Document 61766

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Organisation des Nations Unies pour I’Education, la Science et la Culture
Expert Meeting on:
Sexual abuse of children, Child Pornography
and Paedophilia on the Internet:
an international
UNESCO, Paris, Room 2
18-l 9 January 1999
A Journalist’s
of the Problem in Asia.
Ms Carol Aloysius
Feature writer and Associate Editor, The Observer, Sri Lanka
CII- 98iCONF. 605/23 (only in English)
A Journalist’s
of the problem
in Asia.
by Ms Carol Aloysius, Feature writer and Associate Editor, The Observer, Sri Lanka.
A little more than a decade ago, if I were asked the question, “Is sexual abuse of
children a serious problem in Sri Lanka?” my answer would have been negative.
All I knew about child abuse in any form in my country, would be from the occasional
news reports I may have read on the rape of a young girl, usually from a remote village,
or else instances of physical assault and molestation of a child in domestic service at the
hands of its employers. Sri Lanka incidentally has a large number of young children
employed in domestic service, something the present government has now banned by
law. The word ‘incest’ especially with reference to young children was rarely if never
talked about openly, while paedophilia was a word that hadn’t still entered journalistic
Today, barely a decade later, Child abuse has suddenly become one of the hottest
topics of discussion. A word that was once whispered behind closed doors is now openly
discussed in public -- even in school debates, ever since the veil was lifted on this once
taboo subject. As for paedophilia, once a strange, even unpronounceable word to many
of us, including our editors, let alone members of the public, it is now a subject that is
freely talked about, fiercely debated, and intensely researched by all sections of the
public who are concerned by this growing evil in our society.
All this because of an awareness raising campaign by an NGO, the organisation,
Protecting Environment & Children Everywhere (PEACE). It was a study by PEACE, that
shocked Sri Lankan society as a whole into realising that far from being a haven for
tourists in search of the sun and our golden beaches, our country was also attracting an
unsavoury tribe of tourist -- the paedophiles who came here solely to gratify their sexual
needs on young children.
1. The Asian Scenario
The scenario is similar in other Asian countries as well: India, Nepal, Burma,
Cambodia, Pakistan, Thailand, Bangkok, wherever poverty exists in its extreme forms,
and where the tourist industry was expanding in order to bring in much-needed revenue
into the country. In all these countries, most of whom have ratified the Convention on the
Rights of the Child adopted by the UN in 1989 (Sri Lanka was one of the first Asian
countries to do so incidentally), child prostitution or the commercial sexual exploitation of
children has grown to unprecedented levels in recent years - largely as a result of a
developing economy and an expanding tourist industry. So much so, that today, there is
an international
organisation that has been formed called ECPAT, or End Child
prostitution in Asian Tourism.
To give you some idea of the magnitude of the problem in the Asian region alone, a
senior judge in Sri Lanka at a seminar on child abuse was quoted as saying that there are
an estimated 500,000 prostitutes 16 years and younger in Thailand, 400,000 in India,
30,000 boy prostitutes Sri Lanka, a 100,000 in the Philippines and another 100,000 in
Taiwan. This report also claims that in other countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and
Vietnam. child prostitution is also widely prevalent, while in Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma
and Laos and some provinces in China, children are being trafficked across borders for
the purpose of serving in brothels.
Some of the countries concerned however have challenged the accuracy of these
statistics and have charged that they are exaggerated, while in other countries
it is
alleged that politicians and NGO’s with vested interests have exaggerated the figures to
suit their interests.
However, while these charges may be true to some extent, one thing is certain: it is
clear from emerging evidence that the menace of child sexual abuse is now very much a
widespread phenomenon in the Asian region as a whole.
What has caused the proliferation
of this horrendous
evil in the Asian region
One of the reasons is the spread of tourism.
Although there may be a certain percentage of tourists who certainly come for
paedophile activities, not all tourists who come to Sri Lanka are like that. What has
happened is that in most Asian countries
opening up one’s country to tourists also
makes them vulnerable to paedophile rings operating world wide. Closely linked to this is
poverty and the desperation to make ends meet that has driven parents to selling their
own children to foreign paedophiles in order to keep their home fires burning.
