17 June, 2019

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Sri Lanka’s Hidden Scourge Of Religious Child Abuse

By Saroj Pathirana –

Pahalagama Somaratana Thera is one of the few Sri Lankan Buddhist monks to have been found guilty of child abuse inside or outside the country.

But if Children’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda is to be believed, child abuse in religious establishments by both Buddhist and Christian clergy in Sri Lanka is rampant.

Tens of thousands of children regularly attend Sri Lankan Buddhist temples as helpers or novices

Yet according to figures from Sri Lanka’s National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), only three Buddhist monks have been convicted of child abuse in Sri Lanka in recent history.

One of those died from poison he drank after he was sentenced for raping a girl aged 13 in 2005.

Research carried out by the BBC Sinhala service has revealed that over the last decade, nearly 110 Buddhist monks have been charged for sexual and physical assaults on minors in Sri Lanka.

Many of these cases – especially those of a sexual nature – were barely reported by the Sri Lankan media and seldom resulted in convictions.

One of the few cases that did make it into the newspapers is that of Buddhist monk and former parliamentarian Aparekke Pannananda Thera, who has been charged with sexually abusing minors.

He and another leading monk in the town of Anuradhapura, Namalwewa Rathnasara Thera, are currently released on bail in relation to the accusations – which they vehemently deny.

Tip of the iceberg

The issue of child abuse by Buddhist monks is regarded as taboo in what is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

Against that backdrop, the 3 May conviction of Pahalagama Somaratana Thera – who runs children’s homes in Sri Lanka – has come as a surprise, as well as a shock, to many expatriate Sinhalese Buddhists in the UK.

Supporters of the monk were reported to be so convinced he would be acquitted and released that they planned a grand welcoming party for him during Sri Lanka’s important Vesak Buddhist festival.

There are concerns that Thera’s conviction may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to abuses in Sri Lankan Buddhist temples.

While in some cases monks are not directly accused of carrying out the abuses, they have been accused of failing to stop them.

Most Sri Lankan Buddhist temples have a constant stream of boys and adult male helpers who live there for short periods. It is not at all unusual for temples to seek help from youths in nearby villages to prepare for religious ceremonies and in the general day-to-day running of the buildings.

This, say critics, provides an ideal climate for abusers to take sexual advantage of vulnerable and impressionable boys mostly under 16 years old.

Traumatised

In one recent and disturbing case, monks of an unnamed eastern Sri Lankan Buddhist temple were accused of ignoring constant appeals by parents of abused children to prevent such practices from taking place within its premises.

“I work as an electrician at the temple. I have been part of this temple for a long time but even I could not stop my son being abused,” Susil Rohana told the BBC.

Mr Rohana alleges that his son was sexually abused by helpers and workers staying in the temple throughout 2010.

He and other parents stress that while no Buddhist monk is accused of any involvement in the abuse, they nevertheless repeatedly failed to take action to stop it and that even today his son remains traumatised.

Mr Rohana says that he has tried to take the abuse suffered by his son to the courts, but is “getting constant threats” warning him not to do so.

It is not only Buddhist monks who stand accused – about 20 Roman Catholic and Protestant priests have been arrested or investigated for sexual abuse of minors over the last 10 years in Sri Lanka.

While there are no accurate records on how many of them have been convicted, officials say that at least one accused Catholic priest is still absconding since being given bail.

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka refused to comment to the BBC on the issue.

But NCPA head Anoma Dissanayake is much less reticent.

“I do not know at the moment how many Catholic priests or how many Buddhist monks are involved, but we will take stern action against any child abuser irrespective of race, caste or religion,” he said.

‘Baseless’

Children’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda told the BBC that he is “shocked and ashamed” over the extent of the problem.

“I noticed what kind of minor sentences the perpetrators are getting,” the minister said. “We need tougher laws that if necessary do not fall too far short of the death sentence.”

However Mr Karaliyedda rejected accusations that political leaders are trying to influence the judiciary to get culprits released.

“The president has clearly instructed us to implement the law irrespective of [a person’s] status,” he said.

The assistant secretary of the All Island Buddhist Council, Kalutara Somarathana Thera, says that many abuse accusations levelled at Buddhist monks are “baseless” – although there needs to be proper research on the “small minority” of monks that do commit such crimes.

Human rights lawyers such as Chandrapala Kumarage, meanwhile, argue that the Sri Lankan media are failing to expose abuses – “especially when it comes to politically or socially powerful figures”.

BBC Sinhala service 

To read Pahalagama Sri Somaratana and religious child abuse  Stories click here

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Special laws should be enacted to safeguard the minors from these sexual predators in the community.

    Not only religious leaders, people from other professions like teachers, security and law enforcement personnel must be brought under strict vigilance and scrutiny..

    Sri Lanka is a country of perverts who never feel ashamed to commit these acts of evil.The practice of publicly naming and shaming of these paedos by the media should also be encouraged.

    • 0
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      Yeah about the pevert culture I think it is something genetic.

