CHILD TRAFFIC IN SRI LANKA, 2011
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sister Mary Eliza, from the Missionaries of Charity, has been in prison since Fraiday night accused of selling children. Since the congregation was founded, she is the first nun of Mother Teresa to be arrested. An anonymous tipoff informed police, which then burst into the Prem Nivesa of Moratuwa, a hostel for young unwed mothers run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa and arrested the nun. The hostel is now impounded. Sister Eliza, superior of Prem Nivesa, is now in jail at the Women’s Prison of Welikada, and has not been able to see a lawyer yet. Today, a judge is set to charge her formally with illegal trafficking in children.
Last Wednesday, a group of people led by Anoma Dissanayake, head of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), surrounded the Prem Nivesa hostel to examine the situation of the children and mothers living in the facility run by the Missionaries.
“Police and NCPA officials burst into the home at around 11 am, causing panic. They checked every nook and cranny in the facility and took away our files,” a nun told AsiaNews.
Two days later, on Friday evening, police agents took Sister Eliza and two nuns to a judge’s home. Sister Eliza was then taken by car to Welikada Prison, whilst the two other nuns were brought back to the convent.
“Police, NCPA officials and media rushed to our facility,” Sister Eliza said before her arrest. “They cross-examined the unwed mothers and took away many documents.”
“We have never been involved in child trafficking. It is against our faith,” she reiterated. “Our mission is to take care of unwed mothers and their children. We have never taken money for our work. Children are adopted in accordance with the law.”
The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Sister Eliza remain murky. Some local media accused the Sisters of “selling the future of the country to foreigners for few thousand rupees”.
However, the Missionaries of Charity believe their mother superior is prison because the home opened its doors to an underage pregnant woman without informing the police and because the number of children in the facility was greater than the number reported in the registry, which had not been updated.
The confusion is compounded by the silence of the Church, which has not yet issued an official statement about Sister Eliza’s arrest.
There are nearly 760 convents of Mother Teresa worldwide with more than 5,000 missionaries. The Prem Nivesa has 75 children, 20 pregnant women and 12 new mothers.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) is an independent organisation under the Office of the President.
The shocking confession of Sister Conselia of the Missionaries of Charity to having sold three babies for money and giving away of the fourth baby for free during interrogations by the Jharkhand Police has put the Catholic Church of India into a tight spot for defending the crime and crying wolf over deliberate ‘victimisation’.
The Jharkhand Police had taken into custody Sister Conselia, an employee Anima Indwar and a guard involved in the child-trafficking scandal into custody. During the questioning, Sister Conselia and Anima Indwar confessed to the crime of selling the babies for money.
The Bishop of Ranchi Theodore Mascarenhas speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church to NDTV stated, “The nun has told their lawyer that she was made to sign under force. She was pressurized. The sisters are absolutely innocent. I am appealing to all, allow them to do their work in peace. He further went to term it as a systemic maligning. “The First Information Report seems to have accused the Sister of being responsible for baby sale. I want to make it absolutely clear that a whole organisation cannot be maligned for one or two people. The police are treating the whole of Mother Teresa’s organisation as a criminal gang,” he further stated.
While Jharkhand Police continues with its probe in the Ranchi case and with the likelihood of the Centre instituting a nation-wide probe into the Catholic Church’s canonised Saint Mother Theresa’s institution – Missionaries of Charity, it must be highlighted to the GoaChronicle.com readers that this Ranchi child trafficking scandal is not the first time that the Missionaries of Charity have been accused of such a crime. In 2011, Missionaries of Charity were accused of child-trafficking in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan media in 2011 reported that Sister Mary Eliza, from the Missionaries of Charity – Prem Nivesa – was imprisoned after being sentenced by a judge of illegal trafficking in children. She was the first nun of Missionaries of Charity to be arrested since the congregation was formed. After three-days she was granted bail. Following that, a court in Sri Lanka has issued a ban on ‘Prem Nivasa’ – Missionaries of Charity convent, Moratuwa preventing it giving children to foreigners for adoption.The Colombo Magistrate Court issued the ban on the request of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) of Sri Lanka. The NCPA told the court that there had been a large number of child adoptions to foreigners by the Prem Nivasa orphanage over the past five years which have to be investigated.
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka reacted similar to the Catholic Church in India. The Archdiocese of Colombo has categorically denied this; a church statement said: “We never involve in selling these precious lives of the children and never take money for our work.”
The church also accused the Sri Lankan media of trying to stoke public anger over the issue.
The problem staring the Catholic Church in India is that they have cried victim as insinuated by the statements of the Bishop of Ranchi but a similar child-trafficking racket had emerged in Sri Lanka too and the accused has confessed to the crime, raising serious questions to whether there is a child-trafficking racket in some of the centres. Interestingly the Sri Lanka child-trafficking case had an India angle, the accused Mother Superior Sister Mary Eliza was an Indian and worked in Sri Lanka on a transfer from India.
I wonder whether the confession will be termed as Lies…Lies as the Catholic Church of India tweeted recently to my questions on child-trafficking of the Missionaries of Charity.