There is no doubt that in Asia and other countries where child prostitution is
prevalent, the victims come from the poorest of the poor. They are either sold to pimps
and peddlers of flesh or induced to sell their bodies against their will, because of their
abject poverty. It is no secret that many of the victims are unprotected children, such as
street children, for whom quick money, even a negligible amount, and a few luring
presents such as a bar of chocolate or candy or ball-point pens make them easy prey,
especially to paedophiles.
However poverty is not the only reason why children fall victims to paedophilia.
Parents must also take the blame, for many of these children lack adult supervis;on.
There are lots of them who go to school and from there run out and wander all over the
place without their parents knowledge, because their parents are either away from home
till late night or do not see the importance of supervising their children’s movements or
are too busy with their own affairs.
The ignorance of their parents of the possible and
very real dangers of allowing their children to be sexually abused, is another reason why
so many young children are given the green light by their own parents, to join the world’s
oldest profession in this part of the world.
To cite an often quoted statement by a father asked by a social worker in Lanka why
he allowed his teenage son to be abused by foreign paedophiles his reply was, “My son
cannot get pregnant. So what does it matter since he brings in much needed cash? Little
did this same father realise that his son would end up with AIDS
later and eventually
succumb to the disease.
Child Pornographic
Material in Asian countries
& the role of the Media.
Another reason accounting for the flood of paedophiles to Asian countries, is the
prolific availability to them of child pornographic material in video parlours and on the
Internet. This prolific growth of child pornographic material, much of which has originated
from this part of the world -- the Philippines,
countries, is an emerging problem in Asia.
and Sri Lanka, to name a few
For instance, a leading politician from our country is said to have told a group of
parliamentarian, that Sri Lanka leads the world in child sex and pornography in the whole
of Asia. He was, it was said quoting from the UNICEF Geneva conference where this
observation had been made. In recent years, this problem has escalated so much in
South Asia where it is believed that there are as many as one million children under 15
years who are in prostitution and selling their bodies for sex or for pornographic films
that it has caused grave concern to child activists, who are now reaching out for help from
the Media to combat this menace.
The response from the Media has been positive and encouraging to say the least,
and all over Asia, the media has use various strategies to halt this widespread abuse of
children. One very effective strategy has been an awareness raising campaign to alert
the public of the number of young boys (and girls), some as young as eight and nine,
who are being used as models to pose for pornographic films that whet the sexual
appetite of paedophiles looking for new prey.
The role of the media in raising awareness of this growing phenomenon in Asia has
been a positive one. In recent years, largely due to the media becoming the chief
instrument by used to publicise and highlight issues on child sexual abuse by NGO’s both
the print and electronic media in my country for example has given increasing space and
time for such findings and cases of child sexual abuse to be published. televised and
broadcast as important news. These reports usually range from short news stories, to
lengthy feature articles and even editorials written on the subject. It was these stories that
have provoked debates at the highest level i.e. in parliament, and evoked a concerted
protest from the public urging the government to take some stern measures against this
rapidly growing, frightening menace to our children.
For example in 1992, when the subject of paedophiles was still relatively very new
in this part of the world, and local newspapers in Sri Lanka first broke the story of a raid
conducted in a Stockholm house which found stacks of material and letters shared by
paedophiles giving detailed descriptions of sex organs of child victims and pornographic
videos, most of them allegedly from Sri Lanka with titles such as ‘Boy Love in Negombo’
and ‘Hikkaduwa’ with Sri Lanka being described as a ‘Child Sex Paradise,’ the public was
so shocked and outraged that my newspaper was flooded by letters from readers who
expressed their indignation in strong terms and demanded that the government do
something to protect these hapless children.
News reports of cases where foreign paedophiles were found taking pictures of
naked young boys or possessing video cassettes showing nude boys being sexually
abused by foreigners, were usually followed by whole feature stories that were given
prominent place in the newspaper, creating country-wide awareness of the problem, at a
time when no one even knew the problem existed in our conservative society, where
children are traditionally regarded well protected from such abuse by their parents.
I remember one article I wrote after attending a media conference in the early 90’s
when the issue of paedophile activity in Sri Lanka was just being raised by the PEACE
organisation. I had to explain what the term meant to my editors. Once they realised the
significance of the issue they wanted the story splashed in a big way in our paper. The
result was a deluge of letters on my desk, some of which charged that the story was
exaggerated or simply untrue, since many just refused to believe we had this ‘Evil under
the Sun’, to quote a title from the title of a book written by Maureen Seneviratne.
