Sri Lanka takes steps to prevent child trafficking
The trafficking and exploitation of children in Sri Lanka has been a serious issue for decades, however the country has made tremendous progress in mitigating the problem over the past years. A national survey conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics in 2016 put children engaged in economic activities at 2.3% compared to the 12.9% in survey in 2009. This is from a total of 103,704 children, of which 39,007 were engaged in hazard forms of labour. Most concerning for the government and civil society however, is the unreported and hidden issue of sexual exploitation of children, especially in the areas popular to both local and foreign tourists.
Sri Lanka is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The country submitted its first report on the Optional Protocol in 2019 in which the UN Child Rights Committee recommended that the government, “Undertake research on the root causes and extent of the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, including in the context of travel and tourism, and the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, including online, to identify children at risk, assess the extent of the problem and develop targeted policies and programmes. In that regard, protective measures to combat child sexual exploitation should be closely linked with poverty reduction interventions and awareness-raising activities”.
Several small scale studies have also clearly indicated the issue of child sexual exploitation in the country. It is a challenge to identify, report and take legal action on such exploitation due its secretive nature and the economic benefits to children and their families. It should be acknowledged however, that the government of Sri Lanka has taken many steps in an effort to address the issue. This includes the setting up of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force under the Ministry of Justice, National Child Protection Authority interventions to strengthen law enforcement processes and the Department of Probation and Child Care Service’s efforts to provide better care for child victims of trafficking in detention care facilities.
Human Trafficking is a global issue affecting people in all countries regardless of social, economic and political context. The International Labour Organisation reports there are 40.3 million victims of trafficking globally, of which 25% are children.
Sri Lanka was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List status by the U.S. State Department in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The TIP report of 2020 has highlighted Sri Lanka’s issues as the exploitation of boys and girls in the commercial sex trade in coastal areas; child labour in small shops, agriculture and informal markets; and children forced to beg or engage in criminal activities in Sri Lanka’s larger cities.
The key challenges faced by both the public and law enforcement to prevent and respond to child trafficking include data collection, public awareness, as well as identifying child victims and perpetrators. The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), the Department of Probation and Child Care, and the Police Women and Children’s Bureau are working in partnership with Save the Children and IOM to introduce Standard Operating procedures to identify, refer and protect child victims of trafficking. The objective is to streamline and coordinate efforts among key authorities in addressing the issue of effective response mechanisms.
Section 360C (1) (c) of The Penal Code of Sri Lanka defines child trafficking as follows:
“recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives a child or does any other act whether with or without the consent of such child for the purpose of securing forced or compulsory labour or services, slavery, servitude or the removal of organs, prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, or any other act which constitutes an offence under any law”.
Under the Penal Code, any person who is guilty of the offence of trafficking of a child, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of a minimum of 3 and a maximum of20 years and may also be punished with fine.
The signs that identify a trafficked child do not differ vastly from those associated with other types of violence against children. Trafficked children do however experience multiple forms of abuse and exploitation.
Save the Children (SCI) and IOM work with the government of Sri Lanka to counter child trafficking in the country. The joint interventions are aimed at addressing key challenges in tackling child trafficking in Sri Lanka. This includes research on push and pull factors, efforts to effectively re-integrate child victims of trafficking, raising awareness among the public to increase reporting, and building the capacities of government and civil society frontline officials.
Early intervention is imperative for trafficked children to recover and heal from the violence, abuse and exploitation they may have faced.
Violence against children, including suspected child trafficking, can be reported to the NCPA child helpline 1929. Alternatively members of the public can call the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) hotline 0766 588 688 or the Children and Women’s Desk on 0112444444.
Child Activity Survey, Sri Lanka, Department of Census and Statistics and Ministry of National Planning and Economic Affairs, 2016.
 Concluding observations on the report submitted by Sri Lanka under article 12 (1) of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, UNCRC Committee, 3rd July 2019.
 Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking < https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm> accessed 03 July 2020
Trafficking in Person Reports < https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/> accessed 03 July 2020
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