23 June, 2024


Child Ordination -Through A Mother’s Eyes!

By Sharmini Serasinghe

Sharmini Serasinghe

Sharmini Serasinghe

As a mother, the following is one of the most emotionally challenging articles I tasked myself with, as I see a son of mine, in each child-Samanera (novice Buddhist monk)!

At a recent alms-giving ceremony I attended, there were many such, of varying ages. Some as young as 7 – 8 years of age, while some of pubertal age.

These ‘little ones’, with shaven heads, and their thin bodies swathed in saffron robes, sat on the floor with their elders. It was hard to miss, their expressions of sheer wonder, coupled with mischief on their faces, as they watched the children of the laity, of similar age, running wild with chocolate smeared faces, brandishing their favourite toys.

One of these ‘miniature monks’ in particular, had his gaze fixed longingly on a teddy bear, and another on a train set. While those, in their mid to late teens, gazed appreciatively, at the pretty young girls prancing around, before quickly hiding their faces, behind their over-sized palm-leaf fans, when frowned upon, by a disapproving adult monk.

It was obvious, that these young children, thrust into monkhood, were oblivious to the fact, that they had been robbed of their innocent childhood, for no fault of their own!

In all their innocence, how could they realise, that their young lives will change forever, when asked to commit themselves with those profound words, as they are being ordained-“Venerable Sir, I respectfully ask you to ordain me as a novice monk, in order that I may be free from the cycle of existence and attain Nibbana”.

How can a child of seven-years understand what it means to be “free from the cycle of existence and attain Nibbana”?

Can this little, child-Samanera understand, that he cannot be carried, hugged and kissed by his mother thereafter, and seek her maternal warmth and security, when struck with a fever, or frightened by a nightmare, thunder and lightning?

Further, this child-Samanera of seven-years, is committed to observe the ‘Ten Precepts’ as training rules-

  • I undertake to abstain from harming or taking life
  • I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given
  • I undertake to abstain from any sexual contact
  • I undertake to abstain from false speech
  • I undertake to abstain from the use of intoxicants
  • I undertake to abstain from taking food after midday
  • I undertake to abstain from dancing, singing, music or any kind of entertainment
  • I undertake to abstain from the use of garlands, perfumes, unguents and adornments
  • I undertake to abstain from using luxurious seats
  • I undertake to abstain from accepting and holding money

Save for some, the rest of these ‘rules’ are those that even un-ordained children, in a healthy family environment, abide by. So, why must a child, be ordained a Buddhist monk, to abide by such?

Child Monks 2Furthermore, is it in the best interest of this child’s mental and physical development, to make him “abstain from taking food after midday?” Do those who promote and encourage child-ordination, realise or give a damn, for the physical and mental damage, caused to a growing young child, by depriving him of nourishment, for more than half a day?

Also, is it ethically correct, to commit a young child, to a life-long sentence of deprivation he never chose, viz  from married life, family life, celibacy and a whole host of other taboos, at an age when he cannot understand the high price, he has been called upon to pay?

The Buddha himself followed his chosen path, according to his own free will; no one forced him to do so. And this too he did, at the age of twenty-nine, after having married and fathered a child.

So what gives one the right, including parents, to commit these innocent and trusting young, to a life-sentence of deprivation?

According to the Laws of Sri Lanka, a person cannot be less than eighteen-years of age, to marry or vote. So similarly, why can’t there be similar laws that apply, to the ordination of Samaneras?

If this is not Child Abuse, what does one call it?

Why Buddhists ‘donate’ their sons to the Temple 

Buddhist legend has it, that the Buddha had his son Rahula ordained, at the tender age of seven-years. This gave rise to a belief amongst Buddhists, that it was a meritorious act, to ‘donate’ their young sons to the temple.

Given the level of wisdom of the enlightened one, it is hard to believe, that the Buddha would have done such a thing, given the age of the young child.

So, could this have been a ruse of Buddhist monks of yore, which continues to date, to encourage gullible parents, to ‘donate’ their young sons, in order to swell the numbers of the Sangha?

