There is a popular saying that the best things in society are for children’s use. Despite the presence of many human rights organizations, Women’s Groups and NGO’s involved in the protection of the children’s rights- especially those of girls- there are less affluent families who suffer enormously due to misdirected priorities of the authorities. It is ironic that the children who are entitled to education have lost this basic right. This is one such tragic tale about the suffering of a female student with the connivance of the Government authorities.
This student had been expelled from her school recently by the disciplinary committee of the school under the impression that she was pregnant. What had led the authorities at the school to take such a decision was her vomiting inside the school premises. The vomiting had been caused because she had attended school that day without having breakfast. She was a grade 10 student of Madatugama Rewatha Maha Vidyalaya in Kekirawa. The Human Rights Commission in Colombo had informed the girl’s parents in writing to present the student for further investigations.
The student’s mother, D.M.Somawathi( 57), said that she had never been to Colombo. Her father N.H. Kiribanda (66) said that he had been to Colombo Fort area in the 1940’s to engage in the job of unloading vegetables from lorries.
The problem these parents face is that they aren’t in a position to bear even the bus fares necessary to travel to Colombo. This is because they have got used to eking out a living through manual labour. The monies raised this way barely suffice for them to have one meal a day. We went to their house on October 28 (Saturday) evening in order to show their house to three people with lion hearts who arrived from Trincomalee to provide this family with food stuff after having read their woeful story in the newspaper.
It was only then that we went to Dambulla Hospital. The doctors in that hospital were like Gods. They proved that the allegations levelled against her were false. The fire that had inflamed in my mind had extinguished
At that time, the girl, who had suffered this injustice, and her mother were at home. The mother told us that her daughter wasn’t given an opportunity to be enrolled in a school so far. Her mother revealed that several teachers had decided to leave this school if the teachers and parents association decided to readmit the girl concerned back to the school.
When we inquired from the mother whether this student has a pair of shoes, a school bag and clothes to attend school, they displayed the pair of shoes she used. The shoes were in a pathetic condition.
She said that her daughter now had no school to attend and that the principal nor any other person had told them that a school will be provided for her daughter. Her former class teacher had promised to take her back, but nothing has happened so far
Her father Kiri Banda said that his family, which lives in the throes of poverty, had to face innumerable hardships. He said that as a result of having to travel to Anuradhapura and Dambulla Police stations regarding various investigations, he was denied of the opportunity to earn his daily wages.
He further said that he wished there was an inquiry against the teacher who influenced the principal to expel her daughter from school. He added that the principal had merely signed the leaving certificate and the directive to expel her had been carried out by another teacher.
A young woman who came from Trincomalee had given them Rs.1000 so that they could reach Colombo, as requested by the Human Rights Commission.
“It was on October12 while we were working that we were summoned by the school. Then, another teacher told us that our daughter was pregnant and she could not be kept in school. The teacher concerned scolded us thoroughly and compelled us to remove her from the school. It was only then that we went to Dambulla Hospital. The doctors in that hospital were like Gods. They proved that the allegations levelled against her were false. The fire that had inflamed in my mind had extinguished,” said the girl’s mother.
She said that her daughter now had no school to attend and that the principal nor any other person had told them that a school will be provided for her daughter. Her former class teacher had promised to take her back, but nothing has happened so far. She had gone to Anuradhapura for various investigations, spending hard earned money, and had to return home starving.
“I have never been to Colombo. Nor have I seen Colombo. How can we get to Colombo? We don’t know where the Human Rights Commission is. It is a great help if somebody accompanies us to our destination. If we don’t go, they would say that our girl is guilty. It is a great trouble. We don’t know what we should do,” the girl’s mother said.
“We don’t want anything more than a school for our daughter to sit for her examination. The principal was extremely sad regarding this issue because she was the one who gave the leaving certificate. But it was another teacher who scolded her. I had to leave and was unable to listen to what he had told. He spoke in an insulting manner. The parents and the teachers who had participated in the meeting, conducted by the disciplinary committee, had planned to blame us. Nobody spoke to us. We were named as the wrong doers along with the gentlemen who represented the electronic and print media. They blamed us accusing us of creative this situation. We don’t harbour a grudge against the principal despite she having signed the leaving certificate of our daughter. This was done under the influence of another teacher. However, we have become the wrongdoers in the end. What can we do? This is the outcome of abject poverty,” the girl’s father said.
