All children’s homes in Sri Lanka should be closed down because of “rampant” abuse, the head of the country’s child protection body says.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) says it is already working to replace children’s homes with a foster parenting system.
Nearly 20,000 children – orphans or children abused by parents or carers – are housed in 470 institutions.
But many who run such homes say the new approach may not guarantee safety.
Most of the homes in Sri Lanka are under private ownership – 22 are run by the government.
“Shocking incidents are happening in children’s homes all over the country,” Anoma Dissanayake, head of the NCPA, told BBC Sinhala when commenting on a recent case where the guardian of a children’s home was charged with sexually assaulting underage girls in his care.
“Rarely, there are some very good children’s homes but this is the situation in most of the homes.
“Our aim is to fully establish [a] foster care system replacing children’s homes within the next few months,” she said.
She added that 90 children in Mannar and 50 children in Kilinochchi, who were to be placed in children’s homes, have already been handed over to foster parents.
But Nita Ariyaratne, the honorary secretary of Sarvodaya Suwasetha, an organisation which runs eight children’s homes in Sri Lanka, says she was not aware of “rampant” child abuse in children’s homes, although there had been some cases of abuse.
She said that it was crucially important to ensure that children are safe with their new foster carers and to ensure that proper vetting is in place.
Sarvodaya Suwasetha runs one home specifically for girls abused by parents or close relatives.
“For example, there is a 12-year-old pregnant girl among 20 pregnant girls in our girls’ home. Many of these are victims of incest. So we need to be extremely careful in handing these children to outsiders,” she said.
The NCPA says in recent weeks it has raided a number of children’s homes suspected of child abuse. One raid resulted in the guardian of a home being remanded in custody on charges of sexually abusing four girls.
A number of Buddhist monks were also recently arrested on suspicion of abusing children in their care. Child abuse is a taboo subject and not openly discussed in Sri Lanka’s conservative society.