Darun Nusra Orphanage child abuse case Allegations of complicity surface Probation Dept officers withheld info in their monthly inspection reports

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By 2017-12-07

by shaahidah riza, ruwan laknath jayakody and kavindya chris thomas

Following revelations regarding the incidents of child sexual abuse at the Darun Nusra orphanage in Dehiwala, which are presently being investigated by the crimes division of the Boralesgamuwa Police, allegations of complicity have been levelled against officers of the Western Province Department of Probation and Childcare Services.

Meanwhile, a group of various humanitarian organizations, activists and volunteers, agitating in this regard are scheduled to stage a silent protest today (07) at 9:00 a.m. in front of the Gangodawila Magistrate's Court, when the case is to be taken up for hearing. The said silent protest is being held in support of the 18 girls who were allegedly subjected to sexual abuse while they were in the care of the Darun Nusra orphanage in Dehiwala and against the alleged perpetrator who had committed the offence, said anti-domestic-abuse activist Dr. Maureen Ernest.

Darun Nusra is an orphanage run by Al-Muslimath of which Dr. Mareena Reffai is the founder. The alleged perpetrator (Mullafer) had been living at the orphanage premises with his wife (Zahira), the matron.

Previously, in affidavits and in sworn statements made to the Police, 18 children who were living at the Darun Nusra Orphanage said they were sexually harassed by a long-time male employee. On 22 July 2017, the Boralesgamuwa Police under the instructions of the National Child Protection Authority, raided the orphanage and took all 18 girls into protective custody. Three days later, the Police arrested the alleged perpetrator along with several closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras that were installed all over the orphanage, some in the girls' rooms.

Currently, six out of the 18 children are undergoing psychiatric treatment.

The specific allegation against the officers of the Western Province Department of Probation is that they had not mentioned in their reports submitted to the Department and the Court, following the conduct of monthly inspections at the Darun Nusra orphanage, that CCTV cameras had been installed in the living quarters of the children including in the changing rooms used by the children. It is further alleged, through information received by concerned parents and since provided to the counsels handling the case, that members of the families of certain officers of the Department had been provided with accommodation and lodging at the Darun Nusra orphanage when they visited Colombo.

Counsel Nilani Mandirinayake representing three of the children told Ceylon Today that she had submitted written complaints to the Western Province Department of Probation, following the revelation. The complaints had inquired as to why the alleged perpetrator was living at the same premises was not mentioned in the monthly inspection reports of the Department alongside several inquiries into the standard of education the girls were receiving. Attorney-at-Law Mandirinayake noted that all the girls had studied in the Sinhala and Tamil streams and had been sent to an international school following the involvement with the orphanage, thus having severe negative impacts on their education.

She noted that the complaints had been submitted over three months ago, and she is yet to receive a response from the Department. Mandirinayake noted that the Department's intentional or unintentional negligence in fulfilling their responsibilities will need a different court case entirely.

Ceylon Today learnt that the Probation officer, in charge of the orphanage in question, had not noted the CCTV cameras installed within the orphanage premises. It was also said that the cameras has been installed during the interim period in between inspection visits, during segments where monthly supervision does not take place.

A volunteer providing information to the two counsels representing the child victims, Rishvin Ismath said that founder of the Al-Muslimaath Association, which oversees the orphanage, Dr. Mareena Reffai had despite being notified on repeated occasions (the instances are referred to in the resignation letter dated 25 July of the former President of the Executive Committee of the Al-Muslimaath, Shana Mohinudeen which had been sent by post on 26 July 2017) of "the despicable act of sexual molestation of the girls at Darun Nusra which was committed by the orphanage Matron, Zahira's husband Mullafer (as worded in the former President's resignation letter) and had been taking place since 2015", turned a blind eye to it and continued to employ the perpetrator until he was arrested this year.

"Dr. Reffai maintained that a faction of the employees was attempting to capture the management, which was why these allegations were being levelled. Thus, no action had been taken in this regard. She had tried her best to sweep the matter under the carpet."

The same letter by the former President notes that, the suggestion to install CCTV cameras had been made by Dr. Reffai as per a request by the matron.

Commissioner of the Western Province Department of Probation and ChildCare Services, Chandima Dissanayaka responding to queries put forward by Ceylon Today noted that the Department had issued a circular in this regard. In effect, the said circular requires the permission of higher authorization of the Department Commissioner before conducting of any external programme or meeting within orphanage premises. The circular further prohibited the entry or stay of persons who are not part of the orphanage administration. Dr. Reffai when contacted by Ceylon Today declined to comment.

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