By Ranee Mohamed
With two reported cases of kidnapping in the months of May and June, involving a two and a half year old girl from Kelaniya and a seven year old boy from Buttala, Police and National Child Protection Authority officials are urging extra vigilance.
The most recent case was reported from a Muslim village in Buttala on June 21 where the family of a three year old boy paid a ransom of Rs.750,000. The father of the child who met the kidnappers at a pre-arranged rendezvous point near the Samanthurai Army Camp had reportedly handed over Rs.150,000 in cash and a cheque to the value of Rs.670,000 — for the safe return of their child.
On March 14, the body of a 16 year old boy from Hindu College, Jaffna was found in Chavakachcheri buried in the garden of one of the young suspects, a classmate.
The boy had been allegedly abducted for a ransom of Rs.30 million by three of his class mates who are now in police custody.
Meanwhile, it is learnt that police have gathered information on several armed gangs that obtain money from rich parents in Colombo and its suburbs, threatening to kidnap their school-going children. Parents have not complained to the police of the extortionists for fear of reprisals. The STF intelligence unit has received about 15 complaints from parents who paid ‘protection money’ to the underworld gangs that threatened to abduct their children. Inspector General of Police, Mahinda Balasuriya has urged parents to be more alert regarding their children’s security, especially when in public places.
“Kidnapping can be for anything. It can be for sexual abuse, for ransom or for illegal adoption. This is the danger, one really does not know for what reason a child is being snatched away,” said Buddhika Balachandra, OIC of the Women and Children’s Bureau.
“There are several kinds of kidnapping when it comes to children,” said Chief Inspector Manoj Samarasekera, Officer in Charge of PR and Education of the Women and Children’s Bureau. “A girl under 16 years, taken away with her consent, or a boy under 14 taken away with his consent tantamount to kidnapping,” said C.I Samarasekera.
“It is the mother and the father who are responsible for the well-being of a child. Parents ought to be alert about the goings on in public places rather than leave children on their own. “Kidnapping in Sri Lanka is usually for ransom, sexual abuse and adoption. Kidnapping for ‘organs’ have not been reported in Sri Lanka,” said Samarasekera.
“Parents of today can barely spare one hour for their child. Little children are left alone in school vans till it is closing time for the schools attended by older children. Opportunity is a key factor. Kidnapping does not ‘just happen.’ They are planned and timed. Children are first befriended with toffees, chocolates and toys,” cautioned Inspector Manoj Samarasekera.
“Parents have to educate their children and caution them about strangers,” said Chairperson, National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Anoma Dissanayake. “When a mother goes out of her house with her child, it is important that she be vigilant. If in a temple, then the child must not be allowed to wander off on his/her own. In public places, the child should not be left to discover alone,” said Dissanayake who has launched new awareness programmes that are designed to keep little children everywhere under a hawk eye.
“It is not just the parents, all civic-minded citizens ought to be alert about strange people and vehicles that hover around children.
Children walk down streets, in parks and chenas in Sri Lanka. They are alone and unprotected. It is the duty of the parents to warn them about what can happen, be vigilant and protect their young ones at all times,” said Chairperson Dissanayake.
Child taken away
A three-year-old, who was kidnapped recently from a Buttala Muslim village, was released last week after the boy’s family paid a ransom of Rs. 750,000.
A relative of the boy’s father had met the kidnapper at a pre-arranged rendezvous in a lane near the Sammanthurai Malwatte Army Camp and handed over Rs. 150,000 in cash and a cheque to the value of Rs. 670,000. The kidnapper had then run off with the money, and remains at large.
The relative was accompanied by a team of police officers who stopped short of going all the way to the rendezvous point, out of consideration for the child’s safety.
Telephone calls from the kidnapper were traced to a mobile phone signal tower located near the rendezvous point. The child was placed in the protective custody of the Buttala Police, and will be produced in court, after which he will be reunited with his parents.
Inspector General of Police, Mahinda Balasuriya has urged parents to be more alert regarding their children’s security — especially when in public places. He highlighted a recent case that came to the attention of the Women and Children’s Bureau where a man who made an acquaintance with a seven-year-old boy in a famous shopping mall, later took him out of his school and had then taken him back to the same shopping mall, which shows how careless parents can be.
He said that parents do not see the danger in such negligence. He pointed out that children can be kidnapped for a number of reasons.
“It could be to satiate one’s carnal lust, for ransom or for illegal adoption. But there is no telling for which reason a certain child is kidnapped,” said OIC Buddhika Balachandra. Parents often send their children to neighbouring houses to stay overnight, to parties and on trips. The repercussions of these activities may affect the child’s whole life.
While it is important to avoid such unpleasant circumstances by always being on the alert, OIC Balachandra said that it is also very important to observe any subtle differences in behaviour that the child may demonstrate.
For example if a child does not react to an obscene photograph or a scene, it suggests an abnormal shift in the psychology of the child. Furthermore if a child is repelled by or scared of a certain person it may suggest that the child has been sexually abused by that person.
The greatest role in finding a lost child lies with society and media explained Jagath Wellawatta, former chairman, National Child Protection Authority. “But the best option would be not to lose the child in the first place by being on the alert about your children.”
One of the major reasons for cases of missing children as pointed out by OIC Balachandra, is that parents are too preoccupied to pay enough attention to their children.
“Children need to be taken care of because you just can not keep track of them with a transmitter collar.”