Orphans In The Care Of A Paedophile Monk
By Nirmala Kannangara in Gampaha
Pictures by Thusitha Kumara
Questions have been raised as to why the Child Development and Women’s Welfare Ministry has allowed a Buddhist monk who has been convicted of child abuse in the UK, to run an orphanage in Sri Lanka.
Started in 2009, the Pahalagama Orphanage in Gampaha is run by Ven. Pahalagama Sri Somaratana Thero, the Chief Sanghanayaka of Great Britain and the Chief Incumbent of the Thames Buddhist Viharaya who has now been convicted of child abuse in the UK.
Pahalagama orphanage has 20 inmates – boys between 8 to 16 years of age who are said to be children from broken families or have no parents or guardians to care for them.
“Most of these children are from rural areas and are sent to us by the respective Government Agents,” said Dissanayake, the Matron of the orphanage.
According to the Probation and Child Care Services Department, this is not a registered orphanage.
Although matron Dissanayake claims that these children are sent by government officials it is interesting to note as to who has given permission for these government officials to send children to an unregistered orphanage when there are adequate registered orphanages in the country.
According to the Officer-in charge Probation and Child Care Services Department, Gampaha this is the only orphanage in the Gampaha district that has not registered with them, although many reminders have been sent to Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana Thero who has run the orphanage since 2009.
“All the orphanages have to be registered with the Probation and Child Care Services Department. We have visited this orphanage several times and have requested the monk–in-charge to register with us but he says that there is no necessity for him to do so as all these young boys will be ordained after coming of age. We have informed this to our head office in Colombo and it is up to the Commissioner to decide as to what action we could take against the Buddhist monk and the orphanage,” said the Officer-in charge.
According to her, there are certain guidelines that all orphanages have to follow but in this instance, since it is not registered with the department, they are unable to take any action against the orphanage in the event it is found that the conditions in this orphanage are not suitable for underage children.
Meanwhile The Sunday Leader posing as a possible donor visited the Pahalagama Orphanage in Gampaha last week to find out details of this children’s home which is housed opposite the Pahalagama Sri Somaratana Pirivena. Ven. Pahalagama Somaratana Thero is the chief incumbent of this Pirivena according to the deputy monk –in-charge of the orphanage, but he was very careful not to mention that the Chief Incumbent is also the chief priest of the Thames Buddhist Viharaya.
When The Sunday Leader asked to speak to the Chief Incumbent so that we could discuss the possibility of making a donation, the deputy monk-in-charge said that Somaratana Thero had gone abroad and will be back in a few weeks.
When asked whether the orphanage needs any financial assistance and if so whether we could get the bank details for us to remit funds, matron Dissanayake said that she cannot give any details without speaking to the Secretary of the ‘Board’.
She further said that it was this ‘Board’ that releases money for the welfare of this boys’ orphanage and added that they have enough money to run the orphanage.
“Our donors bring all the three meals to the orphanage and there are certain days that we cook our own food here. We have provided all the facilities for the children and unlike the other orphanages we do not worry about money for maintenance work as the ‘Board’ releases money whenever we inform them,” said Dissanayake.
True enough, the inmates have been provided clean beds, nets and cupboards and the children seem to be happy in this orphanage. We noticed how these children were rushing to the Pirivena for their studies clad in full white.
When asked whether the orphanage is receiving donations locally and internationally, Dissanayake said that she does not know anything with regard to the mode of donations received.
“My job is to look after these innocent children and to provide whatever is necessary for them. If I get money to maintain this place there is no necessity for me to see as to how we get donations and from whom. If you want to know any details I will contact the Secretary of the Board and furnish the details,” she said.
When The Sunday Leader spoke to Dissanayake the following day to find out about further details, she said that she was asked not to divulge any details to any individual.
“I was asked not to divulge any details regarding our bank accounts until the Board decides on it,” said Dissanayake. Questions arise as to how safe these young lives are, in the hands of a monk who has been convicted of child abuse in the UK.
A female officer attached to the Probation and Child Care Services Department Western Provincial Council on condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that it is high time that the Child Development and Women’s Welfare Ministry and the Probation and Child Care Services Department took action against this orphanage to ensure the safety of the innocent children.
“If the monk–in-charge has been convicted of child abuse in the UK, then it is high time our officials decide whether they are going to allow this monk to ruin the lives of these helpless inmates or take over the orphanage. In the event there are no provisions to take over the orphanage, steps could be taken immediately to transfer them to registered orphanages where these children could be looked after well. They may be running this orphanage with international donations and that was why they do not want to register with us as then they have to submit their annual income and expenditure reports,” said the official.
When asked about what action the Child Development and Women’s Welfare Ministry would take against this orphanage which is being run by a monk convicted of child abuse, Minister Tissa Karaliyedda said that he has to look into the matter. “As you said if the monk in charge of this orphanage is convicted in a foreign country of child abuse, then the matter is in court and we cannot take any decision about it. If the court gives a ruling that he is not suitable to run an orphanage we can immediately act on it,” said the Minister.
However Minister Karaliyedda further said that it is strictly prohibited to run an unregistered orphanage in the country but added that the Ministry is not empowered to take any legal action against such unregistered children’s homes.
“The only way we could solve the matter is to talk to them and request them to register with us so then we can issue certain guidelines for them. If they are not ready to register with us, then we have to see as to what action we can take to transfer the children to another home where they could be well looked after,” said Karaliyedda.
When asked whether the registered orphanages have to submit their annual accounts to the relevant departments, Minister Karaliyedda said that it is compulsory but added that all the orphanages do not follow these instructions. “The main reason for this is that they do not want to show us their income as most of these places generate money through NGOs. Anyway the time has now come for us to streamline the regulations and bring all these orphanages under our surveillance,” the Minister said.