Perspectives of professionals
“Children should be afforded the ‘dignity and worth of the human person’”-Marini De Livera- Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA)
While this isn’t the first time a child’s rights have been violated, this incident will certainly be talked about in the history of child rights violations. Speaking to NCPA Chairperson Marini De Livera, the Daily Mirror inquired about the actions taken so far by the authority regarding this incident. The NCPA must take action, so that a similar incident could be prevented from from occurring.
“The preamble of the United Nation’s Child Rights Convention that Sri Lanka is party to, eloquently declares that a child should be afforded the ‘dignity and worth of the human person’. It speaks of the full and harmonious development of the child that the child has to grow up in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. It further states that the child should be brought up in a spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, equality and solidarity,” said De Livera, explaining the extent to which the said allegation has violated the child’s rights.
De Livera mentioned that the NCPA was informed of the incident via its 24-hour child line, the moment it took place. “The matter was referred to the ASP in charge of the NCPA Police Unit who is handling the investigation. Statements from relevant parties were obtained. The JMO is due to submit his report and once it is received the NCPA’s Law Enforcement Unit will take action after consulting the Attorney General,” she said.
Occasional incidents of rights violation underscore the necessity of taking steps to ensure that such incidents aren’t repeated in the future. The impact that these violations have on the victim’s live is traumatic. Therefore it is of utmost importance to take strict measures to prevent such violations. Especially the various reports of student assaults and child abuse that spring up indicate the lack of awareness on the consequences of law violation.
“Sensitisation of school principals and Teachers on Human Rights and Duties, especially on Child Rights and Legal Literacy, is important. The strict enforcement of prevailing laws should be made,” De Livera stressed. At the end of the day, it boils down to the fact that the protection of the country’s future generation is the duty of every citizen. “All members of the community working together to promote and protect the Rights of the Child is necessary to promote the protection of children in the country,” she concluded.
“The preconceived accusation that this child is pregnant is unacceptable,”- Professor Harendra De Silva-Paediatrician and former chairman of the NCPA
It is very surprising to learn the extent of action taken regarding the vomiting of a student following accusations not supported with proof. Many questions have been raised regarding this incident. Dr. Harendra De Silva when contacted said, “There are many reasons that a child may vomit. It is very rare that the cause behind a child vomiting is due to pregnancy. I find it very irrational and absurd that such a drastic action to expel a student was taken without even investigating into the issue and confirming it,” he commented.
“I believe that whoever is at fault should definitely be punished. Teachers should be suspended regarding this kind of behaviour. These kinds of people shouldn’t even be allowed to work as teachers, let alone be principals. These kinds of incidents should not be taken lightly and be brushed under the carpet. Strict measures have to be taken against the perpetrators. Once they are found guilty of such violations, the teachers should not be allowed to continue unless they undergo counselling or engage in a rehabilitation programme,” Prof. De Silva opined.
There are many reasons that a child may vomit. It is very rare that the cause behind a child vomiting is due to pregnancy. I find it very irrational and absurd that such a drastic action to expel a student was taken without even investigating into the issue and confirming it-prof.Harendra
It is a fundamental right of a child to learn with dignity. According to Prof. De Silva, a right to education with dignity should be available even if the child is pregnant. “Emotionally running down a child is unacceptable. This accusation may have been made due to a personal grudge against the child, the presence of impartiality due to poverty or a previous wrong impression of the child. Whatever the cause, the preconceived notion that this child is pregnant is unacceptable,” he accentuated.
It is reported that the issue will be inquired into by the Ministry of Education. However Prof. De Silva doesn’t agree with this ministry conducting an inquiry. “I do not believe that the Ministry of Education should be the authority to conduct an inquiry regarding the incident. Inquiries should be carried out by a legal authority. An internal inquiry will prove useless. I am a doctor. It is like asking one doctor to judge the actions of another doctor. Or an accused being judged by one’s own relative. Such a judgement would be biased. This case is similar. Normally these types of incidents are brushed under the carpet. But I believe that the perpetrators have to be punished against child rights violations,” he stressed.
“This particular incident, where the child was expelled without proof, is an offence under the grounds of cruelty to children. The student should be allowed to continue with her schooling again in another school, which will provide her with a standard education,” he continued. There is no doubt about the trauma that a student faces when allegations of such nature are made. This student is a tenth grader. Such an incident can affect a child’s mentality and her studies, especially when she is just about to sit for her Ordinary Level Examination.
“Teachers should be able to deal with students sensitively. The root of this problem was a health issue. Even when the child is innocent, the child gets abused. Teachers should be held accountable for their actions. A teacher should be removed from his or her post and appropriate punishment should follow when the individual is proven guilty. Action should be taken regardless of whether the wrong doer is sent to jail or for rehabilitation,” he concluded.