Teenage orphans report violations at Darun Nusra | Daily News

Teenage orphans report violations at Darun Nusra

Systematic sexual harassment and abuse by employee
National Child Protection Authority (NCPA).
National Child Protection Authority (NCPA).

In sworn statements to Police, 18 young women who were living at the Darun Nusra orphanage in Dehiwala said they were systematically sexually harassed and abused by a long-time male employee.

They said they repeatedly complained about the behavior to the man’s wife, the resident administrator of the orphanage, and were told “not to take it seriously.” In response she threatened them, saying that the orphanage would be shut down if they reported the abuse, Police documents show.

The Kohuwala Police have since charged Mohamed Sarippuge Mohar, 62, with sexually harassing the girls in the orphanage.

The statements made before the Police during the course of the investigation revealed that one of the 18 girls was seriously harassed by the alleged perpetrator, leading them to file separate charges against the suspect for serious harassment.


NCPA Chairperson Marini De Livera.

Marini de Livera, the Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority, said the case is one of the most significant her office is currently investigating.

And yet, despite the charges against Mohar, Dr. Mareena Reffai, the founder of the Almuslimaath Foundation, which oversees the orphanage, dismisses the young women’s accounts as fabrications.

“There has been no medical evidence of sexual abuse of any child,” she said in a statement after Mohar’s July 25 arrest. Instead, she argued, the allegations are part of a plot by employees to “take over” the orphanage.

Reached by phone, Dr. Reffai stood by her defense. “As far as we are concerned, we don’t have any evidence at all,” she said. She said the investigation continuing for three months, and Mohar’s subsequent release on bail, was proof that there wasn’t evidence of sexual misconduct.

But NCPA Chairperson de Livera flatly denied Reffai’s assertion.

“That’s stupid,” she said. “That’s what they always say.”

“The perpetrator’s side is always very powerful,” she added. “(They) will do everything possible to sweep it under the carpet.”

After initially being taken into protective custody, the girls are now living once again in the orphanage, according to Western Province Department of Probation Commissioner Chandima Dissanayake.

“The matron and the husband have been removed,” she said, which lead probation officers to believe it was safe to return.

But it appears the foundation’s leadership is skeptical of the ongoing sexual harassment investigation, highlighted by Dr. Reffai’s statements. NCPA Chairperson de Livera added that the investigation into the allegations is lagging, because authorities have had a hard time getting the institution, and the victims, to communicate with Police.

Reffai, on the other hand, said she and her organization have cooperated with investigators “100 percent.”

“It’s a difficult job,” said de Livera. “We are delving deep into it, because we don’t want them to wriggle out of it at the preliminary hearing in court.”

The case

Mohamed Sarippuge Mohar was a driver at Darun Nusra orphanage for nine years. He drove the girls to and from the international school they attended every day, according to the account he gave to Police.

The victims say that much of the alleged sexual abuse occurred in his vehicle.

“This man took me to school every day, and would harass me on the way and touch me,” one of the young women told officers, whose names Police have concealed to protect their identities.

“When I complained to his wife, she said ‘don’t take it seriously,’ and scolded me. Every time I complained, she scolded me,” she said. In addition, “the man took me to a store room and touched me inappropriately.”

All 18 young women accused Mohar of touching them in the transport vehicle, Police reports show. Some said the unwanted contact also occurred in the orphanage.

“When nobody is around, he hugs me and kisses me,” another girl said.

Mohar’s wife, Sithi Saahira, told investigators that her husband “loved those girls,” and didn’t mean to hurt them. She denied any harassment had taken place.

On July 22, the Kohuwala Police received a call from officers at the National Child Protection Authority, who said that someone had reported the abuse to their anonymous phone line. Officers went to the orphanage and took all 18 girls into protective custody the same day, Police records show.

Three days later, they arrested Mohar. Police said they also found CCTV cameras all over the orphanage, some of them in the girls’ rooms.

Orphanage’s response

In the fallout of the arrest, the President of the Almuslimaath foundation resigned.

“I am forced to make this drastic decision as I am unable to function in this position any longer, given the way matters are being conducted within this organization,” Shana Mohinudeen, who served as president and on the executive committee, said in a July 26 letter.

In the letter, Mohinudeen said she brought up the allegations of sexual harassment at a July 24 committee meeting.

“As I started speaking Dr. Mareena immediately reprimanded me for discussing this at the committee meeting. Along with me, (two others) voiced their concerns and we were all asked to ‘shut up,’” she said.


Darun Nusra Orphanage.

“This despicable act has been taking place at Darun Nusra from the year 2015, which Dr. Mareena had been aware of, and it is shocking that despite her being aware, the perpetrator was employed at Darun Nusra until he was arrested,” she added.

Repeated attempts to reach Mohinudeen were unsuccessful. A secretary from Almuslimaath confirmed that she no longer worked for the foundation.

Mohar has since been released on bail, and is due to appear in Gangodawila Magistrates’ Court on December 7.

He and his wife no longer work for the orphanage. The girls remain at the home, and are attending school, Western Province Probation Commissioner Disanayake said.

But the upper management of Almuslimaath continues to deny the young women’s allegations.

In a phone interview Monday, Dr. Reffai said the fact that probation allowed the girls back into the home, after the suspect and his wife were dismissed, was proof no harassment had occurred.

“Why would they give the girls back to us if it’s not safe here?,” she said.

Reffai did attempt to distance herself from her former employee, saying “we have nothing to do with him or against him,” and adding that she would accept the allegations in the case of a guilty verdict against Mohar.

But it appears that for now, her mind is made up against the girls’ accounts. “As far as we know, the Police haven’t found any evidence,” she repeated.

“Before hurling accusations please find out the truth,” she said in a written statement. “Or else you will be answerable in this world and the next.”


 

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