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Sex Tourists In Sri Lanka Make Life Hell For Children

By Juergen Hein     May 29, 2001 in Technology
COLOMBO (dpa) - Niluka from Sri Lanka was just seven years old when her childhood came to an abrupt end.

The little girl fell into the clutches of a pimp who ran a brothel for tourists on one of the beaches near the island capital Colombo.

Even when social services workers tried to help her Niluka was too frightened to give evidence against the vice racketeer and told police she was not being abused.

When police questioned other child prostitutes in the area they also denied they were part of a prostitution racket.

The children kept quiet for fear of reprisals by the people manipulating them, said Maureen Seneviratne, chairperson of non- governmental organization PEACE. She has just issued a harrowing collection of case studies on child prostitution in Sri Lanka.

Niluka is one of more than an estimated 10,000 boys and girls abused every year by sex tourists and pornographic filmmakers who have turned the island paradise into a hell for some innocent children.

"It hurt every time and the pain never stopped" Gamini Fernando, a street boy "trained" for sex by a foreigner, was quoted in the report as saying.

Another youngter whose name was given as William took a job as a lift boy in a hotel but was quickly drawn into the sex business. At the age of 14 he was hospitalised with syphilis. "Many of the children have contracted sexual diseases, including AIDS," said Seneviratne.

For Seneviratne "poverty is the main reason for the fate of these children. Most of them come from dysfunctional homes".

Either the child's mother works abroad or the father is a drinker or else both parents are poor and cannot cope with looking after their offspring.

This is when pimps move in, sometimes hiring their victims from relatives for paltry sums of money. In some cases they pick up children on the streets and lure them into the trade.

"The families need an alternative so that things can change" said Seneviratne.

For many tourists Sri Lanka is a paradise. South of Colombo there are endless palm-fringed beaches and many visitors oversee the poverty lurking in the picturesque fishing villages.

There are also no traces in this area of the brutal war in the north between the Tamil separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan army.

Yet the beauty of these locations can be deceptive. Gangs involved in child sex rent villas and convert them into brothels. According to Seneviratne, the sexual services of more than 600 children in Sri Lanka are currently on offer via the Internet.

Experts say it is is hard to mobilize public opinion against the outrage since articles drawing attention to what is going on can also attract paedophiles.

Child abusers from abroad may hope to avoid punishment for their proclivities while indulging in them far from home but the chances of them being caught and punished are increasing.

PEACE is increasingly lobbying the countries where sex tourists originate and more than 20 countries, including Canada and Germany have laws to punish sexual offences even if the crime was not committed in their territory. "These laws are a blessing," said Seneviratne. The law has existed in Germany since 1993 and there have been a number of prosecutions.

The paedophiles are also at risk from their own pimps who not only peddle sex but are happy to pass on to the authorities information on their clients.

PEACE is at pains to point out that local child abusers still commit two-thirds of the crimes and that sexual exploitation of children is a problem of the local society too.

Local laws have been tightened but experts say measures so far are not sufficient and children continue to be haunted by the traumatic experiences.

"They need help in order to return to normal life and for that there are far too few therapy places in Sri Lanka," said Seneviratne.
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