call from SOS
By Nalaka Nonis and Mahangu Weerasinghe
SOS, usually a call for help, in this instant was
more like a call from hell for about seven SOS Village children
who were allegedly sexually abused by an Assistant Director and
string of various sexual abuse cases reported from children's homes,
has prompted authorities to address the very role of these homes
which are expected to give protection to those who have nowhere
else to go.
this most recent and shocking case of alleged abuse, the Child and
Women's Bureau Division of the Police and the National Child Protection
Authority (NCPA) had received anonymous complaints about cases of
child abuse at the Piliyandala SOS Village. The NCPA received the
first complaint regarding the SOS village on July 9, but it could
not act because there were no sufficient police officers to accompany
its raid party due to provincial elections the next day, NCPA chief
Dr. Harenda De Silva said. By the time the NCPA had decided to act,
the Child and Women's Bureau Division team, headed by Inspector
Soma Kumarasinghe had already begun investigations.
suspects, Rohana Kumudujith Kapuarachchi and his wife Geethani Karunaratne,
were produced before Magistrate Kusala Wijewardene and remanded
till August 3.
to our investigations, the suspect and his wife had examined the
genital areas of two girls, aged 13 and 9," Inspector Manike,
a member of the Police team that conducted the investigation said.
However, by the end of the week the number of allegations against
the couple had increased to seven.
one victim reports an incident, others also find the strength to
come forward," said Inspector Manike adding that the SOS incident
was one of the first high profile incident reported for the year.
at first we assumed that it was only Mr. Kapuarachchi who was a
suspect, later investigations confirmed that there was enough evidence
to implicate his wife," she said.
young couple who lived on the premises of the SOS Childrens' Village
in Piliyandala, have now been accused of molesting up to seven young
girls. Mr. Kapuarachchi, had earlier served at SOS Villages in Nuwara
Eliya and Anuradhapura. "In June 2002, the director at SOS
Piliyandala resigned and Mr. Kapuarachchi was brought in to fill
that position," said SOS Director Administration Ananda Karunaratne,
who claimed that the SOS had conducted a screening check before
main suspect, who is a graduate, had previously held positions at
both private and government sector firms. He had enough experience
in administration, and was trusted by all. Nobody had reason to
suspect him," Mr Karunaratne said.
made by the The Sunday Times from residents in the area revealed
that the complaints about the couple's activities had been made
by outside parties but the SOS had reportedly attempted to cover
up the incident.
SOS Village authorities had a good relationship with the people
around here. But after this scandal was exposed, the management
does not seem to want to maintain that close relationship,"
one resident said.
of sexual abuse in children's homes have been on the increase in
recent months. Police and child care officials believe that a lack
of vigilance by management authorities on these homes has led to
the escalation of such incidents.
children's homes lack proper sanitation and healthcare. The conditions
within many of these homes are putrid, and the Department of Probation
and Childcare services appears to be doing little about it. Also,
when cases of sexual abuse and other cases of ill-treatment arise,
many officials try to defend their subordinates by covering up for
them," a police officer said.
similar incident occurred in Ranmuthugala last year where two girls,
aged 18 and 14 were victimised by the home's caretaker matron with
the aid of her husband, a teacher and another matron. The episode
came to light after the two girls fled the home and made a complaint
at the Mawanella police. The case is being heard in the High Courts.
Samaraweera, Director of the Department of Probation and Childcare,
explaining his department's position regarding the SOS case and
childrens' homes in general, said the department's responsibility
towards children's homes was limited.
a usual case of passing the buck, he said the responsibility of
carrying spot-checks on homes was the duty of the Probation Officer
who comes under the directive of the Provincial Probation and Childcare
Samaraweera, however, admitted that the childcare sector was poorly
funded and that many homes lacked suitable staff including trained
counsellors. He also acknowledged that this lack of counsellors
could have a profound impact on the psychology of traumatised children.
government pays Rs. 300 for a child per month. This is hardly enough
to cover a child's expenses," said Mr. Samaraweera who added
he has asked the government to at least increase the amount to Rs.
500 a child.
director, however, denied that child abuse was on the rise, and
said that there was in fact a steady decrease in complaints. When
we spoke to the Probation Officer for the Panadura Zone, S.I Abeysekara
she confirmed that she did not carry any routine checks on non-governmental
homes within her jurisdiction.
checks are the responsibility of the central government," she
said. Meanwhile a social worker who helped out at children's homes
said that many homes treated the children in a degrading manner.
the homes I visited in Colombo and its suburbs, many were poorly
maintained" said the worker who said that in one home the cook
had replaced an outgoing warden.
another home the male caretaker slept in the same room as the children,"
he said adding that it was these types of lodging arrangements that
often led to sexual abuse. He also said that many homes were severely
understaffed and that job satisfaction among social workers was
Child Rights activist Maureene Seneviratne who spoke to The Sunday
Times also confirmed that most government homes were understaffed
and not funded adequately. She revealed that children were often
deprived of food and other basic facilities in government children's
government must look in to the type of people they employ to look
after these children. They should be loving, caring and duty-conscious"
said Mrs. Seneviratne who added that private children's homes were
managed more methodically.
said a proper state monitoring mechanism was urgently needed to
combat the degradation of the standard of children's homes in Sri