Exploitation of a 15-year old for sexual activities
Sri Lanka’s prison officials escort former Maldivian state minister for finance Mohamed Ashmalee, (C) out of the Colombo Fort Magistrate’s court in Colombo on July 5, 2021 (AFP)
As at July 6, 34 persons have been arrested in connection with abusing a 15-year old girl who was exploited online for sexual activities. While some have been arrested on charges of either aiding and abetting in the crime others have been directly involved as ‘customers’. Amongst those who have been arrested include a gem businessman, a captain of a ship and several crew members, administrators and operators of several websites and Maldives’ former state minister of finance and treasury Mohamed Ashmalee. One of the latest suspects as revealed by Police Media Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana is a leading cardiologist in the country. According to Rohana, he has been practising in several hospitals in Colombo.
"Reports allege some hotels allow clients to book “services” with children for child sex tourism and some hotels use intermediaries to provide their guests with males and females"
Not a qualified cardiologist
However, College of Cardiologists President Dr. Anidu Pathirana denied claims of a leading cardiologist being arrested in connection with the racket. “There are around 50-60 cardiologists in the country and when we made inquiries it was made clear that the person in question isn’t a qualified cardiologist. So it could be someone currently in training.” said Dr. Pathirana.
The cardiologist reportedly attached to the Welisara Navy Hospital was produced at the Hulftsdorp Magistrate Court earlier yesterday (July 6) and has been remanded till July 9.
"One of the latest suspects as revealed by Police Media Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana is a leading cardiologist in the country"
Future looks bleak
Organisations such as Women in Need (WIN) have been committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls. Over the past 30 years WIN has been dedicated to addressing issues of cyber violence, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, incest, street harassment and other forms of violence faced by women and girls in Sri Lanka.
“This incident is a huge eye-opener to the society,” opined WIN’s Executive Director Attorney-at-Law Savithri Wijesekara. “A lot of girls have been used for cyber crimes including pornography and this has been happening for a while. We have taken up training police officers on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) when handling complaints of cyber harassment. But I must say that the Police is doing a wonderful job investigating into this incident and the attention given by media will make people aware of the gravity of this matter.
“Suspending the politician’s party membership for instance were positive steps and this should continue. The younger generation is torn in between cyber crimes, cyber bullying, pornography and the future looks very bleak.” said Wijesekara.
Wijesekara further said that out of the total number of complainants who contact WIN, around 30% of them are victims of cyber crimes, including abuse, bullying, peer pressure and other forms of cyber-related violence.
"Out of the total number of complainants who contact WIN, around 30% of them are victims of cyber crimes"
Can child victims actually survive?
According to the US Embassy’s Trafficking in Persons report (2020) within Sri Lanka, traffickers exploit men, women, and children in forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers recruit women from rural areas with promises of urban jobs in the hospitality sector, salons, spas, and domestic work, but exploit some in forced labour or commercial sex. Traffickers exploit boys and girls in commercial sex, including in coastal areas for child sex tourism, including in hotels, on beaches, and during annual festivals. Reports allege some hotels allow clients to book “services” with children for child sex tourism and some hotels use intermediaries to provide their guests with males and females—including children—for commercial sex. In addition to foreign tourists—including from Germany, Russia, India, and China—researchers report there is a significant local demand for underage commercial sex.
"According to the US Embassy’s Trafficking in Persons report (2020) within Sri Lanka, traffickers exploit men, women, and children in forced labor and sex trafficking"
Many who work at ground level, especially with survivors of sex trafficking claim that many incidents do not get reported. “The reason is most exploiters are within the family unit. Either the father, mother, brother, or uncle for example. It is very rare that the crime is done by way of abduction, due to the high risk of it getting reported to the police. Most young girls and boys who are exploited in this manner come from poor families and broken homes. A family member is coaxed to pimp his/her daughter for extra cash or as return for favors. Single parent homes that are plagued with poverty are mostly at risk to falling prey due to the lack of money and multiple sex partners (the single mother has many boyfriends/the single father has many mistresses),” opined a Source who spoke on conditions of anonymity.
