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Sunday, 24 August 2014

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'Unfortunate reasons resulted in dreadful incident':

'Was it sibling rivalry or loss of a mother's love?'

It was hard to say if she held back tears or if she had none in her little eyes. It was also hard to say if she had any recollection of her actions of the day before. There was not a trace of trepidation despite being surrounded by strangers. All she had was a blank expression on that small round face.

 

In fact the 13- year-old who was arrested by the Badalkumbura police last Thursday showed no emotion at all.

I can't remember what I did and I don't know what drove me into doing what I did. She told the Women Police Constable who took down her statement at the police station.

The girl had confessed to stabbing her own sister to death. Sadeela Bhanu, her six- year- old younger sister had 12 stab wounds out of which four were fatal, according to the report of the Judicial Medical Officer. Sadeela's post mortem was conducted on Friday. Although the media reported that the older sister harboured hatred towards her sibling because their father favoured her younger sister and because she was reprimanded by the father the night before over a fight between the sisters, the real reason for her behaviour cannot be explained is such simple terms.

There needs to be an in depth analysis of what really drove the girl to grab a knife and repeatedly stab her little sister in the way she did, after leading her into a thicket behind the house.

The only occasion the juvenile suspect showed some emotion and cried was when she returned home escorted by the police for the Magisterial inquiry. Upon seeing her, the parents cursed and screamed at her saying that for them that she too was dead, the stone face then broke into tears. The girl began crying uncontrollably.

A myriad of unfortunate reasons intertwined without a hint of unravelling may have resulted in this dreadful incident. It is for the officials to dig into it and come out with answers but for the parents us mothers and fathers, the whole incident has left a sickening feeling within us could it have been prevented? Why had Sadeela had to face such a horrendous death at the hands of her own sister with whom she played with dolls?

The dead child

The deprivation of parental affection, a mother's absence, the mother having children from a previous marriage, dropping out of school, unfair treatment and uneven attention by the father - all of this must have contributed into creating a frankenstein monster of a 13 -year -old. Is she paying the price for other people's sins ? Have the the adults failed her?

The girl's mother had been working as a housemaid in the Middle East for three years and had returned home only four months ago. Although the police did not confirm this, the provincial correspondents reported that her mother was preparing to leave for domestic work again and the plan had been to put the older daughter in the hostel of an Islamic religious school in Bandarawela.

She was in Grade 8 at Alupotha Vidyalaya but had stopped schooling two weeks ago. The reason given by the parents for her dropping out of school, too is as perplexing as the murder. The juvenile suspect told her school mate that she was going to take her father's life. She allegedly had a knife in her hand. The girl disappeared and was not heard of for sometime. Later she had returned home but never attended school thereafter.

Last Wednesday her father had returned home to find some house appliance in pieces. The suspect told her father when he inquired as to who was responsible for the damage, she without blinking an eyelid said that it was her younger sister who was responsible. Nonetheless she had to take the wrath of the father who smashed a radio set on the floor out of anger. The girl had then taken the little sister behind the house and stabbed her with a house knife. Later she had thrown the knife into a thicket. Based on her confession to the Badalkumbura police, the knife was recovered.

The girl had been disowned by her family after she killed her sister. Thus, she would be put under probation care until the case is over. Doctors say this is detrimental for a child in such a confused state of mind. What she needs is affection, care and counselling, not imprisonment for a crime that she can hardly take responsibility for.


Dr. Jayan Mendis

Director and Consultant Psychiatrist National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda Dr. Jayan Mendis was interviewed by the Sunday Observer about the incident.

Q; The girl who committed this crime is 13 -years- old, do you think 13 years is a mature age to understand the gravity of one's actions?

A: She may not be in the right age to understand the gravity of the crime. That is not a mature age.

Usually we consider 18 as the mature age. She may have had the intention, but she may not have known the consequences of her actions.

Q: If this girl is not suffering from a mental disorder, what could have driven a girl of that age to commit such a grave crime?

A: Today it has come to a point where murders have become so common. Children see them and hear about them on a daily basis. When society is experiencing such a culture, it has a negative bearing on youngsters. Their minds are still developing and they are grappling to understand what is right and what is wrong. Their behaviour is affected by such horrendous acts they witness.

Q: Can you elaborate on that, do you think what they see on television, the movies and crime reports on news bulletins would have been a contributing factor?

