Child Abuse In Vavuniya?
By Nirmala Kannangara
Following the latest sordid episode of child molestation reported from Vavuniya where a young man in robes is accused of committing the crime, questions have been raised as to whether there are loopholes in the law in the country that prevents or delays action being taken against the perpetrators.
Sumithra Fernando, Attorney-at-Law, Women-in-Need (WIN) said that the laws are in place and added that the laws cannot be implemented against the suspects because of the workload in courts.
“The laws are in order but due to the workload in courts it has become difficult to take action against the perpetrators immediately and it takes time,” said Fernando
There are many incidents reported from all over the country where perpetrators of child abuse or rape have been granted bail soon after they were arrested due to political influence but the same laws have been promptly implemented to charge suspects who do not have any political backing.
This is clearly evident with the latest child molestation incident reported from Vavuniya. The victim, an eight-year-old boy, has claimed that he was sexually abused for over one year by a Buddhist monk in the Etambagaskada Seth Sevana children’s home. The victim’s allegation has also been confirmed by the Judicial Medical Officer’s report. However, neither the police nor the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), have taken any action to arrest the monk.
The Police Department and the NCPA have come under severe criticism by civil society for their attempt to ‘whitewash’ the monk who has allegedly sexually abused children who were under his care in Seth Sevana children’s home.
The All Island Probation Officers’ Association (AIPOA), which is up in arms against the NCPA for failing to discharge its duties without prejudice, protested in front of the NCPA Head Office in Madiwela on Thursday against the alleged failure by NCPA to take action.
“Although we informed the NCPA on many occasions that the inmates of this particular children’s home are being subjected to physical harassment by this monk, they did not take any action. Without sending a flying squad to investigate the matter, they paid a visit to the home after informing the monk.
The monk made all arrangements to give a good impression of this home to the visiting Chairperson of the NCPA. Instead of taking any action on our complaints, they gave a certificate of recommendation to this home claiming it is a friendly place for the inmates. When we first lodged the complaint with the Governor, Commissioner Probation and Childcare Services of the Northern Province, the Government Agent Vavuniya, the police and the NCPA in 2011, we did not know that the inmates were being subjected to sexual harassment. It was only after this incident that we came to know that the children have been sexually harassed by this monk,” said a senior spokesman of the AIPOA on condition of anonymity.
According to the sources, when the Probation Officers questioned the NCPA and police as to why the suspected monk has not been arrested, they were told that there wasd no proper evidence to make such an arrest.
“When the NCPA has the authority to arrest a Probation Officer for reprimanding two boys, who were victims of the Nuwara Eliya Deputy Mayor in a sexual abuse case, asking them not to fall prey to such tactics in future, why couldn’t the NCPA arrest this suspect on the evidence of the victim. If the same institution could arrest a Catholic nun who ran an orphanage in Rawatawatte even before recording statements and arrest a Pastor of the Agape Children’s Home without recording the inmates’ statements, why do they drag their feet with regard to this monk.
Accusing the Buddhist monk of insulting the saffron robe to which Buddhists pay homage, the source further said that this monk is accused of keeping children who have parents.
“According to the rules and regulations of Probation and Childcare Services, none of the homes can keep children who have parents or family members. We are not allowed to take any action against this home as the army and the Governor are preventing all our efforts. Although we have reported these issues to the relevant institutions, they follow a deaf and dumb attitude. Of all the inmates, there was only one child who had been sent to this home by the courts. One of the Government Agents in the province once wanted to adopt the child that was sent by the courts. When this particular GA went to courts to get this child officially, the monk threatened the GA and prevented him from taking the child. Today that child is suffering immensely,” added the source.
According to the source, the monk got all the children from their families allegedly promising them land and other gifts. “In addition, the families have been told that the children would be given a very good education and would find employment when they were old enough. Instead of giving them a proper education, he got all the work done by them including paddy farming on his 25 acre land. They had to plough the fields and look after them till the grain was harvested.It was these children that reaped the harvest.
They were given one curry – either snake gourd or dhal curry with rice. These inmates have told Probation Officers that they do not get enough food and they only get a good meal whenever the temple gets alms,” said the source.
The source further added as to how the monk in question does not allow Probation Officers to make any adverse remarks in the log entry.
“They are not allowed to make any adverse remarks and even if it is done the pages are removed immediately. There are separate rooms in this home where luxury beds and other facilities are provided.
Whenever the visiting dignitaries come to this home he (monk) shows these rooms to show that these children have been given all facilities but in reality the inmates are kept in rooms where no facilities have been provided. They have to sleep on mats on the ground. No proper clothing have been given to them. Once these visiting dignitaries asked as to why these children are in old clothes with mud all over on their bodies. The monk, who is supposed to follow the five precepts, without batting an eye said that he had allowed them to play as the children enjoy playing with sand and mud,” said the source.
Meanwhile the source further accused the Police Department of providing a police guard to the temple.
The monk is also accused of obtaining food relief for 82 children from the World Food Programme when there are only 30 to 35 children in the home.
The source further accused a police officer attached to the NCPA of following the NCPA’s double standards without arresting the culprit. “He is a government officer who has to abide by the country’s laws. He too is biased and did not take any action to arrest the monk,” he added.
Meanwhile Saroja (name changed on request) – mother of the victim told The Sunday Leader that she was saddened when she came to know that her child had been sexually abused by this monk.
