29th June 1997


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Private lessons

A schoolmaster stands trial for sexual;
abuse in the classroom.
Tharuka Dissanaike reports

No one would have dreamt that the school master was capable of such a sordid crime. As the sectional head for year 3,4 and 5 of a village school in Horana, he was a teacher held in respect and esteem in the village. The children had nothing but good to say of this slight built, pale, kindly mannered man . The parents were quite satisfied with the education he was imparting until a few weeks ago, when all hell broke loose in the tiny hamlet a few kilometres off Horana. Today the teacher is languishing in remand prison in Kalutara awaiting trial for child molestation.

The 33 year old graduate had been at several schools in the area, but his longest appointment was at this school in Horana, where he taught general subjects to three classes. During the three years he served at this school, he is alleged to have forced many 9, 10 year-olds into sexual acts to fulfill a dark craving. Both boy and girl students have complained of molestation by the school master, from touching to fondling and heavy petting to actual homosexual acts with young boys. One boy had said he had been repeatedly molested for two years, since he was nine.

The year 3, 4, 5 classrooms are located at least half a kilometre away from the main school building and provided the ideal location for the sordid crime. Since he was the Sectional Head, the accused had a separate office to which the children were often taken.

The story of the school master’s unusual behaviour surfaced when some of the children made innocent reference to it while casually telling their parents of happenings in school.

"The teacher taught us a new game today," one girl had remarked. "What is that?" was a casual query from the parent. " Sir calls us to him and makes us sit in a chair while he lifts our uniform and put his fingers in our panties," the child had nonchalantly replied. On further questioning horrified parents began to realise that this was not an isolated incident. Several other youngsters also remarked of the ‘sir’s unusual games’. Having talked among themselves about the funny things that the teacher was asking them to do, some boys had gone to their parents with the story. And that was the beginning of the end for this school master.

Parents of eight children, three girls and five boys- decided to make a written complaint to the Zonal Education Commissioner about the teacher and request a transfer. While questioning the parents, the officer had realised that the matter was very serious and advised the parents to take legal action. "I conducted an inquiry into the matter. After two days realising how serious the matter was turning out to be, I advised the parents to go to the police," said R. Disaratne, the Zonal Education Officer. He then made representations to the Western Province Education Offices to interdict the school master with immediate effect.

Meanwhile having got wind of trouble, the teacher had made hasty arrangements to flee the village.

Inspector  Karunatilleke"When the parents came to us with the complaint, the man had already sold his land and house and fled the area," Chief Inspector H.E. Karunatileke of Horana Police said. "We had to launch a search for him, and finally tracked him down at a relative’s house in Paragastota in the Kalutara Police Division."

The teacher had been hiding here under a false guise but the police were able to identify him by his wedding photograph which was hung at his parents’ house in Kalutara.

Initially he tried to deny the charges against him but had finally confessed that he used the children to satisfy his deviant cravings. He was arrested on the June 18 and immediately produced before the Additional District Judge who remanded him and ordered medical examinations of the eight children.

"We have reason to believe that many more children have been subjected to molestation by this teacher, but very few parents were willing to come forward and testify," CI Karunatilleke said.

For the villagers it is still a big shock. "He certainly did not look like a man who would do this to children," a boutique owner told us. "He was very kind to the children and even conducted year five scholarship tuition at his house." According to one child’s testimony he had been abused by the teacher while attending one such tuition class.

Medical examinations of the eight children, firstly by the DMO of the area and then by Prof. Chandrasiri Niriella of Ruhunu University confirmed that they have been molested- two of the boys had signs of severe sexual rape. Now the children have been referred to a Child Psychologist at Lady Ridgeway Hospital and Prof. Niriella has also recommended that they be tested for venereal diseases.

Subsequent to the arrest of the teacher at Kalutara, the school master had confessed to the Police that he had indeed molested these children.

In a statement given to Horana Police the suspect said that at the age of eleven he had been sent to a remote temple in Kalutara to aspire for priesthood. He was a Buddhist priest for more than a decade of his life, until after he obtained his degree from the University of Kelaniya, he decided to leave the robes and lead a secular life. He has been married for the past four years and is the father of a one and a half year old child.

"In his statement he said that his inclination towards young children was as a result of being molested himself in his youth," C.I. Karunatilleke said.

"We are gathering hard evidence against this man and seeking the advice of the Attorney General to file a case in the High Courts, so that the maximum punishment could be implemented," the Police said.

The case comes up in Horana Magistrate Courts on June 30.

If convicted of Child Molestation he could face a maximum jail sentence of 20 years rigorous imprisonment and be asked to pay compensation to the victims.

The lesson in this, the police claim, is that parents should be much more vigilant about their children’s activities in school. "Parent’s cannot afford to simply send the children to school and forget their own responsibilities," CI Karunatilleke said. "It is essential that every parent talks to the child and closely monitors its school activities."

Even if justice is meted out, the scars of what has transpired could have long lasting affects on these children. Especially if they have to go through a tedious legal process. For them, their childhood has truly ended.

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