The Sunday TimesPlus

15th September 1996




Sri Lanka is fast becoming a paradise for paedophiles

Midnight's children

by Suresh Tissaaratchy and Jennifer Paladano

Physical closeness is longed for by all children. But taking advantage of that attention they yearn for is a crime. It is a crime because these children don't even know that they are sexually harassed. The current concern with paedophiles (child sex abusers) are the crimes that accompany their sex appetite. The incident in Belgium (the murders of victims) sent waves of shock and bewilderment all over the world, mainly because the law enforcement authorities had for years overlooked a potential paedophile.

Paedophilia is nothing new to Sri Lanka . Ever since the tourist industry boomed, the problem has been in existence. However non-governmental organisations have in the recent past worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the child victims.

But what can a social worker do if the victim turns back and announces that he doesn't mind dying of AIDS tomorrow as long as he has the means to survive today. It is here that the need arises to concentrate on the perpetrator. There are many facts that we have overlooked with regard to the perpetrator.

Paedophilia belongs to a group of Paraphilias. The word 'para' derived from Greek meaning deviation. The term Paraphilia means 'abnormal or unnatural attraction'. This unnatural attraction maybe directed towards objects or animals. They also cause humiliation or suffering to the partner.

According to Dr. Raveen Hanwella, Consultant Psychiatrist at the National Hospital there are four types of Paraphilias. Heading the list is Paedophilia which is the unnatural attraction towards children. Next is exhibitionism. Voyeurism is a person's tendency to look at someone changing clothes, etc. Froteurism is the rubbing of one's sex organs on another persons body, similar to that happens in crowded buses.

The different types of paraphilias are often considered as mental illnesses needing psychiatric treatment.

But Dr. Hanwella stresses that a paraphilic disorder like paedophilia is no longer considered a mental disorder. 'There was a time when homosexuality was regarded a mental disorder . But not any more. Likewise paedophilia is a behavioural disorder and not a psychiatric problem.'

'Paraphilias like paedophilia or froteurism begin at adolescents, when humans begin to develop sexually. They tend to experiment with different sexual behaviours. Whatever they find satisfying will be continued.'

According to a study, explained Dr. Hanwella, nearly 20% American children are molested by the age of eight. Most paedophiles concentrate on one sex or one particular age group. Research reveal that children who are lonely and lack contact and interaction maybe easily induced,' Dr. Hanwella said

As for the victims an early experience of sex will not help them develop. It may also have its effects on personality development. Moreover a distorted picture of sex will dominate their adult lives.

Paedophilic behaviour can be changed , said Dr. Hanwella. The process is called ABC. 'A' is for antifidents or what really set off the behaviour. The behaviour is analysed. The focus is the pleasure the person receives from something. In changing his behaviour counsellors have to substitute it for something else from which he could derive pleasure. Moreover the fantasies have to be changed. For instance a person may have sex with an adult, but fantasise a child.

Most paedophiles try to rationalise their behaviour claiming that they were helping the child's sexual development.

An article titled - Preying on the Young.- in the recent TIME magazine states that not all paedophiles are psychopathic murderers. They are normally non aggressive . They are charmers and good fathers. They are often the least suspicious. They are more likely to be discreet consumers of child porn rather than overt rapists and stranglers. According to the Berlin Daily the rape of young girls during the Bosnian War has become the most expensive tape in the German market with fetching as high as 8000 dollars. According to Dr. Fred Berlin ' no one can say for sure what causes this behaviour but it is clear that such a sexual disorder may have its root in a childhood sexual trauma. The same article states that in Thailand alone nearly 20,000 to 200,000 men visit brothels in leading cities, where the sex workers are mostly under aged. The largest flow of tourists who travel to South East Asian countries looking for child sex are from the West, amounting to nearly 250,000 a year. 240 child abusers have been arrested in these countries, of them 24% were from the US, 16% Germans and British and 13% Australians.

