In conversation with Prof. Harendra De Silva

In this video, Prof. Harendra De Silva – one of Sri Lanka’s best known paediatricians – speaks about the challenges to child health and safety in Sri Lanka. Speaking about malnourishment, Prof. De Silva talks about the continued manifestation of malnutrition (referring to both under nourishment as well as obesity) among children, with one of the worst records on this score in the region.

Prof. De Silva also touches on the sexual abuse of children, focussing on the sexual abuse by members of the immediate or extended family, which is more prevalent that abuse by strangers, including foreigners. As noted on the web,

Discerning that a comprehensive and directed movement to prevent every kind of child abuse in Sri Lanka would not readily arise from among the few concerned non-government agencies and professionals, Professor de Silva doggedly pursued the need for immediate national level intervention. His efforts culminated in the founding of the National Child Protection Authority in 1999, the first of its kind in South Asia.

Noting that the biggest challenge to addressing sexual abuse is the denial in society, for example when the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the clergy. The statistics are chilling. Prof. De Silva notes that his studies reveal that 10% of the male population in Sri Lanka admitted to having sex with a child. He goes on to reveal how child sexual abuse impacts adult life, and the effects of the psychological scarring as a result of abuse.

We also talk about the recent debacle where the National Child Protection Authority and the Police went after an Indian nun and the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity. As was noted in the media,

“The NCPA should have taken due regard of the confidentiality of the institution and in this particular instance it had been damaged,” said Father Noel Dias, senior attorney and Vice Judicial Vicar of the archdiocese of Colombo. “The arrest is illegal and the undue publicity given has caused immense hardship to the nuns concerned and also to the entire Catholic Church,” said Neville Abeyratne, a Catholic attorney who defended the nun. “The outcome of this case has proved that the sisters are doing a humanitarian service and they are not interested in taking any action against NCPA due to their mission to serve the needy,” said Abeyratne.

Prof. De Silva provides some insight into this case and the complexity of dealing with child trafficking and adoption. He also speaks on the enduring need for the protection of women who become pregnant after being raped.

  • justitia

    There is no handbook available to the public on child rearing and treatment of common child disorders at home before rushing to hospital.There was one authored by Prof.C.C.De Sila in the fifties titled “Mother – Your Baby” in english & later in sinhalese. Prof Silva should think of authoring such a book which the Health Education Bureau can publish and maka available to the public at nominal cost.

    In the fifties, Public Health Nurses had “Little Mothers’ Classes” for school girls after the age of 15,on saturdays, on child care – feeding,nutrition,immunisation,dress etc.,under the direction of Medical Oficers of Health.These can be revived.

    Regarding Child Abuse,children of ages as young as ten years,of poor families are handed over to local buddhist temples where they are not given formal education,but only indoctrinated in buddhism. At a tender age,before the age of ‘reason’,they are compelled to forsake the ‘worldly life’ & also embrace ‘celibacy’.Does this not amount to ‘child abuse’.Should the Sangha revise ‘rules of adoption’ for training as future members of the buddhist clergy.

    Thousands of illegal abortions are performed daily.The natural ‘sex urge’ cannot be prevented.The state should freely make available, condoms and contraceptive pills including the “morning after pill” to prevent unwanted pregnancies.It is upto parents to teach “morality” to children.

    Handing over children of unwanted pregnancies,for adoption by couples screened for suitability, of lankan & foreign origin should be encouraged.Let them have a good upbringing unlike those of mothers who brave the cruel & inhuman employers of the middle east,to earn funds for their their children.

  • http://anapayan.tumblr.com Anapayan

    I have a great admiration for Prof De Silva’s contribution to the field of paediatrics and Child Protection in Sri Lanka. For a long time, he had been involved in highlighting the recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE. Regrettably his silence on the state of children especially the orphans in the post war Vanni is shocking. That makes one to think whether his previous concern on the well-being of Tamil child soldiers was merely due to political reasons rather ethical responsibility. Sri Lankan medical profession also came under fire for its role on detainee torture.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/09/110913_torture.shtml

    • Harendra

      I did work in the menik farm after the war and contributed to the well.- being. However there has been a large number of ‘experts’ in child soldiers who came in and have pushed me out of the system. I only act when personally requested. I have volunteered to government since I have no official position now which has been ignored. I could do another interview on the subject if necessary.
      I am not the type who can be politicized! I will work for anyone doing good for children provided it is the right thing!!
      Prof Harendra