22 April, 2024

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Les Enfants Du Paradis – Part I

By Austin I Pullé

Austin I Pullé

The children in paradise. But whose children and in what paradise? In the country hyped as a paradise, the children in question are the offspring of the rich and privileged, which of course now mainly includes the corrupt politician class, and the paradise in question is the metropolis. By discussing the plight of marginalized children in the country, a plight  that most international and local child-protection organizations in the country choose to ignore, this essay begins by focusing on the plight of such children and goes on to argue that this plight is symptomatic of an enabling corrupt and morally bankrupt country that sustains these vile discriminatory practices.

Since decency and ethics are hard to find in the public space, one must hope for an invigorated judiciary that has developed a country specific jurisprudence that enforces what Article 3 of the Constitution connotes in order to rescue the country from the abyss. Doing this would require the judiciary to emancipate itself from the self-imposed thicket of procedural obstacles that has resulted in its modest and largely impotent remit.

The gloating social media posts celebrating the accidental death of a prominent politician should serve as a wake-up call to the courts, the Attorney-General’s department, and law enforcement in general. The thrust of these celebratory messages was that the unseen karmic forces had meted out justice to a man who should have faced the consequences of his violent and illegal conduct in the courts. This is evidence of the people’s loss of confidence in the courts and law enforcement. No amount of contempt law can compel confidence in the courts and law enforcement unless the people are confident that in the eyes of law enforcement, no person is above the law.  If the courts are unable to develop a jurisprudence responsive to the multiple crises of the county and invoke their inherent rights to enforce the rights of all Sri Lankans without discrimination and safeguard Article 3 of the Constitution, which states that sovereignty is inalienably vested in the People, from erosion, the only alternative would be for civil society organizations to intensify their quest for a rules based country.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption by the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child (ratified by Sri Lanka in 1991) and the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) (ratified by Sri Lanka in 1981) are useful entry points to a discussion about the two third rails in Sri Lanka politics. These are the treatment of females under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (“MMDA”)  and the practice of some parents in villages “donating” their young male children to temples to be raised as“samaneras”. Both these practices violate local law and applicable international conventions. They also disregard the best practices on child welfare, which if violated in most Commonwealth countries and the US will trigger a response from social services and the police. Accordingly, the Constitution’s promise of equality will remain a mirage unless the country repudiates the presently shared ethos of marking some children as valuable and others as disposable.

Historical context is important. This essay argues that a long and widely accepted belief about the parent child relationship has been displaced by modern case law, international treaties, and Sri Lankan law.

Only a few months ago, an Italian court found the parents and uncle guilty of the murder of 18 year old Saman Abbas slaughtered because she refused to travel to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. Old habits die hard and the ancient habit of regarding a child as a disposable chattel or an ideal sacrifice to propitiate a bloodthirsty god is hard indeed. Agamemnon slew his daughter Iphigenia at the insistence of the evil Calchas to make the winds blow so as to allow the Greek fleet to sail to Troy. At least in Greek tragedy, karma lurks not far away. Clytemnestra, the anguished mother of the slain girl, subjected her husband, the murderer of their daughter, and his captured Trojan concubine, Cassandra, to a grisly end. This initiated the bloody cycle of revenge in the House of Atreus.

Even though the Spartans, Aztecs and other groups murdered/sacrificed their children, the doctrinal justification for sacrifices and modern day “honour killings” by those of the Abrahamic faiths is to be found in the Bible. If, when commanded by his god to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham had politely declined by reminding his god that the first duty of a parent is to look after and protect his offspring and not to murder them, thousands of females might not have been murdered at the hands of their fathers, brothers and uncles. (This episode is also celebrated by the brutal slaughter of millions of innocent sheep and cattle every year.) The Fifth Commandment makes no sense unless I AM implied that there is a reciprocal obligation on the part of the parents to honour their children. The Parable of the Prodigal Son repudiates completely the concept of honour killings and substitutes instead a norm of unconditional love and forgiveness. The old dispensation would have required the father to slaughter his wastrel son instead of the fatted calf.  It is the new dispensation of treating a child with unconditional love and forgiveness that urgently demands recognition in the 21st Century. “What is Honour?” wondered Falstaff concluding that it is “a word” and “a mere scutcheon”. What indeed! How many have been savagely murdered because their parents forgot how to love and forgive but instead were mesmerized by the word “honour” and were driven to a frenzy in the name of honour to kill their offspring!

