by Maneshka Borham
Earlier this week, Lindula Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman and Pohottuwa politico, Anagipura Asoka Sepala found himself embroiled in a child abduction controversy which led to the eventual arrest of the politician along with several others by the Police.
Among the six arrested was also Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Councillor Ishara Anuruddha Manchanayake. The suspects are accused of the abduction and possible trafficking of two minors, allegations of a serious nature.
But the case took an even more dramatic turn when on a tip off received by the Police yet another differently abled 11 year old boy was found, held at Manchanayake’s residence, following his arrest.
While the Agarapathana Police which received the first complaint from the father of two children over a year ago, have earned flak for their inaction, the discovery of another child being held has raised serious questions, on whether those arrested are in fact engaged in the business of child trafficking.
The case first came to light when on June 12, 2017 a man visited the Agarapathana Police to complain that his wife along with his five year old daughter had gone missing from their home in the Portmore Estate, Agarapathana.
According to the lawyer representing him, Attorney at Law Sinharaja Mohanarajan, the Police took no interest in the case. “They simply did not bother” he said even when the second child of the couple, a three year old boy went missing mysteriously from their home two months later, on August 20, 2017.
Eventually, though there was no information on the mother of the children and the daughter, a tip off by the Children and Women’s Bureau led the Police to the three year old son who was being kept at the Bogahawatta temple in the Pathana area. Though the child was later handed over to the father, the Police were unable to uncover evidence as to who had left the child there or any further details surrounding the bizarre situation.
As the father repeatedly attempted to discover his wife and missing child, she finally resurfaced last week when the case was called before courts with the help of a villager, where she once grew up in. It was her statement on the day that finally implicated Asoka Sepala, Anuruddha Manchanayake and the rest leading to their arrest along with the discovery of the missing child.
Giving a damning statement, the woman claimed she had been taken to Sepala by a third party known to her with the promise of employment abroad. According to lawyer Mohanarajan, Sepala had not only promised to send her abroad but also that he would provide her with a three wheeler on her return. The agreement was that during her absence Sepala would take care of her children.
“She was tricked by this group” claims the lawyer. According to her she was brought to Colombo where a passport was made for her but her dream to work abroad never materialised. Instead, she says, she was held at various places, and put to work in houses as a maid servant. She claims she had no knowledge as to what became of her children while alleging that during the time she was being held she was also subjected to sexual abuse.
Following her statement Sepala along with five others were arrested, and the mother too followed suit as she had voluntarily handed over her children to the group without any legal formalities.
Meanwhile, prior to even a statement being taken from the suspects, a couple from Matara claiming to have adopted the five year old girl had presented themselves at the Talawakelle police with the child “This by itself shows that the accused did have a connection to the child being trafficked” Mohanarajan says questioning, how else did the child miraculously appear when the group was arrested.
According to him no legal process had been carried out when the child was handed over to this couple. While it is unknown if any money had exchanged hands, Police are said to be now looking into the possibility.
Women and children being taken from the estate areas as domestic help was once a common practice Mohanarajan says, and finding a third child being held at Manchanayake’s home has raised valid concerns on whether the group has been involved in women and child trafficking previously. While sources say the 11 year old boy discovered was being kept as a domestic help Manchnayake’s family now claims the child was handed over by his mother and that he was raising the child. No legal adoption was carried out in this instance as well, and the child’s mother is yet to be found.
The only proof of the handing over is a letter purportedly written by the mother claiming she has handed over her child to Manchanayake.
While the group’s luck finally ran out this week, according to Mohanrajan powerful politicians in the area connected to Sepala are now said to be attempting to intimidate witnesses and the complainant.
Sepala the main suspect has also now conveniently been admitted to the Badulla hospital claiming illness.
Fighting a lone battle Mohanarajan has now requested that others who may have suffered a similar fate at the hands of these politicians, present themselves so that justice may be served.
“This woman was tricked and used by this group” he says, adding that there may be others. According to him, the help of possible victims are needed for further investigations, who he hopes would come forward and reveal more information on this possible racket run by the group.