Malefic Horoscopes

Astrology is not a facet of the Dhamma, but one, amongst many beliefs, customs and traditions, borrowed by Sinhalese Buddhists, from Hinduism. Therefore, many, amongst the average Buddhists believe, that a son born, under the ‘wrong stars (malefic horoscope)’, must be ‘donated’ to the temple. This, they believe, in all their ignorance, will ward off the ill-effects on the rest of the family, of such a horoscope, of an ‘unlucky’ child.

‘The fool may watch for lucky days,
Yet luck he shall always miss,
The luck itself is luck’s own star,
What can mere stars achieve?
– The Buddha

Since the Buddha, as stated above, did not advocate one to live by, what the stars predicted, and the Sangha knows this only too well, could this be another ruse of Buddhist monks, to add numbers to their flock?


Then there is poverty, which is a plausible reason, as to why the poorest of poor, mostly against their wishes, ‘donate’ their young sons to the temple. When these poor parents find it hard to make ends meet, the only option, available to them, is the temple.

Child MonksHere, the question arises, is it ethically correct for such children of the poor, to be committed to a life-sentence of the monastic life, for lack of funds to feed and educate them?

Though the temple provides his food, clothing, shelter and education, is he also protected against evils such as sexual-abuse, from pedophiles amongst the clergy?  What could his poor parents do in such an instance, if their young sons were victims of such, except to turn a blind-eye, due to their poverty? What of the psychological damage caused to such children?

Why cannot those ‘affluent’ Buddhist monks, if there are any benevolent amongst them, help these poor families, to keep their sons within their family unit? But then again, there may be those who want to keep these families poor, to ensure a constant ‘supply’, of ‘soldiers’ to the ‘Buddhist Army’!

National Child Protection Authority?

Where in all this, is the role of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) of Sri Lanka, which states the following, on its website –

“Sri Lanka, as a member State of the United Nations, was a signatory to the Child Rights Convention (CRC) in the year 1990 and ratified it on 12th July 1991. This was followed by the preparation of a Children’s Charter approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, and the establishing of a National Monitory Committee charged with the responsibility to monitor the CRC and also report to the international CRC committee when required.

In December 1996, the Presidential Task Force on child protection was appointed. This body recommended a number of Legal amendments and administrative reforms, which were included in the report of Presidential Task Force.

One of the most important recommendations of the Presidential Task Force was the establishment of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), by ACT No.50 of 1998 under the Presidential Secretariat.

In the year 2006, a separate ministry was formed by the incumbent president of Sri Lanka to establish a proper protection and welfare mechanism for children and women and NCPA is under the purview of the Ministry of Child Development and Women`s Affairs.

The website states the NCPA VISION as: To create a child friendly and protective environment for children. And, its MISSION as: To ensure children are free from all forms of abuse.

Mass Ordination 1All well and good, but what about those children of Sri Lanka, ordained as child-Samaneras? Don’t they come under the purview of the NCPA?

Does the NCPA, reach out to such young children as well, in need of care and protection?

Does the NCPA raise public awareness and influence policies and practices that affect the lives and welfare, of these ordained-children as well?

Does the NCPA work together with relevant authorities/systems, such as the police, healthcare, legal, education, communication, media, political and all sectors of society, to look into problems faced by these ordained-children as well?

Does the NCPA contribute, and work towards strengthening and networking with global child protection systems, in ensuring the voices, of those young ordained-children, are also heard?

Or does the NCPA not regard these ordained-children, as children of Sri Lanka?

A ‘Buddhist Army’ recruitment Drive?

In Sri Lanka, for over 2500 years, Buddhist monks have been wielding, significant power over society and the politics of this country. Their strength comes from the numbers in their flock. Therefore, persistent recruitment of ‘soldiers’ forms their power base.

These are times, when recruiting adult males to serve their cause has become increasingly challenging, in a materialistic world, save for those preferring a free-ride, coupled with a life of dolce far niente. So, their only source of recruitment is to draw, young children of unsuspecting parents into their fold, in order to secure the continuity, of their ‘priestly’ power.

The unenlightened Sinhalese Buddhist are made to believe, that to have one of their own in the Buddhist monkhood, is not only meritorious, but a matter of great honour and prestige for the family. This is the same mindset that also applies, to having a son serving the country, through the armed forces.