What is still more encouraging about this awareness raising campaign is the interest
taken by Editors of newspapers who have written several editorials on the subject.
Recently, a Swiss national operating a big commercial venture had posed as a
philanthropist and benevolent godfather to young boys whom he sexually abused, some
with the consent of their own parents. The person was summoned to Court and charged.
My newspaper wrote in an editorial that “the bane of benevolence has called for a new
approach to the problem -- not the least of which is that the public has to be educated
about the damage done by such activity to their own children.” He concluded by stating
that it will be a sad day if parents connive in sacrificing their children to rapacious
foreigners because they are benevolent.”
Today, the media, working closely with child activists have persuaded our local
Tourist Board to include a clause in its brochures advertising our country which clearly
states that sexual abuse of children is a criminal offense, thus warning paedophiles that
they are not welcome here. The Tourist Board has also set up a Task Force to create
awareness among hotel managers and staff so that they will keep their eyes open for
any would be child abusers. However most child abusers do not head for the big hotels
but rather the one in unorganised and uncontrolled areas.
The same thing is happening in other Asian countries as well -- India, Thailand, the
Philippines, wherever the government has also committed itself to combating child abuse
in all forms, and where the media have joined hands with government and NGO’s and the
police, in eradicating this menace in our society.
Certain sections of the media have gone a step further than merely carrying out
awareness campaigns. They have offered to help investigate some cases brought to their
attention, taking on a police role. A privately owned Sri Lankan newspaper started a hot
line on child abuse asking the public to call in and also volunteered to send out reporters
to investigate the cases if no one else came forward to do so!. It is this kind of innovative
action we need to make the Media play a more meaningful role in the war against child
sexual abuse in Asia.
Apart from pornographic material which one can now discreetly view at a video
parlour or borrow a video to watch It in the comfort of one’s own home, child pornography
on the lnternet has become one of the gravest problems and challenges that face our
Asian society particularly, today.
Child pornography on the lntemet is a problem that has come to light recently
because the lnternet itself is expanding so rapidly in the last decade it has gone from
being an obscure resource used occasionally by academics, to being a mass medium
used by approximately 100 mrllion people in the world. The figure, we are told is growing
every day. Worse still, it has become a place where sex pen/ens, such as paedophiles
and child pornographers go to look for their victims. Asian children form the bulk of the
In Sri Lanka, a high ranking offlclal from a government department dealing with child
care is alleged to have admitted that there are at least 600 boy children from this country
who are regularly advertised on the intemet with detailed descriptions of their bodies by
providers of pornographic matenal requested by paedophiles.
Most of these children, we can lmagrne are high risk kids, the Beach Boys as they
are often known because they roam the beaches and fall prey of paedophiles, children
from broken homes, or children lacking in adult supervision who easily tempt them with
baubles in exchange
pornographic films.
for either
or else
With no stiff penalties to deter them from their activities till recently when the penal
code was amended,
making child pornographic films was a lucrative and flourishing
business in this country. It is only now with passing of a new law against obscene
publications involving children , that there seems to be a lull in this once lucrative trade.
Or has it merely gone underground?
Role of the Media in preventing
on the Intern&
in Asian
Since the vast majority of children used for such pornographic material are from
developing countries in Asia, the role of the mass media in this respect assumes a
greater potential and significance.
Why is it that Asian children form the bulk of victims of child pornographic material on
the lnternet as well as on videos that are daily watched either in a video parlour behind
closed doors? What makes them an easy prey to paedophiles from other countries who
come specially to these developing nations looking for such victims whose names,
addresses and sex organs have been described in detail on the lntemet by providers of
such material? How can the media act as a sentinel, a watchdog and prevent such
pornographic material from appearing on the Internet?
These are questions that the Asian media must address in future.
Although the lntemet is a recent phenomenon in the Asian region -- in SriLanka,
there are have less than ten thousand users of the Intemet-- because it is still beyond the
reach of the average man due to the high costs of using lnternet facilities, still, in the new
millennium it is likely to spread in the Asian region too. Before this, the Media must be
alert, report any findings of pornographic material on the lnternet without giving graphic
details so as to rouse the desires of child abusers reading such reports, and caution
parents of high-risk children used for making pornographic material.
