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Prominent monk’s actions stir outcry

24 July 2023 12:02 am – 5      – 2317

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Child rights defenders rally against prominent monk’s continued engagement with children, despite UK child sex abuse conviction

 

A prominent Buddhist monk convicted of child sex abuse in the United Kingdom has attracted the ire of child rights defenders for his continued engagement with young children in Sri Lanka. 

A group of prominent child rights activists have written to President Ranil Wickremesinghe protesting the alleged activities of Pahalagama Somarathana Thera, Chief Prelate of the Vidyaravinda Pirivena in Pahalagama, Gampaha.

Pahalagama Somarathana Thera who was the Chief Prelate of the Thames Buddhist Vihara, was accused of sexual assault of minors in London, in the 1970s.
In 2012, the monk was sentenced to seven years in jail by Isleworth Crown Court in the United Kingdom after being found guilty of carrying out four sexual attacks on a girl aged under ten, at the temple in Dulverton Road, Selsdon — a temple he had founded. The Thera was also accused of a second string of sexual attacks at a temple in Croydon during the mid 80s.

 

The Thera was also accused of a second string of sexual attacks at a temple in Croydon during the mid 80s

Many years after the attacks allegedly took place, the case was heard at the Isleworth Crown Court where Somarathana Thera denied abusing minors at both temples. The monk was cleared of the attacks in Croydon, but was found guilty of the first attacks in Selsdon.  At the Royal Courts of Justice on June 28, 2013, Somarathana Thera’s appeal to overturn his conviction was rejected. But the court reduced his sentence to six years in prison. With the judgement, Somarathana Thera was banned from working with children for life while his name was added to British sex offenders register for life.

Judge Philip Matthews sentencing SomarathanaThera in his remarks said:
“I have read the many tributes from people in high places of you as a man of good character and the good work you have done in Sri Lanka. But as you were in your 30s at the time of the assault, it cannot be said that you were naïve and immature, and you did not know what you were doing.”
“You have shown a total absence of remorse and you have encouraged your public to believe this is all a terrible mistake. You even pointed the finger of blame at your fellow monks.”
“This was a betrayal of your religion, a betrayal of the Buddhist community in this country, and a betrayal of the girl’s parents who were strong supporters of you at the time. The full impact of what you did can never be known.”

“I order that you are disqualified from working with children. I am also satisfied under section 104 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that it is necessary to protect the public or particular members of the public from serious sexual harm from you, and I make a Sexual Offences Prevention Order in the following terms.

 

The Thera who was the Chief Prelate of the Thames Buddhist Vihara, was accused of sexual assault of minors in London, in the 1970s

You are prohibited firstly from knowingly residing in the same premises as any child under the age of 16, secondly, engaging in any conversation, activity with a child under the age of 16 unless the parent or other person responsible for the care of that child is present, and supervising such a conversation or activity. And thirdly, from undertaking any work, whether paid or voluntary, which by its nature is likely to involve contact or communication with a child under the age of 16 years. This order shall remain in force until further order.”
Somarathana Thera is presently living in Sri Lanka as the chief incumbent of the Vidyaravinda Pirivena.

Co-Convenor of the Child Protection Alliance Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka speaking to the Daily Mirror said that Somarathana Thera’s continued engagement with children is a deliberate violation of the judge’s orders. The alliance urged the President to take urgent action to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable children, before the religious privileges of a convicted child sex offender.

“As this monk works knowingly and directly with children, we believe it is a deliberate violation of the judge’s orders. The Judge did not specify that this monk is prohibited from working with children only in the UK,” she said. “We have received several complaints about the actions of this monk,” she added.
Dr. Wickramanayaka opined that as Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Child Rights Convention in 1991, the country must not allow a convicted child sex offender to continue work with children.

 

In 2012, the monk was sentenced to seven years in jail by Isleworth Crown Court in the United Kingdom after being found guilty of carrying out four sexual attacks on a girl aged under ten

“A conviction of a child sex offender with direct instructions from the judge that he must never work with children is given as per the global principle of child protection, ‘in the best interest of the child’ anywhere in the world; this includes children living in Sri Lanka. Child protection is a national crisis with child abuse being the second highest grave crime reported by Sri Lanka Police. A child is not recognized as a rights holder and their welfare is not a priority of any public representative appointed by our vote,” the Child Protection Alliance said in their letter to the President.

The President and the Cabinet Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs have a paramount obligation to ensure Venerable Somarathana is not permitted to engage with children, especially in a religious education institute where child monks gather frequently, they said.
Meanwhile Dr. Wickramanayaka said that the matter has been also communicated to the foreign diplomatic corps in Colombo, including officials of the European Union.
“Securing the EU’s GSP+ depends on Sri Lanka upholding the already ratified conventions which include human rights,” Dr. Wickramanayaka noted.

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