Child abuse at the Vavuniya children’s home: The government’s inaction

In October 2013 Kalyana Tissa Thero of the Seth Sevana Lama Nivasa of Attambagaskanda, Vavuniya was arrested for sexually abusing a 9 year old child. The Buddhist monk was kept in remand custody and medical evidence confirmed the sexual abuse of the child on 12.10.2013. Subsequently the custody of the remaining 22 children of the children’s home was taken by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) on 15.10.2013. Fearing that the remaining children may have also been sexually abused the Vavuniya magistrate requested the medical examination of the 22 children. Through the court order the suspect remained in custody. However on 31.12.2013 the suspected monk was granted a non-conditional bail on the basis that the Attorney General Department (AG), on the instructions of the NCPA has informed court that it has no objections for the suspect to be granted bail.  The next hearing is to be on the 11th of February.

Most of the children at this home are victims of war. These children have been placed in this home to ensure their education, safety and care by family members who are unable to provide the same for these children. Some of these children have lost their fathers in the war, their mothers are daily wage laborers who work in jobs such as stone breaking and barely earn a living.  These mothers placed their children hoping they would have a better chance at life through education and hoping for their care and protection.  In such a context how far these children’s rights and lives are being protected by the head of this home is a question.  Even though the children in the Seth Sevana Lama Nivasa are Tamil, they have been enrolled in Kaatumankulam Govt.  Sinhala mixed school. Their right to learn their mother tongue, practice their religion and culture, the protection of their ethnic identity has been violated and they are being compelled to assimilate into a Sinhala Buddhist cultural and ethnic identiy. Upon receipt of complaint from the civil society and others an exhaustive investigation was carried out by Vavuniya NCPA child protection officer, probation officer, public health inspector and the police and they jointly submitted a report on 29.11.2010 to NCPA head office.  But due to NCPA’s irresponsible investigation it has risked a group of young vulnerable children continue to suffer emotional and psychological abuses.

In Sri Lanka child protection and care services such as the NCPA, Task force on child protection are under the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs.  Each province and districts have officers who have been appointed for the care and protection of children.  In the current incident the bail was granted due to the report given by the NCPA to the Attorney General. It raises serious concerns as to the evenhandedness of the NCPA in regards to children from minority communities.  Because even though complaints in regards to the said Buddhist monk have been made to the NCPA since 2010 actions have only been taken to protect the offender rather than the children. It must be noted that only after the protests of the child protection officers in Vavuniya in regards to the inaction of the NCPA that the arrest was made.

The NCPA’s vision and mission claims to create a child friendly and protective environment for children and to ensure children are free from all forms of abuse. There is a hotline no: 1929 that provides 24 hour service in all three languages. The reluctance of such an institution to push for the arrest of this monk and the subsequent report recommending his release places the actions of the NCPA in doubt.

The Lawyer, Mr. K.S. Ratnavel who is representing the victim states that ‘the AG should have taken further stringent action against the suspect. Requesting the bail of such a suspect places the independence of the AG’s department in question. Instead of protecting victims they are protecting the suspect thus there is a conflict of interest both in the role played by the AG and the NCPA. The NCPA was created for the protection of children. However the NCPA has come out in support of the suspect in this case, it has failed to submit the relevant reports of the 22 children to the court and instead submitted the same to the AG. It has claimed to have completed investigations while investigations are still pending and has thereby misled the court. Consequently it has caused the possibility of the intimidation of witnesses through the release of the suspect. This reflects on the failure of public institutions in working for the people. Instilling the rule of law and justice is difficult when judicial institutions themselves undermine these goals.”

Ensuring the protection of children especially those children who have lost their families due to war and undergone several rights abuses is the paramount obligation of governmental institutions, especially those created for the protection of children.  If children are to be refused protection due to their ethnicity and their abuse is to be ignored then the ability and intentions of such government organizations must be questioned.

The increase of violence against women and children has been on the rise since the end of the war. The recent abuse of a 4 year old child in Trincomalee by a person suspected to be a Navy officer who ran and hid in the navy camp reflects the impunity with which such abuses occur against women and children. It is with deep regret that we note that the NCPA has failed to protect children and this trend can be seen across the country through various reports of child abuse and long drawn process in investigation and prosecution of offenders.

As a country that has had a strong policy in regards to protecting children and has passed several laws and set up institutions for the same, the punishment of offenders, proper investigations and protection of children should not be a challenge for Sri Lanka. Especially when there have been officers appointed at the regional and district levels and women and children’s desks in these districts. It is indeed telling that women and children continue to suffer grave abuse and rights violations despite the existence of such officers and institutions.