In this context, I came across a news report, on the website of the ‘Buddhist Channel’ on local television titled, 2550 novice monks to be ordained in Sri Lanka with government assistance. Though not headline news anymore, it still remains relevant.

Yet another; a post-event story in the Junior Observer of the government-owned Sunday Observer dated 24th June, 2007, titled Mass ordination ceremony in Colombo. Most adult readers may have missed this, as its target readership is the Junior reader.

The author of the article declares enthusiastically, to the impressionable young readers of the Junior Observer, “The news must have really fascinated you, especially the sight of the Samanera (novice) monks”.

The Samanera monks, the writer refers to here, were “in the 7-16 age group.”

According to these reports, the Government of Sri Lanka, worked hand-in-glove with the Buddhist clergy, in order to “fulfill the target of ordaining 2550 novice monks, to commemorate the 2550th anniversary of the passing of the Buddha”!

Buddhist Clergy’s ‘Damaged-Goods’ 

According to Buddhist monastic rules, one may not be ordained, as a fully-          ordained-Buddhist monk’, (as opposed to a novice monk-Samanera), until twenty years of age. The rationale for this rule, is that those under twenty years of age, cannot be expected to be sufficiently in control of one’s self, to live the monastic life.

But the question begs, how many of our ‘fully ordained Buddhist monks’, are sufficiently in control of themselves, to live the monastic life? How many of them, might have been thrust into monkhood, at an age when they knew no different?

In Sri Lanka, temporary ordination is not common, as monks leaving the order, is frowned upon by our myopic, Sinhala-Buddhist society, and are regarded as failures. And even if they do manage to overcome these obstacles, most find it hard to adapt psychologically, to the rapidly evolving world of the laity, today. So haven’t these young men, been robbed not only of their childhood and youth, but their future as well?

Could those extremist monks we see today, devoid of any form of self-control, rampaging and creating havoc in our society, be those, forced into monkhood, and who are now venting their fury at the laity, for all that they were deprived of?

Are these angry Monks of ‘Buddhist’ Sri Lanka those, expected to uphold the pure essence of the Buddha Śãsana in the future of this country?

This is a topic, that will not go down well, with the average Sinhala-Buddhist.  As, they, the vast majority of this country consider it ‘sacrilegious’, to question any ‘wrongs’ committed, in the name of ‘Buddhism’.

However, in this instance, when their sons might be the next victims of this insatiable ‘recruitment’ drive, of ‘inducting’ the young, unsuspecting and the vulnerable, into Sri Lanka’s ‘Buddhist Army’, will they still remain, with their heads buried in sand, and call it a privilege and an honour?

How is this any different, from recruiting child-soldiers, to a conventional army?

*Sharmini Serasinghe counts over thirty years as a writer and a journalist, in both the print and electronic media. She was also Director Communications, of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), under Secretary Generals Dr. John Gooneratne and Jayantha Dhanapala.


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Latest comments

  • 6

    We all know near do well families give their sons to the temple and as parents we know a kid (even a 13 yo)will at no stage know he wants this (life of a priest) or not.

    The kids grow up knowing the various stanzas etc but are caught in a serious trap (To go home or wait in the temple)

    Better if ordination was at a age where the person to be ordained knew what he is getting into and its responsibilities.

    • 2

      Dear Shamini Serasinghe,

      “One of these ‘miniature monks’ in particular, had his gaze fixed longingly on a teddy bear, and another on a train set. While those, in their mid to late teens, gazed appreciatively, at the pretty young girls prancing around, before quickly hiding their faces, behind their over-sized palm-leaf fans, when frowned upon, by a disapproving adult monk.”

      7 and 8-year olds are fist and second graders. Do they really want be monks?

      We should not have double standards for religious leaders.

      This is from Buddhist History. Let’s go to the reported history.

      This all started with Siddhartha Gautama ordaining his abandoned 7-year old son Rahula. This is how this child abuse tradition started. It is not a good role model. Why?

      1. Siddhartha Gautama abandoned his wife and child when the child was born.

      2. Siddhartha Gautama ordained the abandoned child wanted he to see his father and get his inheritance, his kingdom. Siddhartha Gautama did a BAIT AND SWITCH and under duress turned the innocent child into a child monk, a Samanera. This is used to perpetuate child abuse and child Samerneras in Buddhism all over.


