|© UNICEF video|
|Children featured in a television spot promoting Sri Lanka’s campaign against child sex tourism. The ‘zero tolerance’ message has been broadcast across the island through TV and radio ads.|
By Francis Mead
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 13 July 2006 – Every year, over half a million tourists arrive in Sri Lanka drawn by its climate and coastline, and thousands of children, the majority of them boys, are lured into prostitution. Now, Sri Lanka has launched a two-year action plan to put an end to child sex tourism.
The ‘Zero Tolerance for Child Sex Tourism’ campaign – launched by Sri Lanka’s Tourist Board with support from UNICEF – targets tourists, children and teenagers as well as hotel keepers, journalists, families and community leaders.
“Sexual exploitation in tourism has become a totally unacceptable phenomenon worldwide and is reaching an alarming level,” said the head of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Udaya Nanayakkara. “Quite often, child sex tourism is ignored and denied by many actors in the tourism industry. I am confident that we will be able to put a stop to the abuse of Sri Lankan children as a result of tourism.”
The ‘zero tolerance’ message has been broadcast across this island nation through TV and radio ads. Billboards, banners, car stickers, flyers and in-flight magazines are disseminating the message as well.
|© UNICEF video|
|Sri Lanka’s campaign to end child sex tourism targets tourists, children and teenagers as well as hotel keepers, journalists, families and community leaders.|
Helping children say ‘no’
Young people like 16-year-old Ahamed Ritzvi are also part of a drive to mobilize local communities. "I’ve gone for workshops regarding child sex tourism. We gave all our ideas and recommendations on preventing it," he said.
Because marginalized children with little family supervision are the most vulnerable, campaign messages also focus on the need for vigilance by mothers. In addition, the campaign aims to generate greater awareness among vulnerable children themselves.
"We really hope that the children, boys and girls, are able to say ‘no’,” said UNICEF Sri Lanka’s Yasmin Haque. “And I think that’s key – that they feel safe in saying ‘no’ to being pulled into the sex industry.”
The legal penalty for the sexual exploitation of children here ranges from 5 to 20 years’ imprisonment. By increasing awareness and using the threat of heavy prison sentences, the campaign’s overall goal is to check the disturbing and growing tide of child sex tourism in Sri Lanka.
Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.