The island nation, unfortunately, doesn’t have a proper animal welfare act in place. Proposals were made 14 years ago in 2006 to establish an animal welfare bill in place of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, which is insufficient when dealing with the types of cruelty animals face today. This is obviously an outdated piece of legislation which is 113 years old. Different governments came into power, different minters were appointed but none were able to pass on the bill that has been trending since 2006. The objective of the Bill is to strengthen the law on the prevention of cruelty towards animals and secure the welfare of all animals, by clearly defining offences and introducing rigorous penalties, while also establishing a National Animal Welfare Authority with comprehensive powers to address all cruelty issues.
During the last ten years, two significant developments were made on animal welfare. In February 2009, Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera, M.P. introduced to Parliament a draft Animal Welfare Bill. At the same time, the Law Commission of Sri Lanka, after extensive consultations with the public and examination of laws of other jurisdictions, prepared an Animal Welfare Bill. It was introduced in Parliament in February 2009. Both bills have now lapsed.
In 2015, the previous Government also brought forth this Bill under its 100-day programme. However, the draft Bill has not yet been presented to Parliament.
Why are governments not showing keen interests in passing the welfare bills? Is it because animals have no votes, no money and no power. The Sri Lankan Parliament does not support animal rights, it is not included in any election manifesto. The future of animal rights is important in this country; every living citizen has the obligation to protect living creatures.
Day by day, cruelty towards innocent animals rise and more issues are being reported. A few of them might have happened due to a lack of awareness, but the majority of them were deliberately done. Our existing legal framework related to animal welfare is pathetically inadequate to protect animals from such inhumane treatment.
The latest incident took place earlier this week after many incidents happened in the recent past.
Hon. Namal Rajapaksa, the minister of youth affairs and sports and Hon. Ali Sabry, the minister of justice held various discussions with groups of animal welfare advocates and organizations to discuss the animal welfare act. The youth minister has shown special interest in speeding up the process of finalizing, approving and gazetting the Animal Welfare act. While many countries in the West have established effective animal welfare legislation, many countries in Asia such as India, Singapore and Malaysia have also updated and strengthened their animal welfare legislation. In comparison, Sri Lanka is lagging far behind concerning animal cruelty despite the country heritage of compassion. The past is past, and it is time to forget the 14 years of trying to get the bill passed. There is a responsibility at e hands of the new government to get this act passed as soon as possible which would see the animals we love being treated properly.
Taking about the bill. There are four objectives of the Bill: i) to recognise a duty of care on part of persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely, ii) to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals, iii) to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and to provide for Regulations and Codes of Practice, and iv) to raise community awareness on animal welfare and foster kindness, compassion, and responsible behaviour towards animals. The Bill also has redefined the term “animal” to encompass every living being other than a human being. The current law applies only to animals in captivity or domestic animals, leaving important sectors such as wildlife without any protection. Welfare issues related to animals in pet shops, animal experimentation, animal performance and the live transport of animals, (though not included in present legislation), are also included in the new Animal Welfare Bill.