      Child Abuse by the parents of Rahula, whether done the Buddha and his wife, for a 7-year old child, is still child abuse. Rahula wanted his kingdom. He was made a novice monk! Bait and Switch. This is child abuse. What Buddha should have done is say, son, you are too young, see and know the world, and when you are ready, become a monk. Read more:

      Rāhula was raised by his mother and grandfather, King Suddhodana. When he was seven years old, Rahula requested his father, missing him dearly; the Buddha returned to his home city of Kapilavatthu. On the seventh day of his return, Yasodharā took Rāhula to see his father, the Buddha. She told Rāhula that since his father had renounced the palace life and as he was the next royal prince in line, he should ask his father for his inheritance of crown and treasure for his future sake when his grandfather would no longer rule the kingdom.

      After the meal, Rāhula followed the Buddha, saying “Give me my inheritance.” Nobody tried to stop him, nor did the Buddha prevent him from following him. He then looked at his father and said, “Lord, even your shadow is pleasing to me.” Reaching the Park of Nigrodha, where the Buddha was staying, the Buddha thought to himself: “He desires his father’s inheritance, but it is wrought with troubles. I shall give him the benefit of my spiritual Enlightenment and make him an owner of a transcendental inheritance.”

      The Buddha called Venerable Sariputta and asked him to ordain little Rāhula who became the first Sāmanera (novice monk).

      “The King, discovering that now his grandson and a number of young men in the royal family had requested ordination, asked the Buddha only to ordain a minor with the consent of his parents or guardian. The Buddha assented. This rule was expanded to include the spouses of those intending to join the Order of monks and nuns.[5]

      Child Abuse by a Monk in Habaraduwa

      Child Abuse in Tibet by the Child ordination and by Monks. Buddhism The Great Evil — Part 1


      Buddhism The Great Evil — Part 2


      • 1


        You are absolutely correct.

        To err is human, and though the Buddha attained enlightenment, he was still a human.

        As a human, he erred in having his 7 year-old son ordained.

        This may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but it is a fact.

  • 5

    Don’t you think it is better than becoming child soldiers, beach boys, beggars, orphanage prisoners, domestic servants, laborers, drug traffickers, pick pocketeers, loiters, etc?

    • 7

      GamaRaala, what’s wrong being a domestic servants and labourers. These are honest jobs. Your ancestors and mine were farmers, servents, etc. Don’t be a arrogant idiot.

  • 12

    Thank you Sharmini for the great article which attracted many comments. Majority of the readers appears to be supporting you.

    I give below my views on the subject in a nutshell. I appreciate either Sharmin1 or any of the supporters could address the issues, I have raised here.

    1. I agree that child abuse is quite possible when young kids are ordained as monks. Parents and kids do it for various reasons such as the psychological need of attention, recognition and also for poverty.
    2. It is almost impossible to ban a tradition that existed in our culture and religion for centuries.
    3. I do not believe it should be banned altogether. I prefer regulations to safeguard the kids, instead.
    4. I suggest NCPA should intervene whenever there is a child ordination to ensure that it is done with the consent of Parents, child and the examine the circumstances. If they are satisfied it is a genuine request it should be allowed. Child should be advised of his rights to complain or disrobe at any time.
    5. In order to safeguard the Child Priest from abuse I suggested they should be monitored
    6. I am also of the view that more damage and abuse is done for a child living in extreme poverty or without proper supervision than being a child monk in a temple.
    7. I believe it is necessary to educate people against the stigma in the society that a person who disrobes is an outcast. We should encourage the practice of ordaining people for temporally periods as it is happening in other Buddhist countries.

    It appears that most of the readers have a prejudice against everything in their culture and religion. I believe that the better approach is to view many practises with compassion / understanding and suggest changes to extreme practices in a friendlier manner rather than reacting angrily to these practices.

    Before attacking child abuse in temples, people should find a solution to kids living in extreme poverty or abused daily due to lack of supervision or interest by the parents. These kids will eventually end up as criminals, mental patients or drug addicts due to no fault of theirs. These kids would be far better in a temple environment where discipline and education could continue uninterrupted. But since abuse is still possible precautions have to be taken by authorities.