When asked how survivors are assisted to get over the trauma the source said that the survivor mostly will be sent to an orphanage and the court will order counseling sessions to be done either within the orphanage or externally. “Although, these counselors are not trained well very often there is no follow-up system to see how the child is progressing. Basically, there is no concrete system in place to ensure that these children will ever actually survive. It is important to note that until a victim is completely healed emotionally that victim cannot be regarded as a ‘survivor’. Victims of such crimes usually die a very slow death that continues through their whole life. Basically, their life is torture until natural death.” the source added.
Young girls and boys between the ages of 5 to 17, who are exploited in this manner, come from less affluent families and broken homes (single parent homes).
"Attractive messages and events to celebrate World Children’s Day don’t seem to serve the purpose when in reality it is very much understood that a child is living in an unsafe environment in this country"
Attractive messages and events to celebrate World Children’s Day don’t seem to serve the purpose when in reality it is very much understood that a child is living in an unsafe environment in this country. The source further said that hardly any awareness programmes are being conducted except for a few on social media that hardly get delivered to the masses. “Most people in Sri Lanka are totally numb to such crimes that take place within the confides of a home.” the source said.
The source opined that if the state needs to focus on putting an end to child sex trafficking, better laws need to be in place. “Robust systems need to be set in place to handle the victims; Single parent families that live below the poverty line need to be counselled; Counsellors need to be trained in how to handle such victims and religious counsellors should be placed in the forefront for helping the victims as there is a spiritual aspect to healing.” the source added.
“Abuse of children on the Internet happens all over the world, but what are institutions such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) doing about these incidents?”
- Prof. Savitri Goonesekere an international expert on the rights of children"
What are dedicated institutions doing?
“Even though laws were introduced a long time ago, there seems to be a lack of implementation,” opined Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, jurist, academic and an international expert on the rights of children. “One of the laws were the 1995 Penal Code Amendment that includes pedophile abuse, statutory rape etc.
“Abuse of children on the Internet happens all over the world, but what are institutions such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) doing about these incidents? There has to be a Police Unit at the NCPA, but I do not know if it is there now. The late Sajeeva Samaranayake, former Deputy Chairman of NCPA was one of the individuals who was instrumental in strengthening the law. But he was interdicted by the former regime when he submitted a sworn affidavit to an Australian court stating that Sri Lanka was an unsafe environment for children and that the justice system as a whole did not respond effectively to cases of child abuse.” she said.
“A lot of girls have been used for cyber crimes including pornography and this has been happening for a while”
- Attorney-at-Law Savithri Wijesekara Executive Director WIN"
Prof. Goonesekere said that these incidents should have been tracked earlier. “However the law requires stronger amendments to address crimes happening on sophisticated platforms such as the internet. The child abuse law in Sri Lanka is very strong, but there are issues in implementation either due to the lack of institutional responses or due to lack of resources or people.” she added.
She further said that although the focus has now been diverted to the number of people arrested in connection to the incident the situation of the child also needs to be taken seriously. “Who has intervened on behalf of the child? Has the NCPA done anything about the child? She needs counseling and support, not some sort of treatment for a quick fix,” said Prof. Goonesekere.
“She is at a Lama Piyasa at one of the hospitals and is receiving treatments, counseling and support”
- Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana NCPA Chairman"
NCPA will convict all suspects
When contacted, NCPA Chairman Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana said that the entire investigation procedure is monitored by the Authority. “We get a report every other day on the progress of investigations. We affirm that we will convict all suspects connected to the incident.” said Prof. Muditha Vidanapathirana.
When asked about the child Prof. Vidanapathirana said that she is at a Lama Piyasa at one of the hospitals and is receiving treatments, counseling and support.