30th July 2000
By Faraza Farook and Tania Fernando
Schools are supposed to play a major role in children's up-bringing by teaching them the rights and wrongs in life and trying to make them decent human beings. This seems to be a far-fetched dream when we look at the recent incidents of child abuse and ragging.
Violence in educational institutions is manifested by brawls between students, abuse of students by teachers or school administrators, corporal punishment and ragging. The consequences of these acts are certainly detrimental to human growth. In some instances it has left the victims with serious injuries and there have been deaths in certain instances.
The assault on twelve-year-old Pushparajah Lohitharaj, a Year Six student of St. Anthony's College, Wattala, a Tamil medium school has been the most recent incident of violence in an educational institution.
Lohitharaj was held upside down by his legs by some of his classmates in order to shake a two rupee coin out of his trouser pocket, and was dropped to the floor when they lost control.
Lohitharaj who suffered an internal head injury is receiving treatment now.
Two weeks after the incident, the boy has still not recovered from the shock. "He can't even sit or stand or even take any food and complains of a headache all the time," Sivamani, Lohitharaj's mother said.
Her husband, Pushparaja, a labourer in a steel factory, fractured his toe at work in his excitement, when he heard that his son had been admitted to hospital following the incident.
The extra medical expenditure for Lohitharaj's treatment has aggravated the family's financial problems. "I have borrowed money on interest to pay for the scan and for the doctor's consultation fee," Sivamani said.
According to Lohitharaj's parents, the incident has taken place around 1 pm and the unconscious child had been hidden under a bench until the school closed. "He was sent home accompanied by four school boys in a three wheeler," the mother said.
Lohitharaj was then rushed to the Accident Service. After a few days treatment, he was discharged and taken to the Wattala police station to record a statement from him. While waiting, Lohitharaj fainted at the OIC's office and was rushed to the Ragama hospital.
When we visited his house at Wattala, he looked as if he was in extreme pain, hardly able to lift his head even to look at us. "He wouldn't let anyone touch his head because of the pain," his mother said.
The four boys who are said to be involved in the incident were arrested and later released on Rs. 10,000 bail each.
Meanwhile the school principal, A. Jeshuratnam, said he was informed of the incident only after the school closed, by some students in the same class.
He said an inquiry revealed that the incident had taken place around 1.30 p.m. and that Lohitharaj was kept in class by his tormentors hoping he would recover from his dizziness.
"That day we were conducting the school base assessment test and this has happened while the students were returning to their classrooms after the exam," the principal said.
He said some students left home soon after the exam while others waited till late to play.
Lohitharaj's mother said on Wednesday the principal had visited her because he had heard that her son had died, but other than that none of the others had tried to find out what had happened to him.
OIC of the Wattala Police, Premalal Ranagala said an inquiry was underway. "Schools should pay more attention to the students to ensure that incidents of this nature don't take place", he said.
Senior educationalist Dr. Premadasa Udugama, when contacted, emphasized on the establishment of a counselling service in every school and university
He also pointed out the lack of education in the areas of life, society and issues associated with it. "Living issues must be brought up in schools and universities – to tolerate, how to talk to people, social abilities and skills," Dr. Udugama said.
"Teachers and lecturers should be conscious of their role and should maintain a friendly relationship especially at university level," he said.
"Activities should be made the core curriculum programme, instead of an education system being a dull accumulation of facts," he said.
While the case of Lohitharaj might be an incident of abuse among boys, there are so many incidents where even students are abused by teachers.
In another incident of abuse, the case has been dragging on since 1996. In this case a former music teacher of a leading school in Galle and a former canteen manager of the same school were charged with offences relating to drugs, child abuse and child trafficking.
The issue was brought to light when a sick student of the school was taken for treatment by his parents. Investigations revealed that students had been introduced to drugs by the accused and then forced into committing unnatural sexual offences with foreigners in order to find money for the drugs.
The case was taken up for hearing on Thursday and Friday last week.
Research has revealed that children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view it as an effective way of settling conflicts and presume it is acceptable behaviour.
Population scientist Prof. Indralal de Silva of the Colombo University said exposure to violence through forms of entertainment had an impact only on a small number of children. But the main reason for the increase in incidents of violence and abuse in educational institutions is that the country as a whole is experiencing a very high crime rate. "So you cannot expect a reverse in universities or schools", he said.
