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Last Updated: 02/20/2012Paedophiles' Paradise: Child Abuse and Child Prostitution in Sri Lanka
Analysis of global tourism's role in supporting child sex tourism, with specific emphasis on the case of Sri Lanka, where there are an estimated 30,000 child sex workers.
With the advances in mass transportation, communication and other infrastructure around the world, tourists’ accessibility to new places has increased. While tourism and travel have promoted greater understanding and tolerance and have generated large amounts of income and contributed to worldwide Gross Domestic Product (GDP), they have also contributed to the emergence of another phenomenon – that of child sex tourism (CST). Though this phenomenon is widely observed in South East Asia, it is reported that there are other regions / countries greatly affected by CST, as well. Child Sex Tourism refers to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children by someone who has traveled from another location, usually another country. The United Nations defines CST as “tourism organized with the primary purpose of facilitating the effecting of a commercial-sexual relationship with a child”. Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child defines “child” as every human being below the age of 18.
The growth in the commercial sexual exploitation of children often follows growth in tourism in many countries. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a fundamental violation of children’s rights. It comprises sexual abuse by an adult and remuneration in cash or kind to the child or a third person or persons. The child is treated as asexual object and as a commercial object. The commercial exploitation of children constitutes a form of coercion and violence against children, and amounts to forced labour and a contemporary form of slavery. Though tourism itself is not the cause of child exploitation, its nature provides all the necessary factors. These include poor tourism planning leading to displacement of communities and loss of traditional livelihood, the absence of traditional values and socio-cultural norms in tourist destinations related to dress, nudity, relationships between adults and children/men and women, the absence of police and social welfare professionals in tourism destinations, the increased demand for sex services from domestic and foreign tourists and non-integration of human rights and children's rights in tourism industry training or policymaking, which make children vulnerable to abuse. Child sex tourism is also very much linked to the prostitution of children, trafficking of children and the production of child pornography.
CST is a negative effect of mass tourism in most of the affected countries, including Sri Lanka. Denial of the gravity of the problem by the government has been a grave challenge in addressing CST. However, the tireless efforts of both international and national institutions, with the support of the media, has led to the development of new legislation and changes in existing legislation to protect children from sexual exploitation.
Though Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate in Asia, the suffering of children has not been mitigated. In Sri Lanka, it is boys who are more vulnerable than girls, compared to other South Asian neighboring countries. Though child sex tourism is an enormous problem in Sri Lanka, its extent, the number of victims and offenders are relatively unknown and inconclusive. The information available on the incidence and prevalence of child prostitution is inadequate. However, it is said that boy prostitution has been made available in cities by organized groups for local demand for a long time, whereas organizing boys for foreign clients has only been introduced a couple of decades back. According to UNICEF’s estimate, over half of the 30,000 child sex workers in Sri Lanka are boys. Hope for the Nations, a non-profit organization working in Asia, goes further to say that as many as 30,000 boys are involved in Sri Lanka’s sex trade. Many are known as “beach boys” because they are often forced to work by those who own property along the coastline. Child sex tourism in Sri Lanka involves young boys who are offered to European, American, and Asian tourists, sometimes as part of vacation packages. It has been reported that the number of child abuse cases has increased every year in the past decade. Children’s rights activists are quick to warn that thousands of cases go unreported. With approximately 40,000 child prostitutes—more than half of them boys—Sri Lanka has been described as a ‘paedophile’s pleasure centre.’ Extreme poverty and years of civil war have left many children homeless and easy prey for sexual predators and traffickers. Sometimes boys and girls as young as three years old are captured. Others are sold to pimps for a few dollars by their desperately poor guardians or family members.
It is claimed that while tourism is pitched as one of Sri Lanka's most profitable industries, earning an estimated US$300 million a year, the industry is blamed for the prolific growth in boy sex workers in beach areas. Statistics show that by 2004, Sri Lanka had an estimated 8,000 people living with HIV, out of whom 800 were children. While child sex workers face a high risk of contracting HIV, it is also very difficult to identify these children, as cases are hidden and kept confidential.
