She was an unsuspecting 16-year-old girl who found herself forced into an air-conditioned room in a luxury tourist resort in Hikkaduwa, and allegedly repeatedly raped by a 27-year-old Saudi Arabian businessman.
Unable to bear the agony of her ordeal, she wept as she related her story to a Police team that blew the lid off a racket not only in prostitution but also human smuggling.
The story unfolded after the Police acting on a tip-off, stormed the hotel and arrested two Saudi nationals and a local woman resident of Maradana, and rescued the 16-year-old girl.
|Hikkaduwa: Tourist destination where the sordid incident occurred.
Pix by Saman Kariywasam
|The young girl’s mother and other family members in Batticaloa
Another young Thai girl aged 20, was also found to be in the group, but was released as it was revealed that she was a mere companion of the other Saudi national.
The girl, who cannot be named owing to her age - 16 years and 7 months - had, on the previous night, been allegedly repeatedly raped by the 27-year-old Saudi national, after he had paid a huge sum of money to a local human trafficker for a virgin female sex slave.
Investigations reveal that the trail began from Batticaloa, where the girl was procured for Rs. 200,000 by an agent identified only as Prakash, currently evading arrest.
The money, to be handed over to the girl’s mother, a resident of Batticaloa District, never reached her, the girl was later to tell police.
The sordid scam came to light after an alert employee at the hotel in which the pair was staying, informed his manager of the suspicious couple who had checked into the hotel the previous day, along with another Saudi man, his 20-year-old Thai escort and a 46-year-old local woman.
The woman had checked into the hotel, along with the girl, as mother and daughter, and the hotel’s front office desk had no doubts on her claim, and the group rented four different rooms.
The charge for each room was Rs. 25,000 per night with bed and breakfast, with the two Arabs posing off as wealthy overseas recruiting agents hunting for fresh recruits, and the woman, who has an excellent command of Sinhala, Tamil and Arabic, said she was the interpreter.
After two nights at the hotel, the group was packing to leave for another location on the south coast on Monday, when the manager plucked up courage and decided to call the police, out of sympathy for the girl.
Hikkaduwa Chief Inspector (CI) Sumith Gunaratne led a team of officers to the hotel. “Initially, we were cautious, as the matter involved foreign visitors, and if the girl was an adult, the whole thing could blow up in our face with serious consequences”, CI Gunaratne told the Sunday Times.
At first the suspects denied everything, but on further grilling, along with eyewitness statements at the hotel, the true story came out, but not before there was some difficulty in getting the girl and the Saudi Arabian man out of their room.
“We stood outside the locked room for a full 15 minutes, requesting the occupants to come out, but there was no response. Thereafter, the hotel management presented us with a duplicate key to the door, and we were able to gain entry.
“The girl later told us that the suspect Prakash had persuaded her mother to send her to Saudi Arabia, where there would be an arranged marriage to a wealthy, young local Arab, and life would improve for everyone.
|Chief Inspector (CI) Sumith Gunaratne
“The unsuspecting mother and girl agreed to the proposal, and later the victim was transported to a safe-house in Maradana, where she was handed over to the Arab and they shared a room for several nights, before deciding to motor down south for a brief vacation.
“The Arab had no intention of marriage on his mind. His only plan was to take the girl to Saudi Arabia on doctored travel documents, and keep her as a sex slave-cum-domestic. The man was already married to a Saudi woman and was a father of two,” CI Gunaratne quoted the woman suspect as saying in her statement.
“Investigations also revealed that the elder Saudi was the chief agent in the racket, and had been in the country for the past four months, making several visits to the North and East,” he added. “This Saudi agent worked for wealthy Saudi clients seeking virgin sex slaves, and his local coordinator was the man known as Prakash, who hunted for victims.
His modus operandi was simple. He would scour areas in the North and East, known for orphaned minors living in poverty. “We fear that the Hikkaduwa find is just the tip of the iceberg, and there may be a larger syndicate with many similar cases gone undetected. The woman picked up from the Maradana safe-house was heavily involved in the sex slave trade,” CI Gunaratne said.Meanwhile, the two Arabs and the local woman were remanded by Galle Magistrate Gunendra Munasinghe, while the victim was sent to a State receiving home for females. The Thai national was released and advised to leave the country.
“The group faces charges of illegal transportation, exploitation and human trafficking of a minor,” said Superintendent (SP) Vijitha Rohana of the Police Legal Department and official Media Spokesman.
SLFEB warns females
seeking employment abroad
The SLFEB meanwhile cautioned females intending to take up employment overseas to exercise extreme caution when dealing with recruiting agents.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also ordered a full probe into a recent incident where a recruiting agent is alleged to have sexually abused at a location in Siyambalagoda Mahapothuwila, a woman seeking overseas employment, the Bureau said in a statement.
It added that, in this case, the husband of the victim had made a complaint to the local police and the matter is currently being investigated by the SLFEB.
A well organized country-wide racket
National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Chairperson Anoma Dassanayake told the Sunday Times that she endorsed police suspicions, saying this was a well organised racket.
She believes that the woman suspect is the same person who was involved previously in a similar case involving a girl from the North.
“It is not only happening in the North and East but in other parts of the country as well. The target group is mainly orphaned girls,” Ms. Dassanayake said.
SLFEB sub agents need to be monitored
“Many of those involved in such sordid rackets are rogue sub-agents operating in various parts of the country, and the SLFEB has done very little to rope them in,” Faizer Mackeen of the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) said.
He charged that isolated incidents such as the Hikkaduwa case was not good for business, adding that, the Bureau should draw up an action plan to monitor the activities of these persons.
“There are thousands of such sub-agents throughout the country, and they are a law unto themselves. By the action of some of them, it has tarnished the image of genuine agents in general and ALFEA in particular,” Mr. Mackeen added.
He said that, in addition, the sub-agents were also charging huge fees from foreign employers, thereby threatening the industry. “If this is allowed to continue, foreign principals would look elsewhere for future recruitment and the trade would suffer,” he said.
Widowed mother unaware daughter sold as sex slave
By Deva Adiran
The 16-year-old rape victim’s, mother said she was not at home when her daughter was given away to the sub-agent Prakash, who had promised foreign employment to the minor. “It was my late husband’s sister who decided to hand the girl over to Prakash, as I was a way at work on that day. They later persuaded me that the girl would be safe, and with foreign earnings, life could be better for us.”
“However, later, one day, the agent informed us that, as her daughter was a minor, she was not eligible for foreign employment, there was another option.”
“He said a foreigner was willing to marry the girl, and persuaded me to go with the idea, which I did for the better interest of my daughter’s future,” she added.
“But I never knew the ordeal she was undergoing at the safe-house operated by a madam. It was only last Sunday that the whole thing came to light, when my daughter called me from the Hikkaduwa Police station and related all the facts,” the mother of five said.
She added that they live in abject poverty after her husband committed suicide two years ago, owing to domestic pressures, compelling her to work as a domestic in an affluent home in Maradamunai-Kalmunai.