Breaking the silence about institutional child abuse in Sri Lanka

PhD Thesis

Rathnayake Mudiyanselage, N. 2023. Breaking the silence about institutional child abuse in Sri Lanka. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Science
AuthorsRathnayake Mudiyanselage, N.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Background: In Sri Lanka where seventy per cent of the population is Buddhist, there are more than twelve thousand Buddhist monasteries accessed by children for educational and
religious purposes. Despite scandalous media reports on incidents of child abuse in Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka (BMS), no previous academic or public inquiry has been undertaken on this issue.

Aim: The study set out to explore and describe the silence around child abuse in the monastic context at an interpersonal, institutional, professional and academic level.

Method: Operationally defining the incidents of child abuse in the BMS as the case, an instrumental case study approach was employed (Stake, 1998). Using social constructionism
(Burger and Luckman, 1967) and ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) as a theoretical framework, data were gathered from multiple sources including semi-structured
interviews with four former monks who had experienced child abuse as novice monks, three senior monks who were familiar with and willing to discuss the issue, and three child protection officers with relevant work experience. Interview data were analysed using thematic networking (Attride-Sterling, 2001) and reflexive thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2019). Other data sources included a reflexive journal, and publicly available data such as policy documents, media reports and interviews.

Results: Data analysis produced three thematic clusters: predisposing silencers, precipitating silencers, and perpetuating silencers. While survivors’ accounts converged on other data sources, accounts of monastic leaders and child protection officers contained a mixture of convergent and divergent views.

Conclusions: Overall, the findings indicated that: the survivors silently absorbed the memories of abuse due to various interpersonal, social, and structural limitations, the monastic leadership remained reticent due to ignorance, interest in institutional power and reputation, while the child protection service towards children in monasteries was hampered by structural, cultural and policy limitations. The findings contribute to the existing literature by providing unique insights into the social ecological barriers to recognition, disclosure, and intervention of child abuse in loosely regulated institutions in developing countries.

KeywordsInstitutional child abuse; Buddhist monastry; Sri Lanka
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Publication process dates
Deposited08 Aug 2023
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