Print Version    Email to Friend
Missionary of Charity arrested for trafficking

COLOMBO (AsiaNews): Sister Mary Eliza, from the Missionaries of Charity, was arrested by Sri Lankan police on November 25 and was being held in the Women’s Prison of Welikada, accused of trafficking children.

She is the first sister from the congregation founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to be arrested.

Police burst into the Prem Nivesa hostel for unmarried mothers in Moratuwa, run by the Missionaries of Charity, and arrested the sister. Police then sealed off the hostel.

Sister Eliza is the superior of the sisters’ community in Prem Nivesa and, as of November 28, had been denied access to a lawyer. She was scheduled to be charged with trafficking of children on November 30.

On November 23, a group of people led by Anoma Dissanayake, the of the National Child Protection Authority, surrounded the Prem Nivesa hostel to examine the situation of the children and mothers living in the facility.

“Police and protection authority officials burst into the home at around 11.00am, causing panic. They checked every nook and cranny in the facility and took away our files,” a sister told AsiaNews.

On the evening of November 25, police agents took Sister Eliza and two other sisters to the home of a judge. Sister Eliza was then taken by car to Welikada Prison, while the two other sisters were brought back to the convent.

“Police, protection agency officials and media rushed to our facility,” Sister Eliza said before her arrest. “They cross-examined the unwed mothers and took away many documents.”

She reiterated, “We have never been involved in child trafficking. It is against our faith. Our mission is to take care of unmarried mothers and their children. We have never taken money for our work. Children are adopted out 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 in 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.

However, on November 29, Sister Eliza was bailed at the order of a magistrate, Yvonne Fernando. The bail was set at 7,500 rupees ($544) for each separate charge, plus a security deposit of 50,000 rupees ($3,593). She was also asked to surrender her passport and not return to the home for unmarried mothers.

Sister Eliza is due to face the first hearing of her trial on December 15.

The confusion is compounded by the silence of the Church, which, as of November 30, had not issued an official statement about Sister Eliza’s arrest.

The Prem Nivesa has 75 children, 20 pregnant women and 12 new mothers in residence.

The National Child Protection Authority is an independent organisation, which operates under the auspices of the Office of the President of Sri Lanka.

More from this section