By Tush Wickramanayaka –
The Chairman of Gateway Group, the Principal of Gateway College, the OIC of Seeduwa Police, the Human Rights Commission, the National Child Protection Authority, the Minister of Education, the Inspector General of Police, The Attorney General’s Department, The Prime Minister and the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka failed to protect and provide the Constitutional rights to a young citizen.
CONSTITUTION ARTICLE 11 – No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
CONSTITUITION ARTICLE 12 (1) – All persons are equal before the law, and are entitled to the equal protection of the law
The following all too familiar scenario, crystalizes all that is wrong with our society and how the long arm of power over-rides justice, decency and fair play.
On 12th January 2018, my 11 year old daughter who attends Gateway College, Negombo had forgotten to take her weekly English reading book to school. The English master, Jude Udayakumara had forced my daughter and 8 other students who had a simple lapse of memory to kneel down and pulled their ears despite merciful pleadings. This was the nth time such punishments were metered out for simple errors. The perpetrators remained in school continuing to punish the students whilst new recruits followed suit. I had made several complaints before, requesting for a transparent complaint procedure, compulsory child psychology training for teachers and an active child protection policy; these have been ignored.
As usual, I immediately gave a written complaint to the Principal, Devika Alldis and as usual, nothing happened until 19th of January. I complained to Seeduwa Police. JMO diagnosed Acute Stress Disorder. Quite predictably, the OIC endorsed his personal agenda and persuaded me to ignore the incident because my child had no injury. I realized that chances of finding justice were remote. At the conclusion of the inquiry on 25th January 2018, The Principal assured me that a Child Protection Policy will be adopted and that none of the children will be harassed due to the complaint to Police. We settled the matter amicably. So we thought.
The following day, Mrs Alldis summoned the other 8 students into her office individually and obtained written evidence, 2 weeks after the incident and after we had concluded the matter amicably. The children were intimidated not to share this information with my daughter. However, my daughter was not asked to write a letter.
The poor students were petrified to associate my daughter. She was left alone all day. She did not have a single friend to share her lunch or talk during interval. All the students were walking away from her, whispering timidly “don’t speak to her, Madam will scold us.”
My daughter is a bright, bubbly, confident and fearless character. She is a high academic achiever and excels in many sports, bringing glory to Gateway. This bright spark uncharacteristically breaks down. She cried non-stop for 3hrs, she could not sleep or eat. She refused to sleep in her room. She took up a fetal position in my bed. She was inconsolable. My heart broke and my guts wrenched wondering what on earth had happened in school. I blamed my-self all night. In the morning, after she had calmed down, I managed to get the full details of the previous day. I was speechless. I could not comprehend how any human could treat a defenseless child with such animosity. My daughter refused to go to school. She had never missed a day of school for 7 years. This was serious – damn serious!
I decided to act faster this time and reported the incident to National Child Protection Authority (NCPA).
The JMO diagnosed Psychological Disturbance due to incidents happening in school with Adjustment Disorder. Her mental condition had deteriorated since assessment at Negombo.
NCPA concluded the investigations and filed the case, Penal Code 308A Mental Cruelty to Children, at Negombo Magistrate’s Court on 2nd February 2018 and forwarded the file to the Attorney General’s Department (AG) for further advice.
However, H M Abeyratne, Deputy Chairman of NCPA, was on the front page of Mawbima and Ceylon Today declaring that NCPA was dysfunctional. Mawbima and Ceylon Today are owned by Tiran Alles, former Board Member of Gateway Group and brother of Harsha Alles, Chairman of Gateway Group.
Suddenly, Abeyratne is elevated to the position of Chairman, NCPA on 9th April 2018.
Since April 2018 my daughter’s case has gone into hibernation!
I wonder if this was a carefully choreographed coup. When they could not stop the investigation they changed the head of department – Classic manipulation?
