A missing child that is never found or perhaps turns up lifeless is every loving parent’s nightmare. It is the sad reality that the parents of four- year-old Seya Sadewmi Bakmeewewa had to face on September 12 as her lifeless body was discovered in close proximity to her house after she had gone missing the night before. The fact that she was sexually molested by the cruel monster that had abducted her could have only deepened the pain the parents and family felt having lost their precious child.

While the incident has left the public outraged, the fact remains that the story of Seya is, but one of many sexual molestations and abductions in Sri Lanka. With many such incidents being reported on a regular basis sadly the majority of such incidents as realized later could have been prevented with due vigilance by the parents and family alike. Even though parents aren’t to blame for the acts of a sexual deviant, today it must be understood that the safe and secure society that once was is no more and children are at risk even in their own homes.

Therefore along with the changing times, parenting has become more daunting as well as challenging making it vital and even life-saving that parents are able to identify potential threats to their children beforehand. However according to Criminologist and Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayawardanapura Prof. M.W Jayasundara this is a difficult as well as an almost impossible task.

This is because there is no one physical characteristic, appearance, profession, or personality type that all child sexual molesters share. Child molesters can come in the form of any sex or race, and their religious affiliations, occupations and hobbies can be diverse as anyone else’s. A child molester may appear to be charming, loving, and completely good-natured while harboring predatory thoughts that he or she is adept at hiding making the duty of a parent tougher. Even though how unbelievable it may feel it means parents should never dismiss the idea that someone could be a child molester.
According to Prof. Jayasundara most child molesters turn out to be a family member of the child or neighbor. “It is extremely rare for an absolute stranger to molest an unknown child”, he said. In most cases, the child molester turns out to be someone known to the child through school or another activity, such as a neighbor, teacher, coach, member of the clergy, music instructor, or babysitter. Also according to him drug addicts and alcoholics too have proved to be possible abusers of children as these individuals can be mentally unbalanced.

Even though unusual and at times difficult to accept Prof. Jayasundara says that even much closer family members such as  mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, step-parents, and so on may also be sexual predators. According to him it is an indication to parents that times have in fact changed. “In the past it was the child’s family and neighbors that offered the best possible protection to children” he said adding that however today it is the ones closest to them that turn out to be sexual predators. As the Professor says this is the result of the ethical degradation of our society as people have now moved away from religion while the bond between friends and family are much weaker.

“People are more concerned today about one’s own gratification and needs” he says adding that society gives prominence to feelings above all giving rise to further moral degradation.  He points out that the signs of it can be found everywhere with the same being given importance on popular media such as television and movies. For example he says that many programs at present insinuate that a person should pursue one’s own happiness disregarding legal and ethical barriers in society. According to him this is a main reason that people abuse children today.

However, according to Child Psychologist and Clinical Psychiatrist of the Government Base Hospital in Kiribathgoda Dr. N Kumaranayke people also should understand the difference between child abuse and pedophilia.  According to him there are certain signs of a possible pedophile. “They appear depressed, isolated and insecure” he said adding that these individuals suffering from mental disease pick prepubescent children while seeing them as sexual beings and have uncontrollable urges due to their sickness. According to Dr. Kumaranayake pedophilia is an impulsive act that cannot be cured, but can be controlled with treatment.

However, it is clear that parents should be vigilant at all times in order to protect their children. For example it is up to the parents to educate children on how to recognize inappropriate touching by any adult while also teaching the child to approach his or her parents if such touching takes place. It is also important to make sure a child knows that predators often pose as children or teenagers in order to lure children in online, a common occurrence in modern times. According to Prof. Jayasundara it is mainly up to a child’s mother to be vigilant.

“If a family member is the sexual abuser the best person to identify it is a child’s mother” he says adding that therefore she should always be watchful if she has any suspicion of abuse. According to Dr. Kumaranayake family members in time do realize that an individual has pedophilic tendencies and are difficult to hide. “Many child molesters too come from abused pasts,” he says adding that another reason for such tendencies can be due to severe head trauma caused by accidents that can alter a person’s behavior.

Speaking of identifying sexual abusers likewise it is also important for parents to be able to spot possible abuse of their children in order to prevent possible further damage to a child. Children often show rather than tell that something is upsetting them. While there may be many reasons for changes in their behavior if parents notice a combination of worrying signs steps should be taken to address the issue. According to child psychologists sexually abused children can show various signs of abuse such as for example acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects, becoming withdrawn or unusually clingy and unexplained personality changes, mood swings. A child can show physical signs of abuse as well and can be noticed by parents if vigilant.

Likewise according to Dr. Kumaranayake pedophiles too should be identified early through their tendencies and be referred to treatment to prevent them from acting out their desires. “It is the duty of the government to understand it’s a disease and do the needful to stop such individuals through medical means,” he said adding that it is the need of the hour rather than speak of implementing the death penalty first. According to him it is important due to the lack of extended families today to improve community support and train government officers close to families such as midwives to identify persons with such mental diseases.

While law and justice may take its course and sexual predators are caught, that can never bring back Seya or similar children that are forever lost to their parents and families. Therefore it is the vigilance of parents that is the key to better protect children and to avoid such unfortunate incidents from occurring in the future.