    • 6

      Dear Mahendra,

      I also respect your view that the authorities should make genuine efforts in terms of poverty alleviation in those met families. However, the numbers in SL that live under poverty is not comparable to those of countries like Brasil, India, Philippines and the like, depending on the topic many dont want to even call Sri Lanka as a poor country to this day. So it is hardly acceptable that the main reason them to offer their kids to Sanga is connected with poverty.

      I personally believe the myths and misconceptions guide those poor families above everything. People say respect towards Sanga has become to appalling levels, but many still offer dana to them on a regular manner. That means, people across the country still have greater respect on Sanga even today. I think what is lacking is open discussions based on these topics on national and pvt TV channels.

      As one who was also sent to SUNDAY DAHAM school at that time (3.5 decades ago), I still have pictures in my mind how we spent the day at the temple premises then. Most of daham pasal as were disciplined as some monks point them out.

      These commentators are not CROSS SECTIONAL VIEW of lanken society. Majority of the lankens are not accessed to facts and figures, be them related to on going politics, religious issues or anything else.

    • 4

      Mahendra De Silva,

      You have stated the following in your article ‘Child Ordination- A different Perspective’-

      “As far as I know whenever a kid is ordained it is done with the consent of the kid.”

      Do you honestly believe that a child of seven-years is able to give his consent to be ordained, when he wouldn’t most probably know what it means, and how it is going to change his life for ever?

    • 1

      Dear Mahendra,

      Though I agree with Sharmini in principle I do not think her article is great. There is obvious hyperbole involved that degrades the article from being great.

      My reasons are given here

      Kind Regards,

      • 0

        Hi Kanchana Perera (AKA Off the Cuff),

        “….. I do not think her article is great.”

        Nobody asked for your opinion!

        • 2

          Dear Fathima Fukushima the Duplicate,

          Re “Nobody asked for your opinion!”

          You are wrong. Ms Sharmini Serasinghe in writing on a public forum invites views and opinions.

          But then I would not expect an imbecile to understand why there are 200 comments so far, none by specific invitation (including from the imbeciles, the thugs and the gutter snipes spewing gutter language).

          That was a stroke of genius Ms Fat Fuk! Ha ha haa.

          Kind Regards,

      • 1

        “Though I agree with Sharmini in principle I do not think her article is great”.

        I can sense a Green Eyed Monster here.

        • 0


          Sure Prasad.

          I don’t know why this Kanchana Perera AKA ‘Off the Cuff’ bothers to comment on these threads. He never has anything worthwhile to say.

          I think he gets a kick out of seeing his asinine comments in print :-)

          • 1

            Dear Prasad and Kattakarawala

            What else can your simple mind sense Prasad?
            What worthwhile comment have you made on CT Kattakarawala?
            Please link to any you have made in the several years you were here.
            Continue with your crystal ball gazing!

            My prediction has come true, while Sharmini is dumb and is lost for words the simpleton hurrah boys and gals are cheering, for they don’t have a mind of their own to question what she writes.

            An Alms giving is a solemn occasion in any Buddhist home. It is conducted with decorum and respect.

            Teenage Girls “Prancing around” flaunting their young bodies (with unconcerned Elders looking on) and Children playing with “Train Sets” that require space to lay the tracks in the same area where the Dhane is being conducted are FIGMENTS of Sharmini’s imagination.

            My question to her asking whether she behaved in this way when she was young and voluptuous and whether her elders condoned such behaviour and whether she condones her own children behaving in the way she described, will NEVER be answered by her.

            A Buddhist Alms giving is not the same as a Sunday Church Congregation, where young girls are allowed to flaunt their bodies dressed in their Sunday’s best, hoping to catch a future partner or to just have fun with the opposite sex!

            Perhaps Sharmini with her St Bridget’s upbringing is confusing a Church congregation with a Buddhists Alms giving.

            If you have the Brains, contest what I have written. Sharmini does not have the brains to leave out the exaggeration and embroidery when discussing a serious subject. Last time it was Buddhists going to Mosques in search of salvation, this time she tries to convert an Alms giving to a Sunday Church Congregation with Teenage girls “Prancing around” flaunting their bodies.

