Sri Lanka’s New Animal Welfare Bill in the Pipeline

Mridula Vijairaghavan

There is an ongoing attempt at restructuring Sri Lanka’s archaic Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, which has many loopholes and is deemed highly ineffective at tackling animal cruelty issues in Sri Lanka.

Being a country where compassion towards all living beings is an integral part of its culture, an Animal Welfare Coalition  was formed with the objective of collaborating the efforts of civil society organisations to promote animal welfare, creating awareness on cruelty to animals and to advocate for the need to enact a new Animal Welfare Bill.

President of Sathva Mithra, an animal welfare organisation, Sagarika Rajakarunanayake said, “It is time we focus on the protection and the welfare of animals in the country. This is a cause that needs to be prioritised, and politicians need to act in order to ensure that cruelty to animals is prevented. This is crucial as compassion to all beings is part of our culture.

Need for Animal Welfare Law

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, which is Sri Lanka’s animal welfare legislation at the moment, is over a century old, and is in dire need of urgent reforms with outdated fines, and a very low rate of conviction. The Ordinance was last amended in 1955 and has since seen no changes towards increasing its reach or punishment to offenders. Animal welfare, as such, requires to bring all animals within the definition of “animals” to which the law applies. At present, Sri Lanka has a lot of urban wildlife, whereas the 1907 Ordinance applies only to a domestic or a captured animal. This includes any bird, fish, or reptile in captivity. This further excludes animals which are not domesticated or caged. This narrow perspective allows for very limited species of animals to be protected. Moreover, the concept of duty of care is not prevalent in the Ordinance of 1907, and there is also a lack of responsible ownership that impacts animal welfare in Sri Lanka. In this light, there is an urgent need to be more responsible towards animals, and to prevent cruelty to animals.

Key Elements of the Proposed Animal Welfare Bill

The proposed Bill on Animal Welfare was presented to the parliament in October, 2010. The objective of the proposed Bill is to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907. The new Bill provides for a broader definition of “animals”, and recognises 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 also establishes a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare. It further provides that a person in charge of an animal owes a duty of care to it, and that it shall be the duty of every person in charge of an animal to take all reasonable measures to ensure its well-being, and to prevent the infliction upon the animal of unnecessary fear or pain; and to provide it with food, water, hygienic living conditions, adequate living space and shelter that is appropriate; and reasonably practicable for the person to provide. The Bill has been open for public comments and needs to be tabled to the parliament for approval.

The Convenor of Animal Welfare Coalition, Vositha Wijenayake says, “The Animal Welfare Bill is needed as the existing laws do not cater to the necessary measures required to protect animals. The present laws governing animal welfare are not only outdated and archaic but do not provide adequate measures towards the protection of animals.”

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