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Government Gazette

Do not kill or abandon children:

Give them to the Probation and Child Care Services Department – Commissioner

Extracts from an exclusive interview conducted with the Probation and Child Cares Services Commissioner Sarath Abeygunawardana. Here he talks about IDP children, adopting children, children staying in orphanages and the society’s responsibility towards children.

Probation and Child Care Services Commissioner Sarath Abeygunawardena. Picture by Sudath Nishantha

Q: What is the latest situation of the internally displaced children staying in welfare villages?

A: At the moment there are about 30,000 children under the age of 18 staying in welfare villages and transit centres and around 850 of them have lost one or both parents. The Probation and Child Care Services Department and Provincial Departments hold the responsibility for these children.

At the moment these children stay in the welfare villages and transit camps with their relatives. The Department identified the children living among IDPs with the assistance of Probation and Child Care Services Department, Vavuniya and arrangements will be made to register all these children and gather data on them. Counseling has been provided to them. Arrangements have also been made to raise awareness on preventing child exploitation in welfare villages.

The children will not be separated from their relations because these children need guardians and they are safe with them. At a later stage the Department will identify the `fit persons’ (from the relatives whom the children are living with) and give them away (legally) to them in adoption. The number of children who have lost one or both parents may increase when the final calculations are being done.

Arrangements have also been made to develop a location at Vavuniya as a state run children’s home in order to accommodate around 350 children who had been rescued from two children’s homes located at Kilinochchi and Vavuniya. They will be given professional counseling.

The Department has already provided 5000 school books, Rs.100,000, school equipment, educational equipment to the children in welfare villages and transit camps.

Q: What is the formal procedure that should be followed by a Sri Lankan couple who wish to adopt a child?

A: There are about 5,000 Sri Lankan couples and 600 foreign couples in the waiting list at the moment to adopt Sri Lankan children. Annually around 1,000 children are given in adoption to local couples and about 50 children given in adoption to foreign couples.

Usually the children bellow the age of 5 who had been rejected by parents and abandoned are given in adoption. The demand is very high. Majority of the local couples consider many facts when adopting a child such as skin colour, race, horoscope, background etc and this is one reason that they have to wait in the waiting list for a long time to adopt a child. A large number of young couples seek children for adoption as they have no children of their own. The reasons behind this situation should be studied.

But foreign couples do not consider such facts (skin colour, race, religion or horoscope) when adopting a child. When local children are given in adoption to foreign couples, the department obtains a full report from a social worker attached to the relevant institution of the country which the couple belongs to. This report includes the medical history of the couple, social, financial, education background and all the other details. Only after considering the report, the department permits the couples to adopt the child.

The local provisions of the Adoption of Children’s Ordinance No: 24th of 1941 and the amendment made thereto by the Adoption of Children’s Ordinance No: 15 of 1992, as well as rules and regulations as laid down by the `Hague convention’ on foreign adoption of children are applicable to foreign adoption of Sri Lankan children.

Lack of awareness in society on this topic leads to various crimes such as abducting children for adoption and selling children to couples for financial gains. Such crimes can be minimized through raising awareness. If a couple wants to adopt a child they can register with the Provincial Probation and Child Care Services Department and make a request from the District Court. Then they will call for an interview. At the end they can select a child from a children’s home. Couples can simply adopt a child from a family of a relation by making a request from the relevant district court. Any Sri Lankan couple can legally adopt a child.

Q: What is the present situation of the children’s homes run by the state and Non Governmental Organisations?

A: There are only 22 children’s homes run by the state. The number of children’s homes run by NGOs are around 400. There are around 20,000 children in both state and private children’s homes. The Provincial Probation and Child Care Services Departments register and monitor children’s homes run by NGOs. They carry out regular inspections to make sure that such children’s homes run up to required standards.

During the past, there were some incidents related to child exploitation reported from private sector children’s homes. But after that no such incidents were reported. Such unfortunate incidents take place due to lack of awareness and training for the staff. Monitoring also plays a key role here. Most of the children end up in children’s homes when their mothers go abroad as housemaids. They consider children’s homes as a type of `care centres’. The second reason is poverty. The terrorism existed in the North was another major reason that had a negative impact on children. But such parents love their children and never give them in adoption.

There is a huge demand from the NGOs to set up new children’s homes. But the present Government’s policy considers children’s homes as the last solution for children’s problems. Therefore the Government never encourage setting up children’s homes. What the Government requests from such NGOs is to assist the state to re-integrate children who are in children’s homes at the moment. When the children who do not have families or relations turn 18 they are being given in marriage and provided with employments. The department also connect them with foster families.

Q: What are the other special projects and programs in progress?

A: Special attention has been paid on empowering children. Arrangements have also been made to increase children’s participation. In Sri Lanka `Listening to children’ is lacking. The department has made arrangements to set up Children’s Councils at Divisional Secretariat division level, district level and at the National level. A National Children’s Forum is to be set up. This system will give children a voice to talk about their issues. Now only adults talk about their issues.

Another new venture is formulating a `Case Management Policy’. This will help to assist the authorities in the process of taking care of child victims from the time of reporting the incident to the police to reintegrating the child in the family/society after closing the case. Case management methodology will be developed under this policy. This is in the best interest of the children.

The children affected by terrorism will also be taken care of under the department’s various programs. There are children who had lost parents and guardians due to bomb blasts. The department has already provided counseling and scholarships for such children.

Q: Do you have any special message to communicate to the society?

A: Yes. If there are parents, single mothers who cannot look after their children they should hand over such children to the Probation and Child Care Services Department without killing them or abandoning them. The department can take care of them. Some persons are involved in illegal activities because of lack of knowledge and lack of responsibility.. They abduct children, sell children and sometimes kill infants and put them into dustbins and drainages. Sometimes single mothers get admitted to hospitals giving fake names and most of the time the name belongs to the woman who is going to adopt the child. Therefore the hospitals have been given instructions to check the National Identity Card of the mother before admitting her for delivery.

A – The relationship between children and their parents should be nurtured and strengthened. This relationship was very tight and loving in the past but it has been affected at the moment. Children can be protected only through strengthening the relationship between children and parents.

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