In my opinion one of the most effective strategies apart from creating
awareness among the public is to win the commitment of political leaders, to this
change is to come about in laws protecting children from such abuse, then there
political commitment. This I believe is happening right now in many countries
Asia where the media is carrying out a sustained campaign to protect children at
encouraging results.
Let me give you some examples
cause. If
must be
of South
risk, with
from my own country.
Today, we have a President who is personally leading a crackdown on child abuse.
She has appointed a special committee under her purview to probe into child abuse
scandals, as well as to suggest proposals to overcome this problem. One of the results is
that we now have a new central Body with wide powers and wide representation called
the Child Protection Authority directly under her purview. Hopefully this Authority will
introduce laws and reforms that WIII fill the gaps in providing adequate protection to
children at risk.
In 1995, the President initiated a series of amendments to the country’s antiquated
Penal Code in which new offenses against children were introduced. We also have a hot
line under her purview where any complaints against child abuse are received.
More importantly from the point of view of the subject we are discussing today,
obscene publications relating to children is now made a criminal offense under the newly
amended Penal Code. Thus a person employing, using or inducing a child to appear in
obscene or indecent exhibition , photograph or film , or the selling , distributing or having
in possession of such photographs of films of children, is liable to a jail sentence. A
further amendment by the 1998 Penal Code Amendment Act requires developers of
photographs and films to inform police of any discovery of any indecent or obscene
or films especially relating to children. Non-disclosure
is an offense
punishable with imprisonment. The chief motivator behind these changes was the Media,
working again closely with child activists to raise awareness and urge for changes in the
existing laws.
Due largely to this political commitment from the highest authority in our country
some foreign paedophiles who had come to Sri Lanka solely for this purpose, are now
being jailed or deported to their own countries to face jail sentences there.
2. Shortcomings
on the part of the Media.
There are however some negative factors we have to consider with regard
Asian media. The Asian media have however been sometimes accused of not
sensitive to child abuse issues. We have been accused of not being well informed
subject, of not researching into the facts and statistics given to us, of covering
related to child abuse in an irresponsible manner and jeopardizing the child victim
than protecting him or her.
to the
of our
The Asian media have also been accused of failing to question the sources from
whom they receive statistics and information, and aligning themselves to NGO’s with
vested interests, who are mostly donor aided and are thus merely echoing the sentiments
of their donor agencies.
It is thus up to the Media to be ever alert when reporting on child sexual abuse
cases and they must guard against vested interests and hidden agenda on the part of
various NGO’s involved in such campaigns. They must try to infuse balance and
objectivity into their reporting.
To reply to a charge that the Media in Asia sometimes superficially cover issues on
child abuse, let me explain that if this is true, it is not on purpose. The Asian Media are
also limited by a lack of full time specialists in the field of child abuse (few papers in the
Asian region can afford the luxury of employing full time child abuse correspondents) and
are therefore not in a position to critically evaluate what information they receive.
lnspite of these shortcomings. I reiterate, the Asian media have a great potential in
helping to combat child abuse in the region as a whole. In Asian countries where the
Media often play the multiple roles of being the first Informant, Commentator and Guide; it
can play a very powerful role in combating sexual abuse of children.
The Media are today all pervasive. They saturate our daily livesThey reach out to the
masses and stir their conscience, change their attitudes towards the sexually abused
child, provoke governments to Introduce stiff legislation to protect them.
Now that the Media in the Asian region are gaining more freedom to express
opinions freely with the proliferation of independent non government newspapers and
television and broadcasting stations, as we have in many developing countries, mine
included, this is the time for both the print and electronic media to engage in some real
soul searching; on how best they can use their recourses to achieve that goal.
The most formidable and also important challenge for the Media both in Asia and
other parts of the world in the new Millennium is child pornography on the Internet. The
Asian Media which are just receiving the benefits of the lnternet should be ever alert and
vigilant of such material and should educate the public, warn would be providers and
inform the police when such material brought to its notice, thus preventing the paedophile
from accessing such material at all costs.
If on the other hand the media simply sit back and do nothing, they would be passive
perpetrators of a grievous wrong to hundreds of hapless child victims already trapped in
this evil web.
I believe that workshops and seminars such as this at regional level can help Media
personnel to exchange ideas and common problems and work out effective solutions for
their respective countries more effectively.