“What an inhumane act was this? Knowing that I was going through financial difficulties looking after five children after my husband’s death, this monk came and wanted me to hand over my youngest child to him promising to look after him well. Since I was also going through a difficult period I agreed to give my child provided I was allowed to see him often and the monk agreed. I gave my child to the home in May 2011 and as promised I was allowed to see him twice but not after that,” said Saroja.
According to her, when she visited her son later, she was turned back without being allowed to see the child.
“Whenever I went to the temple to see my son I was told that either the children had been sent on a trip or the monk was not in the temple. When I went to see my son after Deepavali Festival last year with some kewum, some of the workers in the temple told me that the monk was in the paddy field.
I was asked to go and meet the monk on any weekday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. When I said that I handed over my child to the temple and not to his office and I wanted to meet the monk in the temple, the PC scolded me and chased me from the temple,” added Saroja. Since she could not give the sweet meats that she had brought, Saroja had decided to go to the school opposite the temple where her son was studying.
“I went to see my child who was studying at the Etambagaskada Vidyalaya which was on the other side of the temple. When I met my son he pleaded with me to take him back home. His friends too said that they could not stay in the home as the monk assaulted them. Since I could not take my son without informing the monk I went back home. I was sobbing all the way home thinking of my son. On my way home I met some villagers to get their support. It was they who wanted me to go to a Buddhist monk in another temple and to get his assistance to get the child released,” said Saroja.
Following her meeting with the Ven. Madukanda Ananda Thero and subsequently the GA Vavuniya, Saroja was given police protection to go to the home and get the child released.
“When I went to the home on December 3, 2012 with the Vavuniya police, the Buddhist monk scolded me in filth claiming that I am a prostitute. I did not go to argue with him as my sole intention was to get my child released from the clutches of cruelty. Although I took my child back home he was not in his normal self and did not talk to me. As I thought that the child is traumatized I took him to various places to help him. I got close to him and tried my best to know as to why he was behaving in such a manner. In the meantime, my son got fever once in a fortnight and complained of a severe pain when he was urinating. Since I thought that it could be due to the heat, I did not take any notice of it,” she claimed.
However Saroja was taken aback on one occasion when her son scolded one of her old relatives.
“This man who is very old once tried to pull my son by his pants to which my son got angry and shouted.
It was then that I went to the UNHCR office in Vavuniya and met some female officials and asked them to help me find out what had happened to my child. They directed me to a doctor in the Vavuniya hospital and it was the doctors that were able to find out what the monk had done to my son. The hospital police post recorded a statement from my son on the direction of the doctors but nothing happened. When we were in hospital, another inmate was brought to the hospital but I do not know as to what had happened to him,” said Saroja.
According to her, the monk had taken the child to his room every night and made him lie down on his bed and had sexually abused him. It had gone on for more than one year. “Due to some reason once the monk had got annoyed with my son and attacked him with a sharp object. Although he had fallen very sick and was not even able to walk or stand, the monk had not taken the child to a hospital. It was the army personnel who work in the temple that had cleaned the wound daily and applied medicine. Although the wounds got healed the cut had resulted in many complications. According to the doctors, my son gets fever often as a result of a nerve damage due to the cut and they told me that it was a miracle that my child’s life was saved,” she said
According to the mother, all the other children too were allegedly subjected to physical harresment.
“My son says the monk took the children to a dark room and assaulted them with a bamboo stick. It was these children that had to assist the masons (army personnel) in masonry work.
Saroja further alleged that the monk’s driver had wanted her sister to give a letter against Saroja claiming that she was paid by the other monks in the district to sling mud at the suspect. But her sister had refused.
“When asked as to why they failed to arrest the suspected monk, the NCPA said that they could not take the law into their own hands when there was no proper evidence to make any arrest. “If there is no evidence we cannot arrest anyone,” she added.
When asked as to why the NCPA arrested a nun in Motaruwa who ran a home well before the NCPA recorded statements from the inmates,NCPA said that it was because of that incident that they are waiting till they get proper evidence. “Our Chairperson Anoma Dissanayake who is out of the country gave instructions to me not to make any arrest without proper evidence since we were at the receiving end when we arrested the nun in Moratuwa. That is why we are waiting for proper evidence,” she added. All attempts to contact Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana for a comment failed.
‘Suspect threatens victim’s family after getting bail’
A leading lawyer on condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that political interference had become the main reason for the standstill in many rape cases be it underage or not.
A few years ago there were two rape cases against an up and coming young politician who bears a controversial character. While he was in the opposition the case was heard impartially, but the moment he crossed over to the government over a personal issue the two cases were dropped for unknown reasons. Although there are no loopholes in the country’s legal system, because of political interference the legal authorities have failed to punish the offenders. This has become a big issue now,” said the senior lawyer.
He further said that it was a known secret as to how the killer of British national Kuram Shaikah Zaman was protected by certain politicians before he surrendered. “Even the police knew where this suspect was getting refuge and once he surrendered he was given right royal treatment in Tangalle police before he was produced in court. Although he was remanded, he was still allowed to attend Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha meetings with police protection. After he was granted bail, everyone knows what happened. No action was taken against him until the British government started pressurizing our government to bring the killers to book.
He further said that in the case of the former Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman T. H. Sunil who was involved in the rape of an underaged girl, no action had been taken against the former Chairman who is said to have threatened the victim’s family after he was granted bail.
“If any lay person interferes in any court precedings, the law enforcement authorities can arrest him once again. In this case no action was taken against this politician turned offender. If the offender has any political affiliations, the victims cannot expect justice,” he added.