While some cases end with the victim being injured, there are times that they are driven to suicide, where it is most common in universities. There was an exception, however, when a 17-year- old boy committed suicide after being ragged by three of his classmates, last month.
The victim had suffered mental agony due to the ragging and had swallowed an insecticide.
The three Advanced Level class boys were arrested and later released on Rs. 25,000 bail each.
Corporal punishment seems to be another issue where parents are trying to curb the harassment of their children. They all jointly agree that 'punishment is fine', but not brutal assault.
A recent incident that drew a lot of publicity is the case of the 10-year- old Amila Bandara of Ashoka Kanishta Vidyalaya, Maradana. The child was allegedly beaten by his class teacher for having entered the wrong information in the record book, a job which the teacher had to do.
It is alleged that the teacher had used a leg of a chair to beat the child. As a result the child had his left hand in a sling and was unable to go to school for a month after the incident.
While there are numerous complaints, there are many more that go unreported, since parents fear harassment to their children.
In order to counter this trend a parent has taken the initiative to form an association of all parents interested in the well-being of their children.
It is time the government took steps to prevent the violence that takes place in schools before it goes out of hand. Children are a vulnerable group, which is easily influenced by the happenings around them. Therefore some remedial action will have to be taken without delay.
By Mihiri Wikramanayake
For a child, life must be cherished with all its goodness. For a parent, the good in that child will be cherished. Neither one of them can condone the tarnishing of that life in any form.
But in present day society with abuse and crime proliferating, another child has to go through another day of trauma.
It has been alleged that such a crime has been committed in a leading private college in Maradana where an 11 year old boy was sexually molested by an Advanced Level class student during and after school.
Under constant threat and manipulation by this older boy, the child has been abused in the school despite his terrified pleadings.
Finally came a day when the molester had threatened the victim to stay behind by the gates after school. The boy had then been bundled into a van and driven to a lonely spot on nearly D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha (McCallum Road) and further abused. This time however, three other big boys had joined in the sadistic act.
The dazed and disoriented boy was then dumped at the Maradana railway station around 8 in the night. He had managed to beg a telephone call from a nearby tyre shop and contact his distraught parents.
"My son had a fever for 11 days," said the mother. "He was so terrified of going back to school to face his tormentors".
The parents had notified the class teacher who had simply shrugged off the matter and said that boys will be boys.
The boy had then been taken from class to class in a bid to make him identify the perpetrators who had stayed away from school.
That is as far as the investigation went in the school. The head of the school has not taken any steps to investigate the incident. The parents have been advised to withdraw any complaints if they want the school to carry out any investigations.
When The Sunday Times attempted to contact the school Rector, we were rudely cut off.
Professor Harendra de Silva, President of the National Child Protection Authority says this is not the first such incident that has taken place in this school.
"It has a terrible track record of such offences and the sad thing is that no one is willing to do anything about it," he said. Parents are afraid to publicize these issues for fear of the stigma and victimization that their children would have to suffer.
The school head had warned that if parents are not satisfied with the way the school is being run then they should take their children out and make room for those who are waiting to get in.
The victims must be entitled to a fair hearing and not branded as liars and mischief makers in a bid to further torture their minds. After all, it must be understood that the school is recognised by the final products that pass out of its gates.
The Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law Reforms has indefinitely postponed its meeting scheduled for last Tuesday with main opposition party expressing concern that the whole process may now be derailed with the dissolution of parliament within a month.
Parliamentary sources said Tuesday's meeting was put off at the last minute, because of the sudden death of Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake.
But UNP whip and former media minister Tyronne Fernando said the select committee had not met for months and all the promises of liberalising media laws in keeping with international trends were likely to remain only on paper.
Recently, Deputy Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said the Government had decided to postpone the parliamentary debate on an all-party motion for media reforms, till the select committee completed sittings and made its recommendations.
The motion had been proposed last year and at least four dates had been set for a debate but all were put off for various reasons.
Mr. Fernando, a member of the select committee, said the reforms process was being blocked in a scandalous manner.
The Editors Guild and working journalists have proposed the repeal of criminal defamation and Press Council laws, the codification of laws relating to contempt of court and the setting up of a press complaints commission by the media themselves and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act.
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