It is safe to assume that parents who give their twelve year old daughters in marriage or entrust their sons to a temple truly believe that such actions are compulsory because of the son’s malefic horoscopes or required by their respective faiths. The religious beliefs of the parents, while deserving the deepest respect, must in the twenty first century give way to the acknowledgment by civilized persons that children are autonomous beings whose interest cannot be subordinated to the whims of their parents or be justified by their parents’ beliefs in astrology. In this century, the civilized state rejects the claim that parents have absolute discretion in controlling the fate of their children.

In Re A (conjoined twins), an English Court of Appeal decision on the separation of conjoined twins identified the limits that the law imposes on the sweep of parental power over the health and well-being of their children. The parents of the conjoined twins, the subjects of the case, were Catholics. Medical investigation showed that one twin was sustaining itself by drawing material from the other twin. If the “healthy” twin was not separated from the “parasitic” twin, both would die. The parents opposed the operation to separate on the ground that according to their beliefs, the result of the operation would be to murder the “parasitic” twin and because of that, the only option was to allow both twins to die and by doing this surrender to the will of God. The Court of Appeal in a detailed and sensitively rendered judgment held that the operation must proceed even though the parasitic twin would be killed as a result. The very foundation of that decision was that the healthy twin had a right to life that could not be taken away because of the religious beliefs of the parents. The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster filed a brief in the court asserting that “the rights of parents should be overridden only where they are clearly ‘contrary to what is strictly owing to their children.’ This assertion of a broad discretion awarded to the parents, the court rejected stating that such a norm is not recognized by English law. Most countries would likewise reject such a claim.

Another factor that has shaped and intensified the strength of the norm that the child’s interests are paramount and must be protected is the exposure of widespread paedophilia by many hundreds of Catholic priests in the US and elsewhere. The present societal consensus is that entrusting young children to the care of a group of celibate clergy is a practice fraught with perils to such children. Because of the egregious and widely documented paedophile offences against young males by Catholic priests in many American states, no modern country would allow a community of supposedly celibate priests, monks, or other clergy to take into their care, in a form of adoption, young males delivered to the community by their parents. Attorneys General in several American states have issued indictments against many hundreds of Catholic priests who abused their position of trust by raping minors.  The film “Spotlight” revealed the egregious cover-up by the despicable Cardinal Law and the sanctuary extended to him when he fled Boston by the then pope, now canonized. The cover-up culture persists. Archbishop Rymond of the archdiocese of New Orleans is currently accused of protecting Fr. Jerry Howell, a priest convicted of raping dozens of deaf children. In other words, the clerical community can be expected to circle the wagons and defend the paedophile rather than deliver the offender to the hands of the law. Because of the dangers facing a fragile child, Sri Lanka should adopt a prudential guardrail of the West and stop the practice of poor parents, poor because it is never the affluent, entrusting their male children to temples.

This background helps to bring into sharper focus the illegal discrimination visited on Muslim females and young Buddhist males entrusted to temples to be raised as novice monks.

*To be continued..

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Latest comments

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    I really believed you were going to speak about that marvellous film – “Les enfants du paradis” – with Jean-Louis Barrault, whom I met years ago, mid ’60s, when he and his wife presented 2 or 3 plays at the International Drama Festival in London. One was “Waiting for Godot”; the other a French classic – the name eludes me now.
    I must see if my old dvd of “Les enfants” is still working.

    I wonder if you’ll get around to the film in your Part 2.

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    Excellent. Now let the religious chauvinists come out of their self-righteous wormholes. If they can read, that is.

  • 1
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    “The children in paradise. But whose children and in what paradise? In the country hyped as a paradise, the children in question are the offspring of the rich and privileged, which of course now mainly includes the corrupt politician class, and the paradise in question is the metropolis.”

    Excellent article! Thanks for it.

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