Trinity under cloud over hostel punishment
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
The little boy, just nine, was home for the weekend from boarding school in March having a chat with his mother when he casually mentioned that he had been publicly caned on his buttocks on four consecutive nights just before going to bed. The shocked mother took a look and found four to five angry red cuts on his back.

As far as the nine-year-old can recall his offence was speaking in Sinhala in the evening after dinner when they were not supposed to do so. The alleged perpetrator was the House Master of the Junior School Boarding of none other than one of the most prestigious schools in Sri Lanka, Trinity College in Kandy.
Taking up the issue immediately, the father also an old Trinitian, and the mother had gone to the school the very next day and made a verbal complaint to the Headmaster of the Junior School about the humiliating and severe public canings their child had received and why they were not informed about the canings or the reason for such corporal punishment.

Correspondence flowed between the school and the parents and they had been informed that an inquiry was held and the perpetrator dealt with. “We were never told why the boy was punished in such a manner. What he had done for corporal punishment to have been meted out to him,” said the mother. Up to now they have not been told why.

Having received “no proper response”, except that an inquiry was held and a severe warning given to the person concerned to refrain from administering corporal punishment, the parents in desperation have sought the intervention of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), the premier institution acting as the watchdog of children’s rights. (See box for NCPA action)
The Sunday Times understands that everything is not right with Trinity College, and there have been persistent issues not only of alleged physical abuse but also of alleged sexual abuse in this much-respected school.

One such instance of suspected abuse had been raised at the annual general meeting of the Trinity College Parent-Teacher Association held in June this year with regard to an overnight Scouting trip after which seven boys had given up Scouting without telling their parents why. “No one in the school has looked into it,” stressed one parent who is also an old boy.

When contacted by The Sunday Times with regard to these serious concerns, Principal Rod Gilbert said in a statement faxed to our office, “I am not aware of any parent who has cause to contact the NCPA regarding any matter in Trinity College. If you are referring to a case where a parent complained to us about his son being given corporal punishment by a master – that occurred in March 2005. The matter was inquired into by the Junior School Headmaster immediately, and found to be substantiated.

The master concerned was therefore disciplined and given a very severe warning. When this was brought to my notice, the parent was asked to come and see me with his son, and I assured the child, in front of his father, that he had the right to complain loudly and immediately if he was ever threatened again in this way. I assured the father that such behaviour by any staff is not tolerated in Trinity any more.

The father wrote later to say that he was satisfied with the way the matter had been handled, and wished ‘to treat the matter as closed’. The Trinity College Staff Handbook, with which all staff are issued, states clearly and unequivocally, that corporal punishment is not permitted. This Handbook majors on a Code of Ethics by which teachers at Trinity will now function in all their relationships, with children, parents and each other.

“For some reason the same parent wrote and raised the issue again in August 2005. The Junior School Headmaster wrote again to assure the parent that the matter had been dealt with satisfactorily. Having had copies of the letters, I also wrote to the parent concerned and, as no further incident of this nature had occurred with his son, assured him once again that we all felt the previous matter had been dealt with satisfactorily.

However, I ended my letter with a PS saying, ‘Please come and talk with me if you wish to re-open this issue’. That was in August 2005 and the parent has not come back to me since then. If this same parent has now contacted the NCPA, I would be very happy to invite the NCPA to visit the school and to inquire into the facts of this case.

“As regards comment against a scout camp where boys were allegedly subjected to sexual abuse, this is a totally unsubstantiated rumour that was repeated at the 2005 Parent Teachers’ Association AGM much to the embarrassment of all present, and which I witnessed first hand as I was presiding over the meeting.

The person who raised the issue was challenged in the meeting to bring specific information to the attention of the Principal, and it would be dealt with immediately. He has failed to bring any facts to light to date. This same person has since been strongly censored by the PTA (minuted in their last meeting) for reporting unwarranted and unsubstantiated information to the press, and in particular to The Sunday Times.”

To specific questions e-mailed to Mr. Gilbert the answers are as follows:

Were the parents of the boy who was caned publicly in the boarding ever informed why the boy was caned? What offence he committed?
“The parent was directed by the Headmaster to seek an interview with the Senior Boarding Master to satisfy himself of all reasons he may wish. He did not, and still has not availed of this opportunity.”

Is the master concerned, the one who was found to have caned the boy, still in charge of the boarders?
“The master, after disciplining, and written assurances that such an incident will not happen again, has some responsibility in the dormitories, but is not in charge.”

Did seven Scouts leave scouting after an overnight camping trip? If they did, didn't the school authorities think it necessary to find out the reason why?
“ Some scouts (I have no information on the number) left the scout troop, not after a camp – which was held in December 04, but in late February 05 when they did not wish to be part of a voluntary group going to Ampara to help with tsunami relief. To that date they were quite happily part of the scout troop in every way.”

As mentioned in the last para of your statement faxed to us on Wednesday, please let us know what "unwarranted and unsubstantiated information was reported to the press, in particular The Sunday Times" by some person you are referring to, of whom we have no knowledge.

”You are welcome to enquire from the PTA who brought the matter up – not I.”
Corporal punishment is banned in Sri Lanka under Penal Code (Amendment) Act No 22 of 1995 Section 308A.... “Whoever having the custody, charge or care of any person under 18 years of age wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects or abandons such person a manner likley to cause him suffering or injuries .........commits the offence of cruelty to children”.

And if convicted of such offence the punishment is imprisonment for a term not less than two years and not exceeding 10 years and may also be fined and ordered to pay compensation to the victim.

Although Trinity College maintains that the matter has been resolved, the parents still have a grievance. It is now upto the NCPA to investigate, keeping in mind the best interest of the child.

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