At a time when the Sri Lankan government claims to be on a path of peace and development post war and calls Sri Lanka the wonder of Asia in international forums, it is imperative that the violence that is taking place against women and children is stopped, especially violence against women and children from minority communities.

###

Women’s Action Network consists of 8 women’s organizations based in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

  • Steve Grafton

    Even though the children in the Seth Sevana Lama Nivasa are Tamil, they have been enrolled in Kaatumankulam Govt. Sinhala mixed school. Their right to learn their mother tongue, practice their religion and culture, the protection of their ethnic identity has been violated and they are being compelled to assimilate into a Sinhala Buddhist cultural and ethnic identiy. ……

    So I wonder, if these kids grow up (amidst the abuse by this Buddhist priest) and know only Sinhala and marry Sinhalese and have kids…..will those kids be “Sinhala Buddhist ” as defined by Anagarika Dharmapala????

    • mahinda

      why won’t they be? Sinhalese culture accept people in many scenarios unlike many other cultures..Including western…. Besides all sinhalese have south indian genes. Ironically we are the same people. Different just by ideology.

  • Alex f

    The state inaction to prosecute a child molester would be incredible anywhere other than Sri Lanka – Tamil children clearly are non citizens as far as the state is concerned – good to see groundviews highlighting the failure – we now need to see outrage from local Sinhalese on the street (not just the intellectuals) who would presumably be disgusted by this. Will people go to jail for many years? Let’s see. Otherwise just another reason why Tamils need substantial autonomy or more.

    • Dev

      Doubt it, a few years ago a mother (Sinhalese) discovered that her son was being sexually abused by a monk in her local temple. She complained to the police and you know what happened ……the villagers without being outraged by the incident or at least keeping an open mind till the investigation was completed …stoned the house of the mother/child !
      The abuse of children is widespread by people in authority ! It could be a monk/policeman/politician/musician/actor
      For this to change, people must stop placing these figures on a pedestal

      • Alex f

        The decision to permit abuse with impunity is one made by a Sinhala dominated state. There are several other reports and likely multiples of unreported cases of military personnel accused of child molestation on the north. Where is the popular outrage is the question? For groundviews assumption that a liberal inclusive Sri Lanka is possible there must be agreement on simple principles that child absurd is disgusting. More to the point why is the other Sinhala media silent ? A single liberal Sri Lanka will die as each child learns that the have no protection due to their ethnicity or it seems sympathy. Simply disgusting

    • Jayalath

      Alex
      Please do not laugh us mate , what is this substantial Autonomy or more ? Why do you try to get advantage from this monsters behaviour ? This is an outrageous and appalling incident and most important thing in there is that having chances to lock him up .that is important to think .

      • Alex f

        Have you read the article? It says the child protection agency is reluctant to push for the arrest of the ‘monster’. Regrettably child abuse is not news in Sri Lanka however complicity by state institutions and more to the point evidence of complicity is newsworthy. … And also why isn’t this being g picked up in the mainstream media – it is a shocking enrichment of the Ncpa but also of the major papers in Sri Lanka. It is because state institutions are failing that Tamils say they need a different state.

    • Candidlee

      You are obviously unaware of the industrial scale abuse of boys in the Roman Catholic church in Ireland, Australia, the USA, Canada and elsewhere around the world over many decades. Or of the abuse of young girls by the UK’s BBC employees such as Jimmy Savile for many years. Or of the recruitment of children as soldiers and suicide bombers by the Tamil Tigers over 3 decades!

  • guest

    Tamil christian organisations or Hindu Tamil organisation should get involved and ensure that these chilren are housed in a Tamil organisation.; I think the newly elected Provincial council should ensure these childrens safety and liberty to study free of pressure from sex maniacs!!! You cannot trust MR and his saffron clad brigades!!

  • Jayalath

    In September and October 2012, almost a year after his death, claims were widely publicised that the English DJ and BBC television presenter Jimmy Savile had committed sexual abuse, his alleged victims ranging from prepubescent girls and boys to adults. By 11 October 2012 allegations had been made to 13 British police forces,[1] and this led to the setting-up of inquiries into practices at the BBC and within the National Health Service.
    On 19 October the Metropolitan Police Service launched a formal criminal investigation, Operation Yewtree, into historic allegations of child sexual abuse by Savile and other people, some of whom were still living, over four decades. It stated that it was pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry, based on the claims of 200 witnesses, via 14 police forces across the UK. It described the alleged abuse as being “on an unprecedented scale”, and the number of potential victims as “staggering”.[2][3] By 19 December, eight people had been questioned as part of the investigation. The Metropolitan Police stated that the total number of alleged victims was 589, of whom 450 alleged abuse by Savile.

