Abused and abandoned
is the only detention centre in the entire country for young children,
who are brought before the courts for their protection, reports
Ms. Amarasiri said they would welcome public assistance
in providing some of the needs of the children. Items such as
soap, exercise books and school stationery, basic medical supplies,
towels, food items to supplement what they receive, and clothes
would be greatly appreciated. The children urgently need underclothes
as most of them only have one piece of underclothing. Every
donation received would be inventorised, she added.
a little five-year-old was raped by her grandfather.
claimed to be 11 but looks about eight, had been kept with her aunt
to look after her children and was abused by her uncle. She managed
to run to the road, get into a three-wheeler and seek refuge at
the police station in the area.
was raped by her father, when her mother was away in hospital having
is a harsh term for the children's home at Halpathota, which shelters
169 children between five and 18 years. Sent there by the courts,
they are society's innocent victims who have been abused, abandoned
or are victims of domestic violence or runaways from illegal employment.
For many of
these children, this is the only home they know. Surprisingly, Halpathota
is the only detention centre in the entire country for young children
who are brought before the courts for their protection.
young victims are 24 girls like Rani, Kamala and Prema who have
been raped, in most cases by family members and relatives. Fathers,
grandfathers and uncles have been the abusers. There are also horrifying
cases, where the child's mother herself has collaborated in the
rape of the child by a young partner she is living with,
in order to keep him with her.
girl, raped by her father, was three months pregnant when she was
sent to Halpathota. She was kept in hospital until the baby's birth.
Provincial Commissioner, Probation and Child Care Services and Additional
Secretary, Social Services Ministry, Southern Province, Irangani
Amarasiri explained that they do not keep pregnant girls at the
detention centre because there are very young children and they
begin to ask questions. The baby was transferred to the State Receiving
Home and given for adoption. The young mother, who is now back at
the centre, was not even shown her child.
of the Detention Centre, P. D. S. Seneviratne explained that although
officially the home is meant for children between five and 18, some
who are older and have no place to go to, stay on. Some who have
found jobs with lodging also come back for holidays. "Some
of our children are now working in the armed forces, banks, garment
factories and the airport, while one is in university," Mr.
was sent to the centre by the courts under the Vagrants' Ordinance.
His father had died three months earlier and he was the sole breadwinner
of the family, having to provide for his widowed mother and three
young brothers. The police picked him up from the road and produced
him in courts as a vagrant. He has now been released and is happy
to go back home.
Among the children
at the Detention Centre, only 46 are from the Southern Province,
Ms. Amarasiri said. There are boys and girls from all over the country.
More such homes are needed in other provinces because it is very
difficult to care for all these children on the funds available
to them. About 100 children are attending school and three literacy
classes are being conducted at the centre for children who have
never been to school at all. They are being coached to fit into
school. About 20 will be starting school next year.
who have never been to school are given vocational training. Classes
are conducted in sewing, carpentry, handloom textile weaving, hairdressing
and agriculture. The YWCA conducts weekly classes in knitting and
cookery and an English class is also held twice a week.
children do not even know their names," Ms. Amarasiri said.
"They have been in domestic service and are called by names
given by the employers. Some of their mothers are working abroad.
Others have been abandoned or found on the streets and are kept
for their protection until the parents can be located." Many
have tragic stories to tell.
There are 49
runaways at the centre, of whom 19 have run away from domestic employment.
Ms. Amarasiri feels there is awareness now among the public about
laws against child labour and there have been many instances where
members of the public have brought such cases to the attention of
Deniyaya, did not know how old she was. She had been employed in
a house in Matara to play with the children there. "The lady
hit me and I ran away," Kumari said. "I ran away to the
seashore. A teacher from a nearby school took me to the police."
Surangani Malkanthi, an orphan, has never been to school. She was
in an orphanage in Kurunegala when she was given to a family for
adoption at 16 years. "I had to work there," Surangani
said. "One day, because I got late to cook, the lady hit me
on the head and I lost consciousness. I was taken to the hospital."
Surangani says she has an aunt at Kahawatte, who would be willing
to take her in, but doesn't know her address. All she knows is that
she is called 'Leela akka'.
Lack of funds
to run the centre is the greatest problem the authorities face.
According to Ms. Amarasiri, after the salaries are paid, the department
has only Rs. 1 lakh left to manage the expenses of not only the
Halpathota Detention Centre but three other government children's
homes in the Southern Province. They also have to pay grants to
16 voluntary homes as well as help 80 day care centres with lunch
and a payment to the manager. One hundred and seventy five children
also receive Rs. 200 per month under the Fit Persons.
Scheme. One lakh seems woefully inadequate for all these expenses.
spending about Rs. 26 on food per day on each child but we are unable
to give them any fish, meat or eggs," said Mr. Seneviratne.
For breakfast they are given half a loaf of bread with a vegetable
curry or jam, for lunch it is rice and vegetable curries with dried
fish or soya - occasionally when funds permit. Dinner is again rice
and two vegetable curries. "We try to give them enough to appease
their hunger but they do not get sufficient nourishment."
Much of the
required food stocks are purchased on credit from Sathosa outlets.
In addition, the children have to be given clothes, medicines, books
and other necessities for school, bus fare and so much more. Electricity
and water bills have to be paid. Two bowsers of water at Rs. 2750
are required weekly to meet a shortage of water. The department
now has Rs. 20 lakhs of vouchers to be paid for goods and services
received and no money to pay them with.
Ms. Amarasiri, has written to the Divisional Secretariats and Secretaries
of Ministries, requesting them to hold their alms givings at the
centre. Now they have five, six alms givings every month. The day
we visited Halpathota, members of a youth league from Kamburupitiya
were cooking the lunch for the children. "This way, at least
they can occasionally enjoy a good meal and a little ice cream,"
said Ms. Amarasiri.
of land have also been cultivated with vegetables and fruits, to
supplement their diet. The children in the sewing class sew clothes
for the children in all four homes and are paid for it. The handloom
trainees produce the bedsheets required. Obtaining funds through
donations, they even manage to take them on a trip every year.
many shortages at the home, the children seem happy because they
are treated with kindness. They take pride in their environment
and try to keep their rooms neat, though the walls badly need a
coat of paint. They have also added little touches such as a vase
of flowers on tables covered with coloured polythene. Using old
sarees, they have stitched curtains for the windows. The children
are fortunate that the Commissioner who visits often and the Superintendent
seem to be caring. They are trying their best to keep the children
fed and looked after, despite the shortage of funds.
(Some names have been changed to protect their identity)