the case going to courts…the complainant had insisted that a charge be made and so the police had to take up the case and arrest the girl.”

In February of 2011, a Mediation Boards Act was amended in Sri Lanka and stated that any child under the age of 18 who commits theft of property worth less than 5,000 Rupees must be referred to a mediation board instead of arrested and sent to the courts.  However, in this case, the child still ended up going through the court system for her theft of property that was worth less than 400 Rupees, which was an oversight that no one seems to be able to explain.

According to Lalani Perera, a Sri Lankan lawyer, “It is only if mediation fails that the matter can be referred to court.”  Through the process of mediation as an alternative dispute resolution process, children can avoid the trauma of going through the court system and having their records tarnished in a move that could affect the rest of their lives.  Mediation offers the child a way to deal with his/her crime without obtaining a criminal record in the process. 

Ms. Perera further noted that the laws relating to juvenile justice in the country are out of date and in desperate need of reform.  “I am aware that the Ministry of Justice has over the last 15 or so years, worked towards introducing a more child-friendly criminal justice system,” she sated.  “But the process must be expedited.  Being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Sri Lanka is obliged to do so without further delay.”