M. A. J. Ranawaka, a counsellor at the Family Rehabilitation Centre said that he viewed paedophilic behaviour as an entirely 'person centred satisfaction'. In other words another person is not victimised. Take for instance the case where a person masturbated looking at children. This does not become a problem unless that person wants to change the habit.

'Abnormal behaviour is the result of a persons intra-psychic conflict. Most of the time it becomes a character disorder. Paedo behaviour is considered abnormal because primarily it goes against socially accepted mores and values. I feel that a person suffering from paedophilic disorders has an unsatisfied sexual desire. As a last resort he turns to something deviant.'

Paedophilic behaviour include masturbating in the presence of children, undressing children, undressing themselves in the presence of children, looking at naked children or masturbate secretly looking at the child. Today some extreme paedophiles force children into anal and vaginal intercourse and oral sex. Most of the time the adult engages in kissing and gentle biting, which the onlooker considers to be affectionate petting. But many miss the fact that paedophiles are specially attracted to children's legs, cheeks, lips and other areas of the body which arouse a paedophilic adult.( See box story: Samanthi's story)

According to Ranawaka such individuals use devices to win over the child and his/her parents. For example in one case a man who was attracted to a child ended up marrying the child's mother.

Opinions vary with regard to rehabilitation of paedophiles. Some feel that social attitudes must be altered. But others find it more practical to change the behaviour of the individual rather than of society. However changing the behaviour of a paedophile is not easy. It all depends on his attitude, said Ranawaka. If the paedophile comes forward for help with a positive outlook, where he really wants to change himself, counselling will help. As for the victim, a child truly deserves society's empathy and sympathy.

But the dangers of paedophilic behaviour to the child and society emerges particularly when it is turned into a trade. Some Sri Lankans are ready to even sacrifice their nation for a few bucks. Such is the tragedy of nation that boasts of 2500 years of history enriched in Buddhism.

Ms. Maureen Seneviratne of PEACE an NGO programme designed for the effective prevention of child abuse has just returned from Stockholm after attending the first ever Conference against commercially exploited children. She said that she had viewed over 300 video cassettes in which Sri Lankan children had been used in sexually deprivating pornographic movies. These cassettes which were given to her by Interpol officers were just a few that had fallen into the hands of the law enforcement officers. Ms Seneviratne stressed that these videos depicted children being sexually abused . These children were being burnt and assaulted while performing sexual acts.

Ms. Seniviratne made a more startling revelation. INTERPOL had brought to her notice that there was a definite connection between the group of paedophiles recently trapped by the authorities in Belgium and a Swedish paedophile group in Sri Lanka. 'This shows that the threat to our children is of a large magnitude, for we are dealing with a global organization of criminals who are well organised' These videos of Lankan children are hired for about 900 croners (6300 rupees) and are known to be hot favourites amongst paedophilic rings.

She also said that paedophile groups were not limited to foreigners. In recent cases where small girls and boys have been photographed in Sri Lanka, the photos were used for a lucrative industry in child pornography amongst locals .A major network involving doctors and lawyers and the so called pillars of society is also being investigated , she said.

Ms Maureen Seneviratna said that a very popular explanation given by many experts is that this phenomena is in existence in Sri Lanka as a direct cause of poverty. Although poverty does push parents to sell their children to procures, in most cases parents give up their children with the hope that they would be employed in some company. What we must realise is that a child even though he/she is starving would never engage in sex . They might steal to fill their stomachs but would not even think of sex as an alternative. Therefore we cannot trace the problem to poverty alone . It is often because of unscrupulous adults who lust for money that these innocent children are lured or forcefully taken away to be abused.' She further said that most of these children who are abused turn out to be abusers themselves as adults. For some the mental and psychological scars are too much to bear, they automatically revert to such deviant behaviour. And hence this pattern leads to a cycle of child abuse."

The Stockholm Conference would be of no help, if back home the authorities turn a blind eye to the wave of child crimes. The authorities ought to realise that they are dealing with an extremely dangerous group of criminals who belong to a worldwide network.