Several factors, including the legality of prostitution and the presence of organized crime rings, have contributed to making Sri Lanka a cesspool of sexual exploitation. It has been suggested that Sri Lanka is the principal source of child pornography for the U.S. and Europe.
The Sri Lankan tsunami unexpectedly aided the child sex trade. Most of the children trapped in the child sex trade in Sri Lanka are from the poorest of the poor families, who are too hungry to want to know what happens to their child when they disappear for a few days. Besides, their poverty and hunger have “forced” them to sell their kids to illegal adoption. Thus, all Western embassies have been instructed not to grant visas to children and for all adoptions to be suspended. The tsunami created thousands of poor and desperate families -- making their children prime targets for child predators. It is further stated that the demand is endless, so it is only possible to cut off the supply.
There are several international instruments that protect and promote the rights of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, International Labour Organization Convention 182, Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention - No. 182 of 1999, and Minimum Age Convention - No. 138 of 1973. Similarly, there are other international instruments that seek to protect the rights of children, for example: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Optional Protocols I and II, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sri Lanka has signed and ratified all of these instruments. As such, Sri Lanka is obliged under international law to provide uncompromisable support to ensure the execution and fulfillment of the purposes of these instruments. Sri Lanka has enacted several domestic laws that deal with child-related issues, such as the Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978), the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Act (1998), Maintenance Act (1999), Corporal Punishment Ordinance (1889), Penal Code (1889) and the amendments (1995, 1998), Judicature Act (1978) and the amendment (1998), Code of Criminal Procedure Act (1979) and the amendments (1995, 1997, 1998), Laws of Evidence (1895) and the amendment (1998), the Children’s and Young Person’s Ordinance (1939), Women, Children and Young Persons Ordinance (1956), Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act (1956), Vagrants Ordinance (1841) and the Compulsory Attendance of Children at Schools Regulation (1997). Some of these enactments are directly involved with child abuse; for instance, the Penal Code, the Children and Young Persons Ordinance, the Women, Children and Young Persons Ordinance, Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, the Vagrants Ordinance and the Code of Criminal Procedure Act. And these legislations impose very tough penalties on the culprits if found guilty.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) was established under the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Act for the purpose of formulating a national policy on the prevention of child abuse and the protection and treatment of children who are victims of such abuse; for the co-ordination and monitoring of action against all forms of child abuse; and for matters connected therewith or incidental there to. It is the main related legal entity and carries out several functions, such as: advising government on national policy and measures regarding the prevention and treatment of child abuse, protection of children, creating awareness of the rights of the child to be protected from abuse; consulting and co-coordinating with relevant ministries, local authorities, public and private sector organizations, and recommending measures for the prevention of child abuse and protection of victims; recommending legal, administrative and other reforms for the effective implementation of national policy; monitoring implementation of the law, the progress of all investigations, and criminal proceedings in cases of child abuse; receiving complaints from the public related to child abuse and taking the necessary actions; advising and assisting local bodies and NGOs to coordinate campaigns against child abuse; promoting, coordinating and supporting the conduct of research on child abuse; coordinating with and assisting the tourist industry to prevent child abuse related to commercial sex networks; and coordinating, preparing and maintaining a national database on child abuse. This includes monitoring organizations that provide care for children, and which look into child issues.
As in many other issues, child affairs issues include lots of legislation and mechanisms. Still, the success of these instruments and mechanisms is questionable. The plans of the state protection services are not successful. It is of utmost importance to have a holistic approach to the rights of children. The CRC insists on a holistic approach, and it further states that legislation should not deal with the rights of the child piecemeal, but as a whole. The guidelines given by the Child Rights Committee clearly say that equal attention shall be focused upon every right, therefore including civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The holistic nature of CRC has placed the protection of the rights of the child within the mainstream of International Human Rights Law.