    This article shows what level the sexual abuses can be committed by monsters. There were number of cardinal who charged on the same abuses recent past in England and else where , therefore it must be our duty to support the relevant authorities to impose the maximum punishment to these culprits regardless who they are .

    • Alex f

      Yes that seems to be Sri Lankas permanent argument .. Ie there is always a worse example than Sri Lanka so it’s ok … By that logic Sri Lanka just needs to be one spot above the worst in the world and that’s ok. Good logic … Lobby hard enough and the UNHCR vote may still go Sri Lankas way.

      • Jayalath

        To Alex
        As you think it is not my idea that makes the crime normalise , you must understand that my friend , and what I concern is your intention over this case . Which isn’t right .

  • guest

    Recently I went to Nagadipa and was surprised to see the behaviour of the Sinhala Budhist monks there. They came in buses from the south I presume. Every one of them had a cell phone. They were taking pictures of themselves taking turns to pose in different poses. Their were eyeing the young girls who were there, and laughing and joking among themselves. There were notice boards which read something to the effect to say “this is a place of worship. This is not an amusement park” The monks did not seem to pay attention to this;.

    On inquiring I was told that the government looks after all the educational requirement if the monks wanted pursue higher education. This is being abused by some people who become monk get all the free education and then disrobe and lead a normal life. There have been instances of monks following courses in Hotel Management it seems!!! Again there is a custom of very young children enrolled as monk by their parents because of poverty. These children may not have inclination to become monks. They become the [edited out]!! They don’t want to leave either because they are used to free food and lodging etc.

  • mahinda

    It’s mostly truth.. Buddhism doesn’t allow violence of any sense. Preaches methods using example not by force. Anagarika dharmapala was mostly correct when he said this. You have to remember Colonials wanted locals to eat beef and get drunk to remove them from the shadow of buddhism. Make them more aggreable to them. Dharmapala has failed in this aspect though

  • Jayalath

    George.
    It is too late to confess about what happened in the past. Not only Sri Lanka that whole world been better place few centuries ago . It is ruined by ourselves , not only the foreign thieves .just imagine since last 1948 , after gave us our country to us by thives , did we do any goods ourselves , no, we became as much as those thives , who did it ? May be yours or mine parents , therefore we cannot blames only other ,we also be the greater part of the blame .
    Did we ever think about own people ? Or have any sign of good things done by our thives to us ? No , never . People like you and me alone cannot put this mess right ,just because we understand the fact that we must get participate mass of people , and start from there . Until that day is arrived we all have to wait ! Wait ! Wait .

  • Sharanga Ratnayake

    This seems like a serious issue, but of course you can’t punish someone before you find them guilty. If the court thinks the suspect would show up for trial and won’t interfere with the evidence they are granted bail.

    • yapa

      “Everybody is innocent until proven guilty”, that is how it is according to Law. Anybody’s innocence or guiltiness should be assessed through “due process” only not by any other means. Everybody should obey the law. Does anybody want to question the above principle of law?

    • yapa

      Does anybody want to advocate for “Extra Judicial Punishments” (in Sri Lanka)?

      Thanks!

  • Sharanga Ratnayake

    I read your comment and then I read it again and I still don’t know why you wrote the last part of your comment, and what that Youtube video has to do with anything. What are you trying to do here? Defend Buddhism? It’s nothing to do with the teaching. The Catholic Church’s “no child left behind policy” has nothing to do with its teaching either. If anything, Abrahamic religions are strictly against homosexual behaviour, though in Buddhism it’s not that clear.

    What’s wrong with all those religions is how they are practiced, What do you expect when you take a bunch of men, separate them from women, and deny them sex? I don’t believe in any religion so perhaps for me it is easier to see. There are biological drives that we have that cannot easily be overcome by just preaching about why they are bad.

    If it was up to me, I would make sure that no child is left in the care of a monk or a priest. I would not trust any organisation that has institutionalized abstinence to take care of children. There’s too much repressed desires there.

    I notice that people are making cheap political, anti-Buddhist points here, but people have to realize that keeping children in the care of people who are deprived of sex is not a good idea.

    • guest

      But if the person who has committed this act, if he is a descent person should have disrobed and left and lead a normal life like any other person. The fact is in Sri Lanka undue respect and prominence are given to these bikhus by equally un scrupulous politicians, they don’t want to leave the previledged positions and continue to lead a parasitic life, harming innocent people!!