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26th April 1998

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No guardians for these discarded children

By Maureen Seneviratne

It is the customers, the sex exploiters, the seedy side of the business sector and their chain of allies, such as pimps, procurers, brothel owners and traffickers, who need to be dealt severely, with.

In 1992 a child activist/hu- man rights group in Ge neva decided that it would not do to call a child a prostitute. Children were prostituted. They were not prostitutes. Unlike adults in this profession, children did not solicit business. Not children of eight to twelve years, anyway. They did not stand at street corners and expose themselves or vie for custom.

By 1992 already groups were working to arrest/end the prostitution of children in at least twenty-six countries in the world. The campaign to end child prostitution had gone global.

While acknowledging a wholistic approach to child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, which is generally a part of any form of abuse perpetrated on a child, groups like PEACE (Protecting Environment And Children Everywhere) in Sri Lanka, the local partners of the worldwide Campaign ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking of Children), in research studies undertaken by them found that the most virulent form of abuse that can be perpetrated upon a child is to use him, to buy and sell him for prostitution.

This has not changed inspite of the focus on child abuse as a whole in our country and in the world since ECPAT-PEACE began their pioneering public campaigns in 1991. In a recent Study carried out by PEACE in a comparatively small area on the Dehiwela Beach up to Angulana, including Mt. Lavinia and Ratmalana, researchers found many children who consider themselves the “refuse” of society as a result of the abuse they have been subjected to. And this was not abuse by a member of their family or someone in their neighbourhood.

These “throwaway children” had been paid for. It was their commoditization that these children bitterly resented even if they could not put it into so many words. “A man came round looking for children” they said, “he paid money to...(it could be the mother, father, guardian, older boys) and took us away. He said it was to give us jobs in a market in the city. We were taken to a house near a beach resort and after this man had abused us sexually we were handed to the residents, a group of foreigners. We saw them giving a lot of money to this man. Months later some of us managed to escape and we came back to our home areas (the Dehiwela Beach area). We were treated like outcasts here. People shun us. “One of these days,” said one boy, just fourteen years old, “I will kill somebody or kill myself.”

In a courthouse in a southern beach town, the lawyers who attend Court wondered what all the fuss was about when child activists came in to “watch” the interests of child-witnesses in a case where a German man was alleged to have had illicit sex with these minor-boys. “What is all this fuss? These boys are prostitutes”.

Yet, one out of the four boy-children was merely eleven years old! Two were thirteen years of age, the other was fourteen. They and their peers are and have long been out of the mainstream of society. They are beyond the pale. They are mere objects, not only in the estimation of the men who abuse them, but are so regarded by the people of the area.

During our research study, undertaken just a month or so ago, what we discovered about such children has long ago been proved elsewhere as in Thailand or the Philippines: these commercially sexually exploited children (accent on “exploited”) are almost impossible to rehabilitate: there have been only about one to three per cent successes if the task had even been undertaken. The children most grossly abused, because they are bought children, have lost the ability to concentrate, to focus, to acquire even a rudimentary education or a training in skills.

As a result they are a danger to themselves and a most potent danger to society. The little boy who wanted “to kill someone” was expressing his own self-disgust, his sense of self-contempt, his loathing for his own body and the horrible things that had been done to it by compulsive paedophiles (abusers of children).

A child on the other hand abused by a parent or grandparent, suffering a similar loathing for herself/himself, can yet be counselled by the other parent and/or relatives and a measure of success can be achieved in rehabilitation if the abuser is removed or the child moved out to a place of safety. In the case of the commercially sexually abused child he or she is usually a street, slum or beach child, drawn from the most poverty-stricken squatter communities in our midst. Who would care to assist that child to recover? So society pays the price in the widespread increase of criminality.

Moreover the child abused within the confines of family, school, parish, temple etc. does not see himself or herself on computer bulletin boards or on Internet. This is one of the less positive sides or globalisation and the advances of technology and communications because it has made the advertising of children for prostitution more instantaneous and widespread.

Moreover, it is vital to understand how abhorrent commercial sexual exploitation of children can be. In the course of our recent research we were clearly told by some children that they had also been treated with extreme cruelty (sadism, though they did not of course know that word) by their abusers who had paid “good” money for them; owned them. In any event we are told by the experts that rape, murder, abduction, bribery, false marriage, illegal adoption, illegal immigration, bonded labour, extortion and mail-order brides are all part of the horrendous crime committed upon children in this trade of commercial sexual exploitation of children. It treats children like objects, commercial objects for commercial sex. Commodities for trade, rather than as subjects with inherent rights.

When it comes to the abuse of children, any form or manner of abuse it is our bounden duty to protest, to shout out loud against it, but when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of children, then let us remind ourselves that, “the challenge is to honestly review the moral principles and assumptions of modern society which allow and even promote social crimes like it.” (Vitit Muntabhorn: Director/AsiaNet). It is now necessary that we tackle not only the supply side of this issue (anti-poverty measures, income generation activities, social development etc.), but the demand side to be recognised as a pivotal concern.