A Sri Lankan child is not safe any more. Parents can also play a part by giving more time to their children and being vigilant about their whereabouts. (See box story)

According to Sidath Karunaratne of the ESCAPE, an NGO which is formulating a programme to fight child abuse here, the main reasons why paedophiles come to Sri Lanka is because there is easy access to children. Due to poverty, parents push children into this trade. Another reason for foreigners to be attracted here is the fact that Sri Lanka has a very relatively small of AIDS risk and currently the number of victims is also less that other countries. He also said there are a number of underworld gangs involved in procuring children to satisfy the needs of these paedophiles. In a Galle case, as a result of threats from these so called underworld gangs, some boys or the victims are not coming forward to testify to their torment.

Mr. Sidath Karunarathna said that the best way to educate parents on the risks their children were exposed in the case of child abuse was by concentrating on sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. He says the manner in which they approach poor families who sell their children to paedophiles is to show them that the 500 hundred rupees they earn would result in the death of their child in one years time . At present 6 cases of children with AIDS have been reported in Sri Lanka.

"Furthermore by focusing on sexually transmitted diseases we could also instill in them appropriate sexual education. These are aimed at both parents and children who consider sexual education a taboo subject.

According to Mr. Seneviratna the increase in pornographic material and blue films has had an impact on peoples behaviour. For example the availability of child pornography films and snuff films (films where the children are actually killed when climaxing) show that there are a group of people who demand such products. Perhaps all those who watch these stuff won't react in the same way, yet they are sure to be stimulated and aroused .

Samanthi's story

Samanthi was a girl of 12 attending school. Her mother earned a meager income by teaching. Her father was a labourer and their incomes barely sufficed to make ends meet. One day Sunil seeya-a man notorious for providing children to foreigners. This man persuaded Samanthi's mother to let the little girl come with him and said that she would be handsomely rewarded by the 'sudu' mahattayas.

After some hesitation by the mother who explained that her daughter was still very small, she was lured by Sunil seeya. On the way to the hotel the seeya told the child 'all you have to do is be very friendly towards the white uncles .

These white uncles have a very funny way of playing with children. They like to remove your clothes and hug you . They do this because they love you, so don't worry'. With this assurance Samanthi was taken to a tourist hotel in the South and into one of its spacious rooms . In the room was a foreign man and woman, and a Lankan boy named Thilak and another girl of 14 named Siriyawathi.

As Samanthi entered the room she was served with a variety of sumptuous dishes and treated very kindly by the foreign couple who were in their late 40s. Then the foreigners began to strip in front of the children and started to fondle Samanthi who was held firmly by the foreign woman . When the little girl's clothes were removed by these couple Samanrthi protested . But to no avail.

Then Sriyawathi told the girl not be frightened but to do anything that the couple wanted. Siriyawathie herself was engaged in the foreplay with the paedophiles. Samanthi had to engage in oral sex with the foreign woman and man and by the time it was night she had oral sex with 3 more foreign men and two local men . All the while men were having sex with the little boy and girl.

A foreigner was video taping the entire spectacle. Late at night Sunil Seeya came back to take the girl home and she was paid 500 Rupees which was the amount both her father and mother earned for a month.

Having bought gifts from a nearby shop for her parents she went back home. She readily agreed to accompany the old man a week later. (Names have been changed)

Nirosha's story

Nirosha was a girl of six attending a leading girls school in Colombo. She lived in the suburbs of Colombo. She travelled daily from school in a van. One day Nirosha attended school despite being ill, and her mother later during the day went to the child's school to inform the teacher.

The mother was in for a rude shock when the teacher told her that her child had not been attending school for the past two weeks. The next day the parents decided to follow the vehicle with the help of some law enforcement officers and it was then revealed that this little girl was taken to a park in Colombo where a photographer joined with the driver, made the girl strip and be photographed.

The child was threatened, she could not reveal the truth to her parents. It was later revealed by Police sources that the snaps taken by these two people were to be sold to a foreigner who was staying in a five star hotel in Colombo. (Names have been changed)

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