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Sri Lanka: hotbed for sexual exploitation of children

Jun 23, 2004, 18:23 Digg this story!
Sri Lanka continues to be a hotbed for the sexual exploitation of children according to trends in recent statistics, say workers in the children’s sector. Rights advocates are particularly troubled by the low numbers of arrests and prosecutions by the authorities and attribute this as one of the reasons why Sri Lanka has become a hotbed for crimes against children.

Sri Lanka police recorded 1643 cases of child abuse last year which was an increase compared to 1474 cases in 2002 and 1392 cases in 2001. Children’s rights activists are quick to warn that thousands of cases go unreported. One government figure estimates that there are over 30,000 cases of sexual exploitation of children on the island and although that number is in dispute, activists agree that the numbers are well in the thousands.

Of the 1643 cases reported last year, 734 of them were related to sexual abuse and much to the alarm of children’s rights advocates, only a meagre 30 foreign paedophiles have been arrested over the past two years and few have been prosecuted.

“Children are not only being sexually abused here by pedophiles from other countries, but Sri Lanka also serves as a transit point for smuggling children to and from other countries,” said a children’s rights advocate.

Concern over Sri Lanka being a transit point mounted after seven Chinese orphans were detected at the Katunanayake airport while they were on their way to the West. They were being accompanied by suspected traffickers whom authorities believe may have been taking them for organ transplant or child sex.

Child abuse on the island also continues to be on the rise. Recently In Negambo, more than 65 school children from two different mixed schools were allegedly sexually abused by three teachers. In another case a Swiss national who had been living in Hikkaduwa for more than 25 years had reportedly abused his landlord's son. This case of abuse came to light after Swiss authorities were alerted by a Swiss national.

Recently, the NCPA had detected a 66-year-old British concert pianist, Brian Parnell, trying to lure Sri Lankan boys over the internet during a tour of Asia. Even though Sri Lankan authorities had a hand in putting the case together, he was sentenced in a London court for two years under British sex tourism laws.

The number of arrests or prosecutions in this area have left rights advocates wondering if Sri Lankan authorities are capable of combating crimes against children, especially sexual crimes. “It is of concern that authorities haven’t been able to clamp down on abuse against children,” says a children’s rights worker.

According to the worker, the internet has made the sex tourism industry thrive but feels that more arrests and prosecutions will act a strong deterrent for potential predators. “It will send a strong message that people cannot get away with abusing children,” she further said.

Director of Children and Women's Bureau, SSP Sathis Jayasundara acknowledged that law enforcement authorities should be more alert to the activities in tourist resorts.

PEACE, another active children’s rights group also said that they believed more police presence in areas like Mt.Lavinia could help curb the growing trend in the sexual exploitation of children.

Children’s rights advocates identify the beaches in the southern and western coasts, slums in Colombo city and rural areas including tea plantations as being hot spots for sex crimes against children.

Some rights activists feel that sexual exploitation of children in the south is an issue largely ignored by Southern polity which would much rather spend its efforts on highlighting a few cases children joining the LTTE to escape their abject poverty other than the thousands of cases of sexual exploitation of children on the island’s beaches in the South and West.

“The child soldiers issue is a more valuable political commodity than sex tourism one,” remarked one NGO worker who works with the sexually exploited children.

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