By Avanthi Jayasuriya
On November 22, the Cabinet approved a Bill focusing on elephants kept domestically, which also included banning young elephants being used for work. The regulations proposed by Sustainable Development and Wildlife Minister, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera are also reported as including a set of guidelines that should be adhered to by those seeking to rear domestic elephants. Some of the main areas of focus underlined include the responsibilities of the caretakers and owners towards the elephants kept domestically, regulations on elephants being used for work and the use of elephants in processions. This proposal also falls under amendments to Flora and Fauna Act No.22 of 2009.
While due appreciation is given to the positive change towards the treatment of elephants by seeking to prevent them from being subjected to cruelty, it also needs to be noted that it has been almost a year since the Cabinet approval for the draft Animal Welfare Bill was received. Unfortunately the Bill still remains at the Legal Draftsman’s office, while many animal welfare activists eagerly await its enactment. Almost a decade in the making, the draft bill was approved by the Cabinet following the public consultation that was last held in 2015. Following the proposed changes received by the public consultation, the Cabinet approval for the Bill was received on January 13, 2016. From this point, the Bill was passed to the legal draftsman for the changes to be incorporated into it and for it to be drafted with the changes included.
The last amendment to the law addressing cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka was made in 1955. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, under which the welfare of animals is taken into consideration is over a century old, with outdated fines and implemented on rare occasions and therefore in need of urgent reform.
Attorney-at-Law, Vositha Wijenayake, Convener of Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka said, “The AWC is appreciative of the changes proposed to safeguard elephants from being subjected to cruelty which were approved by the Cabinet. It is equally important to know when the proposed law on animal welfare will be enacted. This Bill has been on its way to get to this point for a very long time. I think everyone is eager to know when this could turn into law which will help uphold animal welfare in Sri Lanka.”
Civil Society Organisations and actors have highlighted the need for more humane animal welfare laws in the country for many years. As a result of these calls, the draft Animal Welfare Bill was tabled in Parliament. The Bill was presented to Parliament in October, 2010 by Venerable Athuruliye Rathana Thera as a private member bill. The new legislation proposed has as its objective the replacement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907 and to recognise duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat animals humanely, to prevent cruelty to animals, to secure the protection and welfare of animals, to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare.
“In order to have a good animal welfare system in Sri Lanka, it is important to have duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat animals humanely, as well as having strong laws for those who cause cruelty to animals,” said Ms. Wijenayake. “We hear stories of cruelty to animals but without a law that is robust, it is not always helpful to take legal actions against the perpetrators who behave inhumanely and in a cruel manner towards animals,” she added.
The Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka which was set up with the objective of advocating and lobbying for a new animal welfare bill consists of numerous animal welfare organisations and volunteers keen on seeing the Animal Welfare Bill enacted. The member organisations and volunteers seek to actively engage in taking action to ensure that laws on animal welfare are efficient and effective and to protect animals from being subjected to cruelty.
“It is important that the Animal Welfare Bill is enacted to ensure effective and efficient laws on cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka. The current law dates back to 1907 and lacks in deterrent effect which prevents the protection of animals against cruelty. It is time we changed these laws and made sure that the long- overdue Animal Welfare Bill is passed for efficient action against cruelty to animals,” said Vositha Wijenayake.