The holistic nature of the CRC, law and politics exist in a state of continuous interplay, which makes it a legal and political instrument. It is characterized by two different stages of implementation. In the first stage, where a high level of protection of the rights of the child has not yet been attained by the State party, the focus needs to be on political rather than legal issues. This entails the establishment of basic infrastructure for health services, education, juvenile justice, and so on. At the second stage, when a certain level of protection has already been reached, concentration on legal aspects becomes feasible. In theory, in Sri Lanka children’s issues have been placed high on the political agenda; but in reality, the implementation of these instruments and legislation are yet to be enforced. The implementation of these instruments and legislation require constant legislative, administrative, policymaking, structural, educational and other measures.
As constantly mentioned in the literature, the law to apprehend and punish offenders and give adequate protection to children is already in place. The difficulty lies completely and totally in enforcement. Thus, it is important to take necessary measurements to monitor the law enforcement authorities so that they take reasonable steps to address this problem. It is quite obvious that the law enforcement authorities are a bit reluctant to take the necessary steps to minimize the abuse of children and the reduction of CST, as the tourism industry generates huge income for the country, as well as for the officers. Corruption and the heavy involvement of law enforcement officers in the trade impede the possibility of effectively bringing the offenders to justice. Since the government of Sri Lanka has given priority to the CRC - Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts to look after its own interests (to use this issue to create propaganda), the problem of child prostitution has existed in Sri Lanka for a very long time and is extremely grave. Yet, Sri Lanka has not even started to address this problem by agreeing to meet international standards. Sri Lanka has not taken the child prostitution issue seriously, because it generates income through the tourist industry.
In conclusion, if the state authorities fail to take the necessary steps to ensure the effective implementation of the laws and mechanisms, and to address the root causes of this problem, such as poverty, vulnerability and so on, the laws and conventions will be nothing but cosmetics.
 “The sex sector: The economic and social bases of prostitution in South East Asia”, ILO Geneva, 1998, p.183. (As cited in L. Lean Lim (ed.),)
 Convention on the Rights of the Child
 Amihan V. Abueva, Challenges and Successes in addressing Child Sex Tourism in South-East Asia (as cited in ECPAT International and ECPAT Australia, ECPAT information booklet, July 1996)
 A statement from The Declaration and the Agenda for Action from the First World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, 1996 (as cited in Situational Analysis Studies on Child Sex Tourism in Tourist Destinations of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, ECPAT Consultation on Child Sex Tourism in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Kathmandu, Nepal, 19 - 20 December 2003)
 “Follow up of the implementation of the Certified Code of Conduct for Tour Operators against Child Sex Tourism (CCC), Phuket, Thailand, 2000 (as cited in A Situational Analysis of Child Sex Tourism in Sri Lanka (Negambo, Colombo, Mt. Lavinia, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee, December 2003)
 Remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton Southeast and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific), at the 7th Annual Model United Nations Assembly, March 1, 2003) (http://www.david-kilgour.com/secstate/childsex.htm)
 Section 14 of the National Child Protection Authority Act, 1998
Van bueren (1999) p.682. (as cited in Gras J., Monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (2001), p. 5
 Gras J., Monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (2001), p. 7
 Ibid., p. 7-8
Convention on the Rights of the Child
ECPAT International and ECPAT Australia, ECPAT information booklet (1996).
Gras J., Monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2001).
National Child Protection Authority Act (1998).
Situational Analysis of Child Sex Tourism in Sri Lanka (Negambo, Colombo, Mt. Lavinia, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Anuradhapura and Trincomalee) (2003).
Situational Analysis Studies on Child Sex Tourism in Tourist Destinations of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, ECPAT Consultation on Child Sex Tourism in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Kathmandu, Nepal (2003).
Remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, MP for Edmonton Southeast and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) at the 7th Annual Model United Nations Assembly (2003). http://www.david-kilgour.com/secstate/childsex.htm.
Aingkaran Kugathasan is an Asia Leaders Fellow in the International Law and Human Rights Masters Programme at the University for Peace of Costa Rica.