Proclaiming a message of “zero tolerance” for child sex tourism in Sri Lanka, the United Nations is supporting a two-year action plan launched by the country’s tourist board to stop such exploitation, targeting visitors, children and adolescents, hoteliers, journalists, families and community leaders.
“A child who is a victim of sexual abuse may suffer serious, lifelong or even life-threatening consequences,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Senior Programme Coordinator Yasmin Ali Haque said of the campaign, launched on Sunday.
“As the first country in South Asia with a national plan of action to combat child sex tourism, Sri Lanka has a unique opportunity to lead the way for other countries in the region.”
UNICEF is providing the Sri Lanka Tourist Board with financial and technical support. As well as mass media campaigns on television, radio and in newspapers, messages will be relayed to tourists through a range of devices such as in-flight magazines and videos, billboards, posters, car-stickers and flyers. Legal penalties for the sexual exploitation of children range from five to 20 years imprisonment.
While the exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that thousands of Sri Lankan children are drawn into prostitution every year, the majority of them boys, with money, clothes, pens, sweets, food and sometimes the chance to travel overseas. They are exploited by foreign tourists, as well as by local people. The most vulnerable are those from poor and marginalized communities who have little supervision from their families.
Last year 549,000 foreign tourists visited Sri Lanka, with the figure projected to rise to 600,000 in the current year, and to 1 million by 2010.
The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 1.8 million children globally are exploited in the multi-billion dollar commercial sex industry, which includes child sex tourism.