UNICEF together with the Sri Lanka
Tourism Board launches a full scale offensive to battle
this growing crime
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
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
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
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
“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,”
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,
“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
“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
factors of CSEC
- Economic disparity
- Lack of education
- Rural-urban migration
- Cultural ignorance
- Gender discrimination
- Family breakdown