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Sri Lanka: Ugly story

Publish Date: 05 Nov 2004

Source: Lanka Business Online
By Dilshani Samaraweera

Ugly Story

Last month a 40-year-old, wealthy planter was put away for 48 years for repeatedly raping his own children.

“This is the highest jail sentence awarded in the world against child sexual abuse,” says Maureen Seneviratne, Chairperson, Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere (PEACE).

Seneviratne was addressing the 38 world congress of the United Federation of Travel Agents Association on Friday in Bentota, Sri Lanka.

Four years ago a local music teacher that was sexually abusing school children and also supplying children for commercial sex in Hikkaduwa – a popular tourist destination in the south coast of Sri Lanka – was put away for 36 years.

The Sri Lankan courts are waking up to the devastation wrecked on children by paedophiles and are serving them in style.

But a majority of foreign paedophiles that visit Sri Lanka for their fun and games and even local predators slip through Sri Lanka’s easily corruptible systems.

Take the none too venerable holy man in an ashram in Hikkaduwa that social service vigilantes like to call Beach Baba.

Beach Baba and his holy white beard, says PEACE, narrowly escaped a very long stay in a local jail when a child and his family “turned turtle” on the prosecution.

But the tough stand taken by the local judiciary – when it can - says PEACE, is sending a strong message to global paedophile networks, where for years the tag line used to be ‘go to Sri Lanka for boys and Thailand for girls.’

After years of campaigning local awareness has also increased and as a result “we see an increasing number of reportings of child abuse.”

In fact “the increasing number of local paedophilia reports indicate a serious problem,” says Seneviratne.

Despite the tighter vigilance the local authorities are also hampered by a lack of data and strong a surveillance network.

The official figure puts the number of sexually abused children in Sri Lankan every year at anything between 30,000 and 40,000.

Out of which, around 8,000 children work the sex trade regularly as prostitutes while the balance comprise child abuse at homes, schools and other places.

The demand in the commercial sex trade in Sri Lanka is for boys between the ages of eight to 12 and sometimes goes up to 14 years.

One reason for this is because boys are an easier target in Sri Lanka than girls - girls are traditionally more protected due to social taboos.

“Sometimes these very poor families themselves sell their boys. They say ‘our boys don’t get pregnant so why not,” says Seneviratne.

The sad truth however is that the children make nowhere near enough to compensate for what they go through.

It’s the pimps and the middlemen that mint on the transaction.

“The children are paid around Rs 50 to Rs 100. It is a very lucky boy that can get Rs 500. The pimps charge in the range of Rs 5,000 per boy. If it’s a brand new boy they can get Rs 10,000 and over,” says Seneviratne.

Contrary to general belief the child sex trade is not limited to beach fronts like Hikkaduwa, Mt Lavinia and Negombo.

Tourist destinations like Kandy and Bandarawela are also hot spots while schools are often supply points.

-Dilshani Samaraweera: dilshanis@vanguardlanka.com

Paedophile Profile

Most foreign paedophiles do not occupy hotels. They operate from houses within a resort area or in the periphery of the area to pass off as genuine tourists, says PEACE.

Since public vigilance has increased some predators enter the country under the pretence of starting a business or investing in a venture.

Very often paedophiles crave variation. They change their child partners frequently and crave for younger children.

Only around one percent of paedophiles are female.

Paedophilia by locals is also on the increase in Sri Lanka.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) identifies Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Goa in India as the most popular destinations for paedophiles in all parts of the world.

The child sex trade is now identified as a global multibillion dollar industry driven by the strong economic returns it generates.

UNICEF estimates that around two million children are sexually abused every year all over the world.

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