  • 1
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    My thinking that young monks and priests not be allowed preaching, very unfair system. All human beings have sex feelings. To say ‘No’ is deny truth. They can be religious students only at young age. Become priests and monks in elderly stage of life. At young age, live like normal people. Marry, have children, and live normal civil life. Religious laws must be changed to accept this reality. This problem must be address not ignore. Otherwise big problem will become bigger social problem. Child trauma, monk guilt, society blame, religion blame, no one want to solve problem, because self denial.

    • 0
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      All religions devised by man consists of faults since man is not perfect.
      A religion which will not impose unnecessary burdens or faulty doctrines can be provided only by the creator God of this universe.That is why marriage is not prohibited to the servants of God in the Bible which is God’s word,though some sects of Christianity, have voluntarily imposed laws, prohibiting marriage to clergy.

  • 1
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    Any human who exploits the innocense of a minor cannot be acceptable in society and should be be dealt with in accordanse with the laws of the country

  • 1
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    It is said that ‘novice monks’ a.k.a ‘samaneras’ who were often ‘recruited’ at the age of ten years and more, often become (child abuse)victims of older monks,who themselves were ‘recruited’ similarly, inside the Sanghavasas.
    Both groups,were mostly ‘donated’ to the Sangha at local temples, by poor village families who have come to beleive that this was a most ‘meritorious’ act, little realising that they are compelling sons of tender ages to ‘renounce the worldly life’ and adopt a life of celibacy and poverty, before they are old enough to decide for themselves.
    Now it appears that the Prime Minister aims to ‘recruit’ 2,500 samaneras in similar manner,from the villages.
    Instances of children of “devout” affluent/educated/politically important parents becoming ‘samaneras’ are unheard of.

    • 0
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      I also wrote to a newspaper about this ten years ago. It has to be made law to stop poor parents donating children to temples. Unfortunately, this is a practice that is rampant in temples, churches and boys schools but ignored by the authorities. People must be allowed make their choices only when they are adults. D.M. is an idiot, the president made him the PM because it is such a futile position under this amazing 1978 constitution.

  • 1
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    how are these acts of buggering made out to be “crime” when the religions of buddhism and christianity dont mention it as a crime?

    what standards are we following here ?

    Only Islam says its a crime..

    • 1
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      Fayaz,
      You have to learn a few lines of Buddhism to talk about it, I am afraid. A crime is a crime, whether your God said it or not. A crime is against religion, law and common sense as well.

  • 0
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    We, Justice for Victims, have requested the government to look into the orphanage run by this priest in Gampaha a few weeks ago through the Colombo Telegraph. This is one of the few orphanages which is not registered. All in all orphanages and institutions should be managed proactively and not reactively when there is an incident. There should be an easy to use reporting format which is filled every three months or so by the relevant officials and action taken on the low scoring ones. Even the meals given in esp state run homes is appalling, not to speak of less than ideal sanitation. The way the children are treated and spoken to, well Oliver Twists’s institution was better in the mid 19th century.

  • 0
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    WHILE THE BUDDHISTS ARE CELEBRATING, 2600 YEARS OF BUDDHISM,WE HEAR OF THE CHIEF SANGANAYAKE OF U.K AND THE CHIEF PRIEST OF MININTALE ACCUSED OF SEX ABUSE. WELL IF THIS IS WHAT THE “HIERARCHY” OF BUDDHIST CLERGY PRACTICE,WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT OF THE “NOVICES”
    ISLAM IS THE NATURAL RELIGION, WHICH ,PROHIBITS,CELIBACY AND ENCOURAGES
    MARRIAGE AND IN ANY CASE THERE IS NO CLERGY.
    THIS IS THE REASON THE BUDDHISTS ARE FINDING SOMETHING TO DO BY ISLAM BASHING, TO DIVERT THE ATTENTION OF A MAJOR PROBLEM WITHIN THE BUDDHA SASANA.IN ISLAM BOTH ADULTERY AND SODOMY ARE PUNISHABLE BY DEATH.
    WHEN THIS IS DONE- MUSLIMS ARE CONSIDERED BARBARIC..

  • 1
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    Why is that bias woman of the NCP Anoma Dissanayake keeping quiet and not taking to task child abusers in temples and privenas, she also covered up for the yellow robed man in Vavuniya when there were child abuse complaints by the villagers, she went to Vavuniya sat and had meals with the yellow robed man and came out and did nothing about it. From this home several children went missing and there were no records as to where these children were sent to and who had taken them, why is this uptight NCPA woman keeping her mouth shut and not exposing the rot happeneieng in these orphanages in Gampaha and Vavuniya. ??? this is the state of affairs to political appointees who want to cover up the abuses of poor innicent children, the wheel is nearing and time if up fior those who cover up such injustices on weak, innoent little children.
    complaints

  • 0
    1

    Sri Lanka needs to improve its human rights record and give up this nonsense called “the practice of buddhism”!

  • 0
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    Budhism is a evil one in srilanka.90% of budist monks are child rapers and homosexuals. Hela Urumaya is the child rapeing organisers.

    • 0
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      90% eh? did you do a systematic survey?

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