Circus Of The Authorities
My daughter’s life became a living hell. She continued to be harassed in school. She was forced to sit at the back of the class, she was called a buffalo, the other 8 students who were punished started picking on her and children were ganging up on her. She began to lose her memory even more and became disinterested in her school work. In the meantime, the school started a car sticker campaign. “We love our teachers. We love our school. Teachers are our second parents. School is our second home”. The teachers and parents started an exclusive WhatsApp group “Save Gateway Negombo” with detrimental posts about me and my family. I was disallowed to join. Some parents gave a letter to Seeduwa OIC endorsing corporal punishment and urging action against me.
We called a family meeting. We informed our children of the negative impact this would have on their
lives; de-selection for sporting activities, de-selection for prefect ship, de-selection from peer groups. We laid down the ugly truth. Both my children unanimously agreed to pursue justice. Their gallantry was inspirational.
We reported back to NCPA on several occasions and confirmed the ongoing harassment. Each time, we spent half a day giving statements and each time we were reassured that NCPA will take immediate action. Each time they failed.
I reported the matter to Minister of Education personally. I was informed that International schools are registered as businesses with Board of Investment. Therefore, the Ministry does not have any purview of International schools.
I reported the matter formerly to Human Rights Commission. They upheld the complaint and commenced inquiries. HRC wrote to the Ministry of Education, Board of Investment and Seeduwa Police. However, staff member Kusum Jayawardhena at HRC committed a serious breach of confidentiality by discussing sensitive information with her family. This lead to another complaint to HRC, which to date is outstanding. HRC abruptly concluded the inquiry relating to the original complaint ironically declaring that they too do not have the purview to deal with private institutions raising alarm bells of collusion. My daughter fell from the frying pan to the fire.
I did not stop. I could not accept that any child should be subjected to such inhumane and cruel treatment. I wrote to Solicitor General, Dappula Di Livera in March and April 2018 urging the AG Department to take immediate action to spare my child from harassment.
I met the Inspector General of Police, regarding the inefficiency of the special Police unit at NCPA.
I met the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe who was shocked that not a single department had taken any action despite the plethora of complaints.
I have not received a response from any of the above to date.
When we did not abandon our quest for justice, Harsha Alles, urged me to transfer the children to another school. When I declined, he forbade me to communicate with the Principal or any teacher. I was ordered to liaise with a Consultant from Gateway College, Colombo even for an emergency. I declined. Then, the Chairman insisted that only my husband who lives in UK is permitted to liaise with the school. This was beyond ridiculous. The children were devastated that the school authorities were gunning to get rid of two ornaments of the school; shameful intimidation at its best.
The Ugly Truth
NCPA filed the case at Negombo Magistrate Court on 02/02/2018. The case was called on 11/05/2018, 01/06/2018, 13/07/2018, 26/07/2018, 31/08/2018 and 04/10/2018. On many of these occasions the NCPA informed court that they were awaiting AG advice. The case is due to be heard again on 07/02/2019.
I made legal representation to AG Department. We were informed that AG Department is inundated with political cases. Despite the reassurance to take urgent action the wheels of justice have come to a grinding halt for one full year.
After hearing the shocking ongoing harassment the Magistrate Court Judge, in an unprecedented move, issued an order directly to Additional Solicitor General, Ayesha Jinasena to take action urgently. The Judge also ordered the Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Assistance and Protection Division to ensure the welfare and safety of my child.
The file was forwarded 360’ circles TWICE from NCPA to Children and Women’s Bureau to Witness Protection Division with absolutely nothing happening to date.
The stark inefficiencies and mind boggling dysfunctionalities of every authority responsible for child welfare makes my spine shiver.
As a final attempt to move the wheels of justice I appealed to the Attorney General, Jayantha Jayasuriya on 2nd January 2019. Is the AG Department blind to the injustices of a defenseless and helpless 11year old child or is it being manipulated by political and financial influences to overlook the case, which we are commonly informed of in Sri Lanka?
It has been one hell of a year for my daughter and us. Whilst we experience regular discrimination, intimidation and harassment, the offending Teacher, Principal and Chairman lives at large unscathed.
WHY IS JUSTICE DELAYED AND DENIED TO AN INNOCENT AND DEFENSELESS 11 YEAR OLD?