26/10/2015 1:50 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

An Opportunity For Change On Cruelty To Animals In Sri Lanka?

Photo Credit: HSI/India

Those who speak for the welfare of animals are often faced with the question, "Why do you speak of animals? What about the welfare of humans?" Having faced this question one too many times, and accepting that human welfare is obviously important, it is imperative to note that one pivotal measure of good governance lies in the way a society treats all beings, be they humans or animals. Cruelty, in all forms and towards all beings must be condemned. As part of its global efforts to reduce animal suffering, Humane Society International has a dedicated team working in Sri Lanka to address issues pertaining to animal cruelty and abuse.

In Sri Lanka, the law on cruelty to animals is more than a century old and needs urgent reforms. An important issue that requires serious consideration are the meagre penalties levied on those accused of animal cruelty and the lack of implementation of the law. The legal definition of cruelty to animals is provided in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 of which the most recent amendment dates back to 1955. The fine for cruelty to animals is one hundred Sri Lankan rupees (around USD 0.80), or imprisonment that may extend to three months or both. The trivial nature of the penalties has not served as a deterrent to those violating the law, and in turn has failed to prevent cruelty to animals.

Another issue is the restrictive definition of animals that are protected from cruelty. To be protected by the Ordinance, an animal needs to be either domestic or captured. This includes any bird, fish or reptile in captivity. Not only does this raise questions about the plight of animals which do not fall within this category, but also highlights that stray animals which aren't domesticated or caged have no protection, thus making them easy targets of cruelty and abuse.

Photo Credit: HSI/India

Various organisations including Humane Society International that are working on animal welfare in Sri Lanka have highlighted the need for reforms to this law. In this regard, the Bill to the parliament was presented in October 2010 by a Member of Parliament. The objective of the new legislation proposed is to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907 and to recognise the duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely, to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals. It would also establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice to oversee the Ordinance's implementation and to raise awareness on animal welfare. The Bill has been open for public comments and needs to be tabled to the parliament for approval.

In the run-up to the presidential elections held earlier this year, President Maithripala Sirisena, in his manifesto as a candidate, promised to introduce legislation which will prevent violence to animals. During the general election, some candidates who were subsequently elected to parliament also supported legislation related to animal welfare. Now that the elections are over, and a new government is in place in Sri Lanka, it is essential that the government consider these long overdue reforms. President Sirisena's manifesto promised better animal welfare and he now heads the Ministry of Environment, and candidates who spoke of the need for animal welfare today remain responsible for influential ministries. It is time that the draft Bill for reform is tabled for vote in the Parliament. Will this be the time when we bring about a change in the archaic law, and ensure better treatment towards animals and prevent cruelty towards them? The answer remains to be known.

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