            The two of you are imbecile opportunists using Sharmini’s SPIN embellished foolish utterances to indulge in Buddhist bashing.

            Kind Regards

  • 1

    The line taken by the Sharmini was spontaneous I believe and in keeping with todays civilization. One wonders how many of the present high- ranking Buddhist Priests commenced their journey at the age of 7 yrs.?

    With Buddhistic-Politics at its peak under this Regime and recent History, a matter as this being propped-up may lead to BBS/Ravaya taking up a Case of Blasphemy, if there is such provisions or resort to direct threats. Even the PM was prepared to go to the gallows on principle!

    If this is a matter for the NCPA, it may said that such corralling of children is no different to the ritual killings of animals and circumcision practices elsewhere? Where do we draw the line.

  • 4

    If only the Buddha knew, how his philosophy has been mauled, twisted and turned into a tool, to serve a selfish few!

    No wonder he wanted to keep his wise discoveries to himself.

  • 4

    The BBS and the rest of its ilk should be punished for blasphemy of Buddhism.

    Are these little children being drawn into their flock, to follow in their vicious footsteps?

  • 2

    this is also a kind of violating human wrights

  • 2

    Of all the leading religions of the world, Buddhism is the only one that commits child-abuse by ordaining little children.

    This is disgusting!

    • 1

      Born Again, you are absolutely correct.

  • 1

    I am deeply grateful to Sharmini for raising a very important issue in our society that few have been willing to do. Superstition too plays a cruel role here. One reason little boys are “given” to the temple is because an astrologer says they are “unlucky”. Just imagine the feeling in a small child’s mind, that his parents are sending him away because he is unlucky for the rest of the family. One never hears of the ordination of children from midde and upper class families, they are always from the poor. What is terrible is the complete break from family life from which apparently there is no going back. One hears of priests leaving the robes in adulthood. But does one ever hear of an unhappy little samanera running back home and being welcomed back into normal life with open arms by his parents and the community?

    • 1

      Dear Cordelia,

      In principle I agree with Sharmini but she is prone to Hyperbole and exaggeration and even goes down to the level of lying brazenly to sensationalize the issue. This trait runs through all her articles unfortunately.

      My reasons are explained here

      Kind Regards

      • 0

        Kanchana Perera/Off the Cuff,

        Did Sharmini snub you for some reason?

        Try as you may, you can never beat her intellectual superiority to you.

        Might as well give up man, without making a fool of yourself any further.

        • 1

          Dear Kattakarawala,

          Re “Did Sharmini snub you for some reason?”

          Why? Is your blind support of her due to some favours she has given you?

          Re “Try as you may, you can never beat her intellectual superiority to you.”

          We will see that if she makes an intelligent rebuttal of what I have written. But that you have been unable to do that shows where you stand intellectually that is!

          Re “Might as well give up man, without making a fool of yourself any further”

          The fools are those who use filth, intimidation, ad hominem arguments and Mafia tactics to shut down opposing views instead of contesting them.

          What made you change your writing style?

          Kind Regards,

  • 0

    I miss my good buddy Javi on this thread.

  • 0

    Fathima Fukushima and Off the Cuff are one and the same person- Kanchana Perera commenting under different email addresses.

    • 1

      Dear Detective,

      Unfortunately, CT does not employ a password protected User ID such as in Disqus. Hence you will have to keep wondering as to my identity and continue gazing in to your crystal ball. There are many who impersonate my pseudonym. But none of them can imitate or contest what I write though they have tried.

      Kind Regards,

      • 0

        Dear OTC, no one can use your logo although they may use Your ID.

      • 0

        Kanchana Perera (Off the Cuff),

        You are so full of yourself, one of these days you will burst!

        You seem to suffering from a severe inferiority complex.

  • 0

    Like the Page boys, and Altar boys and young Catholic novice priests who become sexually abused men and are emotionally shattered, it will be good to check to see how much sexual predation occurs here. Hell Lady, the Catholic Church has systematically covered up and paid up billions of dollars to silence the exposes. Boy buggering is the norm in Pedophile Catholic priesthood. Does it happen here too?

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