2020 Feb 18
A staggering number of children are trafficked each year across the world and are integrated into prostitution networks against their will. While prostitution and solicitation of a child is illegal in Sri Lanka, the country is known as a ‘pedophile’s paradise’ amongst nefarious circles.
Child Prostitution is the use of a child in sexual activities for remuneration or any other form of consideration – Article 2 (b), Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography (OPSC). This means the engagement of a child in sexual activities for monetary or non-monetary benefits (gifts, food, clothes, etc.) can be called Child Prostitution.
A study estimated that more than 250 million copies of videos on child pornography are circulating world-wide, and most were filmed in the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
One raid, on a home in a Stockholm suburb in July 1992, yielded stacks of letters between paedophiles sharing descriptions of children’s bodies and sexual organs. Found in the haul were 300 hours of child pornography videos, mostly filmed in Sri Lanka with titles such as Boy Love in Negombo and Hikkaduwa – the Child Sex Paradise.
Much of the child prostitution in Sri Lanka occurs due to Child Sex Tourists; offenders who travel for the primary purpose of exploiting vulnerable children in countries with less constructive laws; often with the use of a local intermediary. However, there are a growing number of child prostitution crimes being conducted by local travelers as well. Some estimates state that there are 40,000 child sex workers in Sri Lanka, and 5,000 – 30,000 of them being used by Child Sex Tourists.
Poverty, lack of education, parental neglect, scattered families and physical/mental/sexual abuse of children at home can all be causal factors for children entering the prostitution trade. That said, the lucrative nature of this trade has driven many children to prostitute themselves for benefits, sometimes with the approval or pressurizing from parents. Both male and female children are involved in child prostitution in Sri Lanka. However, the majority of the children involved in child sex tourism are the boys who are used in organised prostitution rings. Sri Lankan ‘beach boys’ are the ‘go to’ as they are considered easy prey for these monsters as these boys are naturally friendly and desperately poor. A boy can earn as much fellating a tourist – 200 rupees – as carrying bricks for 12 hours. While the practice of child sex tourism can erode the moral integrity of our nation, the greatest victims are the defenseless children, their voices unheard, their stories untold, their plight implacable, and their innocence stolen. They must endure the immediate and long-term emotional, psychological, and physical impact of sexual exploitation and open themselves to marginalization in society and a plethora of STDs. To make matters even worse, in areas with limited educational opportunities, people are ill-informed of the health risks and the severe long-term psychological harm that is inflicted on children who are sexually exploited. Perhaps even more disturbing, however, is the nature of how many of these children are forced into the sex trades although the family is traditionally a child’s first line of defense, in some cases children are sold into the sex trade by someone they know and trust. The full extent of child sex tourism and exploitation in Sri Lanka has been difficult to document because of its covert nature. A pilot study of 145 school children aged 13-17 was conducted to find out children’s perceptions of how children can be helped not to be sexually abused and to help those who have already been exploited. Four schools were deliberately selected in high-risk beach areas. Ten percent of children said they had done sexual things, 8% with other children their age, 5% with adults, and 6% with adults for money (8% of children did not respond to this question).
What are we doing about it?
As any government official eagerly points out, Sri Lanka has perfect mechanisms in place to protect both women and children. These include the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), a Presidential Taskforce on Child Protection, and the Women and Children’s Bureau. Each of these institutions has been established to ‘build and sustain a system where every child’s voice is heard’ and ‘Implementing programs to overcome difficulties encountered by women for the sole reason of their femininity’, among other goals. In addition to this, Sri Lanka also has a “National Guideline for the Management of Child Abuse and Neglect”. As the title suggests, it is a guideline on how to take care of children who have been victimised, and who enter the legal system. However, these institutions are as efficient as any other State organisation. Whilst doing research on the topic I did try to contact many numbers of the famed police ‘Women and childs desk hotline’ but instead in actuality, it is the general line for the precinct (not a dedicated line) for the police and awaiting on the other side seemed to be just an annoyed officer. Our children need protection and half baked laws and policies wont fully ensure that they won’t be exploited in this regard.
We need more. They need more.