ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 18

Child sex: Operation eradication

UNICEF together with the Sri Lanka Tourism Board launches a full scale offensive to battle this growing crime

By Salma Yusuf

Sexual exploitation of children is a sad reality of the world in which we live, and the tourism industry is not immune to it. Since the problem is to some extent linked to tourism, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) together with UNICEF has launched a National Action Plan Project with the aim of eradicating child sex tourism from the country.

UNICEF Consultant to the SLTB, Mihiri Fernando notes that the growth of international tourism not only represents an economic boom for most tourist destinations, but sometimes has negative socio-cultural impacts like exploitation of children.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is a fundamental violation of children’s rights, she points out, adding that it not only de-humanizes children but treats them as commercial objects which in turn causes severe physical, mental and social impacts. “CSEC takes place in a variety of ways including pornography, trafficking and prostitution,” she says.

Ms. Fernando notes that since tourism is the fourth largest foreign income earner in Sri Lanka, and a major economic growth opportunity in most countries, they felt it necessary to address the issues.

An estimated 30,000 children are said to be in the business of tourism-related sexual exploitation. The campaign targets not only foreign tourist-related sexual abuse of children but local tourists as well. “The majority of tourists who abuse children are local tourists,” she adds.

The worst-affected areas currently are Mount Lavinia, Negombo, Bentota, Beruwela, Hikkaduwa right upto Tangalle.

The steps taken in this initiative are to ensure that necessary laws are available and are in force to ensure that children are protected. In this regard, Ms.Fernando says, “We are happy to note that Sri Lankan laws are adequate to promote our cause of eliminating child sex tourism and exploitation.”

It is also necessary that all tourists and those connected with the tourist industry are made aware that child sex tourism is illegal and unacceptable here.

Stakeholders of the tourism industry - the Ministry of Tourism, Hoteliers’ Associations, UNICEF, Airlines, the Police force, officials from the Department of Immigration and Emigration, the Ports Authority and the Airport authorities participated in the drawing up and formulation of this National Action Plan.

Explaining why UNICEF wanted to gain the cooperation of all stakeholders of the tourism industry, Ms. Fernando told The Sunday Times, “UNICEF wanted the entire industry to take ownership of this document, rather than us trying to impose it on them. We strongly believe that the former approach will prove to be more effective in terms of implementation and interest than the latter.”
“We have had high-level advocacy meetings with high-ranking police officials in Colombo, Kandy, Kalutara and Matara and are hoping to reach out to other areas too in the near future.”

The all important tourist-police force will be mobilised. “We have visited all the tourist-police posts in the country and want to strengthen them further by providing the technical capabilities of linking them up with the NCPA and SLTB. They have been required to send periodical feedback to us through the DIG,” she said.

The next group addressed was the Presidents of the Hoteliers’ Associations, students of the five Government run Hotel Schools, and hotel staff.

The Sunday Times learns that a significant move has been made by the Department of Emigration and Immigration where with the next printing of the Disembarkation Cards which are filled by visitors to Sri Lanka, there would be a new clause included which reads “Sri Lanka has a ZERO TOLERANCE policy towards child abuse”.

The BIA authority has also agreed to blacklist all paedophiles in their computer register so that they can be alerted when such persons arrive at the airport.

Notice boards at the airport will also sport such clauses so that travellers can be informed that child sex abuse is a crime in Sri Lanka, which helps to overcome the prevailing problem of persons pleading ignorance of it.

Airlines will also be airing a 5 minute documentary expressing Sri Lanka’s disapproval on such acts, half an hour prior to landing. Fernando adds that this will be done bearing in mind the sensitive impacts on the tourism industry.

Another crucial sector which had to be dealt with were the three-wheeler drivers and beach boys, who sometimes serve as pimps. “‘Over 300 drivers at the airport taxi-stand were educated and were given a sticker symbolising their position against child sex abuse.

Over 200 three-wheeler drivers were also educated and given the stickers in the city of Negombo. Over 400 three-wheeler drivers were spoken to in Bandarawela, over 100 in Ella, Kataragama, Matara, and Tangalle.

“All these programmes proved to be a resounding success. The wrong done in aiding and abetting by providing links to potential child victims was also stressed at these workshops,” Ms Fernando said.

“The importance of creating a sense of community responsibility cannot be overlooked. A culture where all of us collectively care for all children, whoever they may be is crucial. Unless and until civil society think of it as a matter of personal concern, we will not achieve the complete elimination of child abuse in Sri Lanka,” she adds.

What Sri Lanka has done so far to combat CSEC
  • Ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991
  • Amended the Penal Code Act no 22 of 115
  • Set up the National Child Protection Authority coming directly under the President to protect children
  • Set up Women’s and Children’s Desks throughout the country
  • Signed the Optional Protocol to the Sale of Children, Child Pornography and Child Prostitution in 2002
  • Ratified the ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour


Some contributory factors of CSEC
  • Poverty
  • Economic disparity
  • Lack of education
  • Rural-urban migration
  • Cultural ignorance
  • Gender discrimination
  • Family breakdown
  • Consumerism
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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.