In October 2013 Buddhist monk Kalyana Tissa 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.
* Filed by Women’s Action Network (A network consisting of 8 women’s organizations based in the north and east of Sri Lanka