It has been years since Sri Lanka has been speaking of the Animal Welfare Bill which is due to be enacted to address the short-comings of the current laws on animal welfare. However the law is still not finalized, and is heard as having a push back due to certain interests of different actors.

The ongoing attempt to restructure the laws on animal cruelty in the country- the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907- has reached over a decade, though the Bill is yet to be enacted. Many actors including key animal rights and welfare activists have been instrumental in this process, and are questioning the cause of delay in the already Cabinet approved Bill from moving forward to get enacted.

Need for the Animal Welfare Bill

The law on animal welfare in Sri Lanka at the moment is over 100 years old. Enacted in 1907, there are sections of the Ordinance which are in need of urgent reform; as the fines and sanctions imposed on those violating the laws are outdated, and are very low for most to be deterred in violating them. Some examples include a LKR 100 fine for acts of cruelty to animals, which is extremely ineffective in upholding the intention of the Ordinance (which is to prevent cruelty to animals).

The last amendment to the law was in 1955, and since then there has been no significant reform made to it. In addition to the fines that are low, and not effective, there is also the need to bring all animals that could be victims to cruelty within the purview of the law available in Sri Lanka. The law does not apply to urban wild life, and is limited only to captured or domestic animals. In turn the law applies only to those animals that are in captivity, while excluding those that are not domesticated or caged, creating a very narrow application of the law.

Duty of Care

Many Sri Lankans have animals, or feed animals that are not domesticated such as urban wild life. However they do not take the responsibility towards the care of these animals. While they have a cat or dog that they would consider to be their pet, the kittens and puppies at most times are dropped off at public spaces. This points to the fact that the concept of duty of care is not prevalent amongst us, and it is not included in the 1907 Ordinance. Hence, responsible ownership is missing in the current laws on animal welfare in Sri Lanka.

The proposed Bill addresses this issue through the suggestion to have the concept of duty of care included in it, and the laws on cruelty towards animals including the mistreatment of animals that are urban wildlife, as well as not taking care of those animals that have been taken under one’s charge.

Enacting the Animal Welfare Bill

The proposed Animal Welfare Bill was first presented to the parliament in 2010 by Venerable Athuruliye Rathana thero. The Bill proposes a broader definition of “animals” and also recognizes duty of care for persons in change of animals. It further provides for humane treatment of animals and proposes the establishment of an independent National Animal Welfare Authority.

The Bill was expected to be finalized by the end of this year (at least the expectation of those keen on its enactment was that it would be enacted by end of 2016 with the support of the Cabinet and the Parliament). However at the moment, the Bill seems to be stuck in the pipeline and with not much progress.

It is important to understand the cause of this delay of a Cabinet approved Bill, and to be informed on when one could expect the Bill to be enacted at the soonest. With the current government promoting the values of a cruelty free nation, it is important that we look into preventing all forms of cruelty, and address them. Two questions remain: What/who is (if anyone/anything is) blocking the Animal Welfare Bill’s enactment? If there is no hindrance, why is the Bill not being enacted?

By Vositha Wijenayake