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 challenge UNESCO, Paris, Room 2 18-l 9 January 1999 A Journalist’s Perspective 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 perspective 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 language! 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 particular? of this horrendous evil in the Asian region in 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 7 from this part of the world -- the Philippines, countries, is an emerging problem in Asia. Thailand 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 victims. 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 gratifying their sexual needs or else posing for 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 countries. child pornography 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 general 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 photographs 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 being of our issues rather 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.
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