in the city
13-year-old surfing the Net for some information needed for a school
project. He types in the word 'Asia' and then presses the search
icon and amidst the relevant sites, he finds one titled 'Little
nude Asian girls'. Curious, he opens it. What do you think the repercussions
would be? The pornographic material on the screen could well shatter
his childhood innocence forever.
all internet cafes have to be registered under Company Law,
there's no specific licence they need to have. They can set
up shop just like any other company, says Dr. Harsha Cabraal,
chapter 25, sub-section 285 & 286 of the Penal Code of
Sri Lanka and the 1995 amendment 286A to the Penal Code, access
to child pornography and the distribution and viewing of obscene
material of any kind, are strictly prohibited and punishable
under the law.
personnel, no raids
seem unaware of such activities. Children and Women's Bureau
ASP Sisil De Silva said that at present they don't have any
personnel qualified in this area to conduct raids but are
training two officers to look into issues such as paedophilia
etc. Raiding internet cafes is not on their books as yet,
unheard of in the past, have mushroomed at almost every street corner
in towns across the island. They offer internet and email facilities
at relatively cheap rates and are popular among the youth, especially
those who do not have the luxury of a home computer. Most young
people use these cafés to check mail, chat with online buddies
or get some personal, office or research work done.
cafes are also used to access pornographic material. And café
owners are in general, turning a blind eye to this illegal activity.
Once you have
access to the internet, you have access to a vast sea of information,
be it educational material, photographs or information about your
favourite movie star. You name it; the 'World Wide Web' has the
info. The danger is that pornographic sites too are freely accessible
on the internet.
There is no
age limit for entry to these cafes and no supervision. You are given
a computer and there is plenty of privacy. At Rs. 60 per hour, the
rates are quite affordable too.
When The Sunday
Times visited several internet cafes in Colombo, we found many people
viewing pornographic sites on the Net. Some were hidden in corners
while others accessed them in plain view of others.
Every internet café we visited had many porn sites being
visited frequently. What was even more shocking was that some cafés
seemed to be promoting this access. One café on Galle Road
had a direct access route, "Internet Sex Provider Shortcut"
on their desktop while another had a few computers that had a window
opened to a porn site.
pornography is illegal in this country, what controls do these cafes
have on customers? Little if any, it seems. Udaya Perera of Berty's
Internet Café says that they do random checks to see if the
users view porn. "Sometimes we do find that they have but if
they do, it's their private thing," he said. Around 30 to 40
people come in every day to surf the Net, the majority of them adults.
The owner of
the café, which had the "Internet Sex Provider"
shortcut said he was not aware of it, and it could be a customer
who had downloaded it. We update our computers on a daily
basis and if we come across such shortcuts, they are eliminated,
Majestic City has a sign next to each computer that says in big
bold letters "Strictly no restricted sites please". So
how far do users follow the rules? According F. M. Irfan, Showroom
Manager, the staff go around every 15 minutes to check what the
users are viewing. "People mostly come to check mail or chat
online with their friends," he says. The café has blocked
unnecessary sites and if they see customers viewing porn they ask
them not to. "If they don't stop we ask them to leave. There
are times when this has happened," he says.
another internet café says that during the holidays they
have many teenagers coming in but it is mostly office workers who
come in to surf the Net. They admitted that people do check porn
but they try to prevent it as much as possible as there are some
sites that can be filtered.
users say they mainly chat with friends online and check mail at
internet cafes. They are also useful for doing research. "It's
quite affordable," says Kishani Perera (21). Using it mainly
to check mail and do research she however says that there have been
times that she has seen people looking at porn sites.
Jayan De Silva
is a frequent café user who admits that he has checked out
porn sites at least once. "When you have shortcuts before you,
you tend to get curious," he says. He uses the cafes solely
to check his mail but "I wouldn't be surprised if there were
people who came to check porn".
Unlike in the
west, 'Cyber Nannies' (people who scan the Net for pornographic
sites or material and block them out) are unheard of here. But,
the impact of pornography should not be underestimated, for young
people could grow up believing that checking porn sites is the accepted
practice or worse yet, the 'in thing' to do.
to pornography is illegal and therefore, should not be encouraged
or tolerated by the authorities and café owners. However
impossible it may seem for owners to monitor what each and every
user accesses, being constantly vigilant and not giving users overly
private enclosures would make accessing restricted sites, just that
much more difficult. Parents too need to exercise caution if children
patronize internet cafes too often.