NEWS: Sri Lanka Cracks Down on Pedophiles

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 12:41:21 -0800 (PST)


Sunday December 13 12:11 PM ET

Sri Lanka Cracks Down on Pedophiles

By DILIP GANGULY Associated Press Writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Despite an ethnic insurrection in the north,
tourists flock to Sri
Lanka to enjoy its tropical landscape, palm-fringed beaches, friendly people
and inexpensive
hotels.

But the island also has developed a darker reputation - as a place where
adults can come for sex
with children.

Now, after years of doing little, Sri Lankan officials appear set to deal
forcefully with the problem
of child prostitution and pedophiles.

``We will ensure that there are no excuses,'' said Harendra de Silva,
chairman of the newly
established National Child Protection Authority.

Child sexual abuse is one of many problems that fall well behind the
15-year-old civil war on the
national agenda.

But President Chandrika Kumaratunga promised to restore normalcy on taking
office in 1995 and
has been addressing problems of everyday life. Increasingly adverse
publicity around the world
about child sex in Sri Lanka also may have spurred the government to act.

The Child Protection Authority has its own police officers, lawyers and
sweeping powers to
investigate allegations of sexual abuse, illegal adoption, use of children
as domestic help and the
making of pornographic films using children.

The authority is headed by the country's president and includes the deputy
solicitor general, a
deputy inspector general of police, senior psychiatrists, pediatricians,
experts on forensic medicine
and representatives of independent aid groups.

Agents of the authority have the power to enter any premises, including
hotels, where they have
reason to believe child abuse is taking place. Anyone obstructing the
authority's work can be fined
1,000 rupees ($15) and jailed for six months.

``Now we have more muscles and we are taking concrete steps,'' said O.K.
Hemachandra, deputy
inspector general of police.

With the new atmosphere, de Silva, the authority's chairman, is attracting
interest for a little-noticed
1995 study he conducted that indicated Sri Lanka's child sex problem isn't
just with foreign
pedophiles.

De Silva surveyed 899 teen-age boys and found that much sexual abuse begins
at home.

``It was an anonymous questionnaire and 18 percent of the boys admitted
having been sexually
abused during childhood. And a majority of them were abused by either a
relative or a neighbor or
even by a priest,'' he said.

``I am not saying that we do not have a problem with foreign abusers. Indeed
we have. But we
need to set our own house in order first.''

The government last year raised the maximum prison term for having sex with
a child to 20 years.

In August, a retired Sri Lankan soldier was sentenced to seven years in
prison and fined the
equivalent of $18,000 for taking nude pictures of his 6-year-old niece.

The judge ordered that the fine be paid to the victim as compensation. The
soldier also will have to
spend an additional 12 years in jail if he fails to come up with money, a
huge amount for an army
sergeant who earned $150 a month.

Earlier this year, anti-child abuse campaigner Maureen Seneviratne sent an
investigator to the most
popular beaches, where the sight of young boys in the company of older
tourists is common.

``Most of the parents of the children know what is going on,'' said Chaminda
Millawithanarachi, the
investigator.

Millawithanarachi said parents are lured by the money a child prostitute can
earn.

``In some cases parents themselves have sold their children. One parent told
us that they were not
worried because their boys would not get pregnant,'' the investigator said.

The Child Protection Authority plans to conduct a survey to determine how
many young Sri
Lankans are involved in the sex trade. A study 12 years ago estimated 36,000
young boys were in
the sex business in coastal districts, but De Silva and others fear the
number has increased.

Mrs. Seneviratne wants the authority to find a way to stop foreign
pedophiles from reaching Sri
Lanka.

Tourists arriving at Sri Lanka's international airport are asked only if
they have enough money for
their stay. Mrs. Seneviratne said visitors should be much more closely
supervised and immigration
authorities should maintain a dossier of known pedophiles.

She contends the government has been reluctant to be stricter with foreign
visitors because it fears
damaging a major economic activity.

According to the government, 360,000 foreigners visited Sri Lanka in 1997
and spent $225
million, a 50 percent increase over the $148 million spent the previous
year. Tourism is the fourth
largest foreign exchange earner after textiles, tea and money sent home by
Sri Lankan expatriates.

Hemachandra, the police official, said the government is sincere in
promising a crackdown.

``We know there are problems, but we are now determined to solve them and
get rid of this
problem,'' he said.


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