The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka’s Social Fabric In Tatters

  • As incidents of crime escalate

By Fathima Razik

Sadeela Banu, the murdered child

The recent incidents where children have been victims of crime – one being where the father of a child had dashed his one and half year old daughter on a rock, in the Magal-kanda area in Beruwela, due to a dispute with his wife as they had been living apart, and in the other incident, a 13 year old girl living in Alupotha, Badalkumbura, had knifed her six year old sister to death as the former had felt unloved and uncared for by her parents, has had society reeling with the horror the tragic incidents had brought into focus. The question therefore arises as to what the law enforcement authorities, other government bodies overseeing the welfare of children, medical professionals and civil society should do to educate people from committing such crimes in a moment of anger or distress, in the future.

These two tragic incidents, among many other similar incidents that are reportedly taking place in many parts of the country, have brought into focus the dangers that children in Sri Lanka are exposed to, due in the main, to the country’s social fabric being torn apart.

In the case of the first incident cited, the infant had been pronounced dead on admission to the Nagoda General Hospital in Kalutara, while the in other case, the injured girl had also died on admission at the Badalkumbura Hospital.

While the perpetrators of the crime, the father in one case, and the 16 year old sister in the other are under police custody, it is beyond one’s line of reasoning to understand what would have driven them to take such drastic steps in a moment of anger, a negative emotion that is just one letter away from danger.

Responding to queries in this regard, the Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Anoma Dissanayake, said despite the innumerable awareness programmes the authority has been conducting over a period of time to address these social issues, there are other forces that spur people to engage in criminal activities, even against children. “After 30 years of war, the mindset of the people have changed so much that many of them are led by their emotions. There are also other social issues that drive people to engage in criminal acts against children. What is most important is that parents should be parenting, and we repeatedly tell parents that they should be attentive to their children’s needs. Very often, other problems take precedence and they overlook the fact that their children are longing for love and attention. Children are neglected, and they are also psychologically abused. Handling these problems need a multi-sectoral approach; the NCPA alone cannot deal with all the issues,” she said.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Consultant Psychiatrist, National Hospital of Sri Lanka and Senior Lecturer in Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, said the commonality of the two incidents is that both the father and the sister involved happened to kill a member of their respective families. On the other hand, the two incidents are different as in the case of the former, it was an adult who had committed the crime, and in the latter, the crime was committed by a child. “Going by what I read in the media, and making a general comment, it was a grave crime committed by a father who had killed his own child. With regard to the second incident, in which a 13 year old girl had also committed a grave crime, the major difference is that a father who is said to be 40 years, is a grown man, and has a developed personality. Therefore, what sort of a person is he to have killed his child, whereas, the 13 year old girl has not developed her personality; it is in the making. She is not yet the person she would eventually be. Personality is very fluid during one’s childhood – a nasty child this week will turn out to be a nice child the next week, and vice versa. By this one act of crime, we cannot determine her personality. As a professional, I and other like-minded individuals too will look at this incident in the context in which the unfortunate incident had taken place, whereas in the case of the man, a father had failed his own daughter, triggered by a dispute with his wife. It appears that he had used his child in his inter-personal dealings to express the anger he had felt at the time which is totally unacceptable, under any circumstances. Hurting a child when you are in distress cannot be accepted. Therefore the question arises, did he love his child? The answer is ‘no.’ He had used his child as an inanimate object. We have observed frequently that when people are angry, they smash things – like dashing a plate or a mobile phone. In this instance, the father has smashed his infant daughter on a rock over a dispute with his wife just as though he would dash a plate on the ground in anger,” Dr. Rajasuriya said.

He went on to say that parents parade their children in good clothes, speak of their success at exams – all of which are examples of treating children as objects to be proud of rather than a person to be loved. This, Dr. Rajasuriya said, is possession. “All of us are guilty of possessing our children at one time or another, so in a way, society stands guilty for the way in which this man had maltreated his child,” he opined.

Comparing this situation with that of the 13 year old girl, he said her behaviour was a manifestation of the environment in which she lives and other factors such as her temperament and her intelligence (or the lack of it). “If a child behaves erratically, 95 per cent of the time it is because of the environment he/she lives in. The child’s environment is the family. This particular girl must have been under much stress and pressure. She had been deprived of an education – she had to look after her younger sister in the absence of the mother, cook and keep the house clean, whereas her sister was sent to school.

She would see her friends go to school, and when her mother had returned to the country having been overseas working, and had decided to send her away, said to be for her own protection as the mother was to go away again, the girl would have felt rejected, unwanted. She had been deprived of her childhood. Further, she may have heard of or witnessed such an incident in the past which would have registered in her mind – and she would have been driven to do what she did, recalling what was on her mind. On the other hand, the man who killed his infant daughter is totally guilty of the crime,” Dr. Rajasuriya explained.

On being questioned on what assistance the little girl would need, he said he would recommend assistance for the entire family. “The parents need professional help to learn how to be real parents, and have a good relationship with their child,” he said and added, “The child also needs to be helped to become a better person, and be shown how to deal with distress. The larger effort has to be afforded to the family to make the environment better for the girl instead of her being punished by her family or by society who might want to shun her, which should not be the case,” Dr. Rajasuriya said.

Commenting to queries in this regard, the Police media spokesman, SSP Ajith Rohana, said according to their records, the number of incidents of murder has come down but he was quick to add that incidents of robberies had increased.

“We are addressing the issue of the escalation of robberies that are reported while incidents of crime related to murders are on the decline in the recent past,” he said. Responding to the incidents highlighted in this story, he said the respective police stations are dealing with the issues, and added that the psycho-social aspect of the incidents have to be taken into account.

Calling these incidents as being the tip of the iceberg, Dr. Rajasuriya said, all the relevant authorities need to take prompt and urgent measures to ensure that the people who come from the poorer segments of society are assisted to overcome the psychological problems they face in their day to day lives, underscored by the poverty they are beset with.


4 Comments for “Sri Lanka’s Social Fabric In Tatters”

  1. R.M.B Senanayake

    Our society must learn to recognize truth and justice for those suffering from the war and engage in a genuine process of healing and reconciliation. Lies and deception will take us nowhere.

  2. Sinha

    Family life in SL has gone to the dogs. How many parents spend quality time with the children, spend few minutes a day with their children. Many children are left with either with the domestic helpers and relations while parents are at work 14 hrs a day 7 days a week. One reason for this could be the cost of living and everyone running after material things. The society has failed. I don’t see a single monk, schools, NGOs, politicians discussing this issue openly at public places. Children are raised without love and end up as criminals. The net result is a violent society. But I believe this is now an accepted thing in SL.

  3. This culture comes from the BBs and people like Merwin Silva who allowed to get away with murder. They insist thety are right and have duty make others comply

  4. This change in culture is because the likes of the BBS and Mervin Silva are allowed to get away with murder. A society where some people think they are special and try to make others comply to their standard.

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