The report, released by Clinton at the State Department, describes Sri Lanka as primarily a source rather than a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
Just a generation ago, before stringent child labour laws were introduced, children were used in all forms of labour — from working in hotels to toiling in factories. It was a common practice to employ children as young as six to do chores and act as ‘playmates’ for masters.
Sex trafficking, especially of children among the coastal areas, has always been high in the island which remained a tourist destination even throughout the years of insurgency. According to government agencies, most of the children in the sex trade were forced into prostitution by their parents.
The 2012 TIP report confirms that boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution in coastal areas for child sex tourism in Lanka.
Post-war Lanka’s child exploitation issues have taken a sharp turn.
For three decades, the country grappled with thousands of children in the North and the East being abducted and trained as soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), notorious for using children in war. Child prostitution, especially in the coastal areas existed during the war period. But now, it is time for shifting of the spotlight to children being exploited and abused.
The exact figure of children exploited in the sex tourism is not very clear. The numbers given by various governmental and non-governmental organisations range from 10,000 to 36,000. Whatever the numbers are, there is a sharp rise in sex trafficking in the island since its victory over the LTTE in 2009.
With the development of Lanka as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and a high exchange rate with a single US dollar fetching 120 Sri Lankan Rupees, there is a fear that more children will be forced into sex tourism by poor coastal families and pimps unless the government brings in powerful laws to curb the menace.
During the past decade, the country has introduced some stringent laws against child abuse.
However, individual offences still go unnoticed. Recently, in a shocking case, a Buddhist monk who was convicted for sexually abusing children in the UK was exposed for running an unlicensed children home in Lanka.
According to the BBC, alleged sexual abuse of children by monks and priests in Lanka is a common offence that goes unpunished. Children’s Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadda said that the nation needs tougher laws.
Perhaps that would be one way to save the children.