David L. Chaplin II
Impunity Watch, Asia
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Child rights activists in Sri Lanka have criticized a plan by the prime minister ordain 2,600 boys as Buddhist monks by next May. Prime Minister Jayaratne says the move is designed to advance the ideology of Buddhism and life the youth out of poverty.
Many Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka are usually ordained at a very young age. Not for nothing next May marks the 2,600th anniversary of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment.
Activists say are adamant over the number and age of the practice of ordaining monks at such a tender age. Reports have surfaced around child sexual abuse in the temples, thought these same accusations are vigorously denied by authorities.
Sri Lanka’s National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has arrested scores of Buddhist monks for alleged sex abuse of boys in their care in recent years.
Just one monk was convicted on sex abuse charges. There have been numerous allegations of abuse from parents and children.
Mr. Jayaratne says all the young monks will be looked after by the government
Mr. Jayaratne told BBC News the young monks would be helped financially and funded to go to university. The government also plans to provide financial assistance to their families, he said.
Child rights experts claim this fashion of recruitment steals the youth from young boy, in a country hoping to motivate its population; there are more viable options opponent’s challenges.
“I can’t fully compare it with Tamil Tigers’ child soldier recruitment, but there are some similar aspects”, Professor Harendra de Silva Child rights activist said.
They say children as young as 10 have a universal right to be with parents, siblings and friends until they reach the age of 18.
Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, an activist who is nominated by Sri Lanka to a United Nation child rights panel, said the leading Buddhist monks should show an example by opposing such schemes.
“I think it is our duty to oppose ordaining boys as it is a clear violation of children’s rights,” she said. She articulates that children from wealthy families are rarely ordained at such a young age.
Leading pediatrician, Harendra de Silva, urged the Sri Lankan authorities disallow the Buddhist temples to repeat “what happened in the Catholic Church”, with clear reference to the child sex abuse scandal that led Pope Benedict to offer a formal apology in recent news.
“I strongly condemn this crime against our children,” he said, adding that the government should improve the country’s economy rather than “allowing the children to be abused”.
No public discussion regarding child abuse, particularly in Buddhist temples, will be publicized as this topic is taboo in Sri Lanka, as it is in many conservative societies in South Asia.
The BBC sought, Children’s Affair Minister Tissa Karalliyadda for the government’s interpretation of the wide spread hesitation and fear the boys could be abused, but she was unavailable for questions.
For more information, please see:
BBC – Sri Lankan activists oppose plan to train boys as monks – 15 October 2010
UPI World News –Group slams enforced monk recruitment – 15 October 2010
Lankajournal –Sri Lankan activists oppose plan to train boys as monks – 15 October 2010