A: Not just movies and televised content but the present culture of violence, which they experience, see and hear everyday around them, adults as well as children are more exposed to a murderous world.

Violence has become so common that it has become the order of the day.This culture of violence has begun to penetrate into the younger generation.

Q: Could it be a case of depression or had she done it as a result of some sort of other mental disorder ?

A: This could even be a case of depression as well as other psychiatric illness. But more than that jealousy and rivalry between children would have played a part. The possibility of psychological disorder too cannot be ruled out and it will be looked into by officials.

To evaluate her mental state the child has to be subject to a psychiatric interview and observation is necessary.

The judges will direct investigating officers calling for such a report.

Q: A child killing a sibling in this manner is heard of for the first time in Sri Lanka. Do you think it gives us adults some sort of a warning?

A: This is a very serious issue. It should be addressed without delay. The authorities must take appropriate action to prevent such incidents and ensure that grounds for similar incidents will not occur and such things will not be repeated in the future.

Q: In her statement to the police the girl had confessed to stabbing her little sister but had said she cannot remember the details and why she did it?

A: There is a type of epilepsy where a person cannot remember committing such a crime. But there are several other reasons for a person not to have a recollection of what he or she did.

Q: There has been so many factors leading to this incident. Her mother's decision to go abroad again, the father's unfair attitude towards her, the parent's plans of putting up her at a boarding school and so on. How could these factors have affected her mental state?

A: There are so many possibilites. At this point we cannot pin point to just one possibility. It is very hard to give an opinion for her actions for the moment based on what has been revealed so far.

Q: What is the lesson that parents and society as a whole can learn from this tragic incident ?

A: It's a serious incident. Parents must make sure that they treat their children equally and offer maximum parental care. At the same time they must find time to pay attention to their needs and wants, be close to them and be good listeners despite having thousands of household chores. This has been repeatedly said by experts but parents tend to forget that their care, love and affection cannot be replaced by material comfort.

Parents find it difficult to show affection to younger children whereas the older children seem to resisit it. for both young and older kids, we need to show them that we are concerned about them and we are there if they need us. We must never be prejudiced towards one kid, be it younger or elder and girl or boy. All kids must be treated equally. That is a very important rule in parenting.

Q: This particular girl will be placed under probation care. Will it contribute to aggravate her mental state?

A: I think probation may not be the best place for this girl. But according to Sri Lanka's laws and regulations, she will have to face court proceedings and be placed under probation. All this will hamper her improvement of mental health. The girl will have bad consequences.

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'Stop mothers from going to the Middle East'



Prof. Indralal De Silva

Chair Professor of Demography, University of Colombo Indralal De Silva, said the suspect must be watching TV and watching violent south Indian movies and may have been influenced by them. I think the main reason could have been her mother's intention to go abroad again as a domestic aid.

She had been away for three years and she was planning to go again leaving her family, if I am right in another one weeks time.

I think the girl's attempt would have been to stop her mother from leaving the family. As a population scientist, I look at it in a more holistic manner. Since she grew up without her mother, her circumstances are also serious. Unfortunately, she dropped out of school, apparently because there was no one to look after the younger child and do the household chores. Then she got addicted to the TV.

The father had was not knowledgeable enough to identify the changes taking place in the girl. If the mother was there she would have identified her daughter's behavior even though she might not have had much of an education. Father's are comparatively less apt to identify behavioral changes in girls.

This girl may have wanted to stop her mother from leaving them again on employment. She may have stabbed her younger sister, not with the intention of killing her but to stop her mother. It's true that she has made several fatal wounds on her sister, but it's not easy to assume that it was a well- planned murder.

The trigger point must have been when she came to know of the the decision of her mother to leave the country once again for employment. It is helpful to probe if the girl had been sexually exploited by someone within the family or an external member. Due to this fear she wants the mother to remain with them. She may have become aggressive due to these factors.

The aggressive psychological state of mind was influenced by watching violence on TV. Dropping out of school means her socialising with peer groups would have been curtailed. The people who commit suicide end up in isolated conditions. In her case she has not resorted to suicide but ended up doing just the opposite.

You have to handle this case carefully. This could be imitated by another child facing a similar situation. Today so many family units are disturbed due to social changes - separation of parents or mother's leaving for the Middle East as domestic aids. Some children commit such acts to keep their parents together. This will be a serious issue in time to come.

We have to curtail the practice of mothers going to the Middle East for employment. We have to do this at any cost.

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