The Ven.Dr. Akuratiye Nanda Thera, Chief Sanghanayake of the Western Province, and Chancellor of the Ruhuna University addressing the committee. (courtesy parliament media)

The Chief Sanghanayake of the Western Province, the Ven. Dr. Akuratiye Nanda Thera, has no objection to the Hathe Ape Potha, a guide to Grade Seven students on sexual and reproductive health.

The Chief Sanghanayake, who is also the Chancellor of the Ruhuna University, told the Parliament Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender,  which met in Parliament today (January 9), that despite the many misconceptions about the clergy’s stand on the book, he found the Hathe Ape Potha timely and topical.

The distribution of the book amongst schoolchildren, halted in the run-up to the Presidential election last year, faced a storm of protests when another Buddhist monk, Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera spoke out against it recently, and requested the government to initiate an inquiry to find out who was behind the book’s publication.

The Chief Sanghanayake said that he had received a copy of the book around midnight on January 8.  Reading through it, he found that the book dealt with important and useful information not only on sexual and reproductive health, but other issues as well. He recognized the need to introduce children to sexual and reproductive health and cited various examples he had come across in support of it.  One such was a recent incident where a 14-year-old girl had been molested by her 35-year-old father.  While that was a serious issue, what was contained in the medical report was equally serious, as the girl had mentioned she had feelings for her father!

When parents joined the rat race, and children are packed off to school and private tuition classes with hardly any quality time spent as a family, children were bound to be misled, he pointed out, adding that  education was not only academic learning, but a sound and all-round knowledge of all values. There are 2.1 million students in the Dhamma schools, and we need to ask, “What is it that we teach them?” he added.

Though the Ven. Medegoda Abhaytissa Thera had been invited to attend the meeting, he had said he was otherwise engaged. He is expected to attend the next meeting scheduled for January 22.

JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake was of the opinion that the book must be released as early as possible to the students.  One of the issues around the Hathe Ape Potha is that it carries the photos of the former Ministers of Education and Health.  Ratnayake, while condemning the trend of carrying photos of politicians in school textbooks, pointed out that the authorities could easily cover the page and prepare the book for distribution.

While all those present were supportive of the contents of the book and the need to get it out to the students as early as possible, Dr. Janakie Vidanapatirana, Head of the Prevention Unit, National STD/AIDS Control Programme, and Ministry of Health pointed out that as state sector staff they were mandated to carry out certain duties.  Educating students on sexual and reproductive health was one such, she said, stressing, “We should be allowed to carry out our work without any hindrance or withdraw the book simply because someone outside the mandated group of resource persons is offended by it.”


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