It is the customers, the sex exploiters, the seedy side of the business sector and their chain of allies, such as pimps, procurers, brothel owners and traffickers, who need to be dealt severely, with.

In the course of our research studies it would have been easy to lay the whole blame on poverty. The squatter communities on the beaches, on the other side of the railway line going southwards, are furiously multiplying and poverty is certainly a cause, but the more important reason for the commercial sexual abuse of children, their being bought and sold and trafficked, is that there is a DEMAND for children of tender age; boys more than girls have a growing demand. Even where mothers have not left their children to go to work in the Middle East, there is this movement of children to their doom (leaving aside abuse particularly of girls by their male relatives). It is very attractive, the dollar, and it is easy money as far as some unscrupulous adults are concerned.

What we found to our ever-increasing horror (and we have “supped full on horrors” in the course of our work these past eight years or so) is the DE-VALUATION of children in our society, in spite of all the solemn pronouncements about the uniqueness, the value of family life.

“Children are disposable, and not only on the beach from Dehiwela Junction to Angulana. There is no real commitment to the unfortunate child abused. We find a cacophony of words and less action, when it is action that is the prime need to end the commercial sexual abuse of children, the most virulent form of abuse that can be perpetrated on a minor-child; on a boy or girl legally under the age of adulthood. Unless we stop this vicious sex trade in children the whole of our society will be degraded, dissipated, destroyed. (The writer is chairperson of PEACE)

Babywise: wise or foolish?

A new book on child rearing advocating corporal punishment stirs controversy

By Roshan Peiris

A new book called Babywise , published in America has become a best-seller. In less than a year, this book written by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo has sold over a quarter million copies.

To those parents to whom the late Dr Benjamin Spock’s book was akin to a Bible for the upbringing of children, Babywise seems a weird if not downright harsh treatise on how to bring up a child.

The book advocates that an eighteen month old toddler be spanked for indiscretions such as banging on a high chair or tables.

The book blithely recommends that children up to three years could be “slapped” soundly up to five times a day.

The “Ezzos” suggest that there should be a“special implement” reserved for spanking children.!

Warning that a wooden spoon might break a child’s fingers and that a belt could damage skin tissue.

The Ezzo’s equally earnestly plead that a child - a baby should be left to cry and that a baby should not be fed on demand.

As Dr. Michael Abeyratne one of the country’s well known paediatricians whose father L.O. Abeyratne was the local version of the late Dr. Benjamin Spock said, “this is nonsense, and must certainly be a backlash to Spock.”

“I also think that the recent case reported from Arkansas where two schoolboys, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Gordon shot at their schoolmates killing 4 girls and a teacher and injuring ten children, must account for the book’s popularity,” he said.

“Johnson quietly activated the alarm bell and when the class filed out he and Gordon hid in the nearby woods and opened fire on his innocent playmates.

“Many thought it was all due to the lack of supervision by the parents that led these two boys to act in such an irresponsible manner”.

“In Arkansas under a parental responsibility law passed in 1995 parents are liable.”

Dr. Abeyratne thinks that perhaps such laws have made parents accept this most extraordinary book.

Many of our own paediatricians and those in the United States have said that these ideas published in Babywise “are most dangerous”.

There are reports of babies being admitted to hospitals for malnutrition and dehydration after following the instructions in the book, records the British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph.

Professor Priyani Soysa, with her wide experiences in looking after children said, “The ideas are highly controversial and negates modern thinking and practice”.

“The fast sales of ‘Babywise’ could be due to curiosity about the upheaval of the present liberal and flexible method of child rearing. The old Victorian idea of ‘children being seen and not heard’ stifled the creativity of children. The need for stimulating child development is obviously to achieve the greatest potential of a child.”

“To spank a child of 18 months and slap a three year old five times a day or so, is indeed absolutely and extremely punitive and restrictive for child development,” she added

“The book also you said is critical of carrying a baby around in a sling. It is not just marsupials who do so. There are cultures in which babies are carried thus. This I think is an admirable manner of stimulation. Love can never be too much and cannot cause rebellion. Bonding is encouraged to prevent rebellion.

“Bonding causes satisfaction and the peaceful existence of mother and child.

“I would say in conclusion that the book is a complete reversal of modern child rearing practices which have been achieved together with good infant nutrition and development.”Dr. Priyani Soysa said.

Dr. Rajeswari Rajakariar also an eminent paediatrician said. “I most certainly don’t agree with intimidating children like this. The book expresses peculiar concepts to which we are not used .”

According to the Sunday Telegraph the Ezzos feel that they are just dispensing some pretty good common sense advice. If this thing is as flawed as the opposition would say, then you have to ask yourself .“Why is it so successful? The Sunday Times would like to know how parents over here view these new ideas.

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