ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06

When fate fails again

After being a victim of rape, a 16-year-old girl's journey back to school was full of obstacles.

Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports. Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara.

It’s their right too

Children such as Amali are victims and have every right to go back to school without a disruption, The Sunday Times learns after speaking to Education Ministry officials who declined to be identified.

In some cases the children are reluctant to go to their earlier school because they are embarrassed, especially in rural areas where everyone knows of the incident. Then they can request the education office to find them another school, it is understood.

Sometimes other parents and even the school authorities may feel that such a child should not mix with other “good” children but this thinking is wrong and they need empowerment. The strong message that needs to be sent out is that the victim should not be penalized further but her/his right to education ensured, the officials added.

She reached the milestone of 16 on June 28. Life should have been a long and exciting road ahead – instead her days have been spent either appearing in court or attempting to persuade the school she has been attending since she was five plus to allow her to go back into the classroom to get on with her life with some semblance of normalcy.

For this girl just turned16, life was routine like for most others her age till December 29, last year. Coming from a humble home where her father was a carpenter who toiled hard to keep his wife and daughter fed and clothed, Amali * had her days full. She had got promoted to Grade 11 and was preparing to sit her OLs. So it was a case of school, tuition, studying and helping her mother with housework.

Her mother was suffering from a mental illness but her father did everything possible to ease her burdens.

On December 29, last year, her task was to go to the bank. On her way home, she noticed a trishaw with two people in it. As she passed the stationary three-wheeler, a youth she had seen around the town, asked her to get in. When she refused and attempted to hurry on, the two men dragged her in, forcibly shut her mouth, threatened her and took her to a house.

The rest is a painful memory, she would like to erase from her mind. One allegedly raped her first and then the other. They threatened her with a knife and told her to smile while she covered herself with her clothes. Then they bundled her back into the trishaw and dropped her at a point, warning her not to tell anyone…….for if she did they would kill her.

“Mama katawath kivvene,” says Amali, explaining that she did not tell anyone about it. Terrified she kept quiet, weighed down by sorrow. In March this year, to her shame, gossip raged like wildfire not only in her village but also the town close by. What she hadn’t realized was that when she was forced to smile that horrible day she was photographed by a mobile phone camera. Those photos were doing the rounds and someone had even shown them to her mother.

That day she broke down and told her parents her dreadful secret. Her father took her to the police followed by an examination by a Judicial Medical Officer. The usual procedure is for the police to take the case to the Magistrate’s Court which they did on May 8, from where the Attorney General’s Department will be asked for direction and then on the AG’s advice a case filed in the High Court.

The charges, according to the police are kidnapping and statutory rape, as Amali is a minor. But for the victim, the victimization did not end. What happens to schoolgirls like Amali whose lives are shattered by such an experience? Are they taken back into the system, without a problem if they, somehow, with difficulty, make up their minds to continue their studies?

Amali and her father found to their consternation that they would face more obstacles, adding to their troubles. When Amali mustered enough courage to go to school on May 9, her father was curtly requested by the school authorities to “find some other school” for her.

Desperate, the father approached Probation and Child Care Officers who advised them to go back to the school. They did go again on May 18, only to be told to come on May 23 after 12 noon. When they went back on May 23, they were informed that they should bring the request of the Probation and Child Care Officers in writing.

The daughter and father then approached the Janasansadaya which under its campaign for every child’s right to an education began to lobby for Amali to be taken back to school.

June 7, saw the school sending a telegram to Amali that she should attend school but on condition that her father should accompany her at 7.30 a.m. and sign when handing her over and sign once again at 1.30 p.m. once school was over that he took her.

“I can’t do that. Who will look after the family? I need to work,” says Amali’s father mumbling that even now they survive by ehen meheng roll da gena (finding the money from here and there).

On the verge of filing a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court, Janasansadaya then wrote to the Director of Education of the area and finally Amali is back in school.

Should a child-victim be victimized in other aspects of her life after such a traumatic experience? Should such children and their families be sent from pillar to post just to get back into the school system?

While the law takes its course, hopefully with justice being meted out, shouldn’t school authorities and everyone around such a victim, rally to provide all the support possible? There seems to be a need for school authorities to be made aware of the rights of children such as Amali, to ensure that they are not dealt double blows in their lives.

(* Name changed to protect her identity)

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.