Lankan women lured into the Maldives : Sex trafficking on the rise in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Lankan women lured into the Maldives : Sex trafficking on the rise in Sri Lanka

Officers of the special investigation unit of the Foreign Employment Bureau recently, uncovered a prostitution ring operating out of Sri Lanka to the Maldives which revealed that around 100 Sri Lankan women have been sent overseas as sex workers.

While the news sent shock waves among people, it being perhaps the first of its kind, in a sting operation worthy of a Hollywood film script, the investigating officers nabbed two key suspects involved in the racket, thus unravelling the otherwise well planned operation by the miscreants.

To 35-year-old G* (name changed to protect identity) a resident of Galle, the job offer at a beauty salon in the Maldives seemed too good to be true. With a monthly salary of over Rs 180,000 it could be the answer to all her woes. Having received a contact number from a friend, G contacted the person, who had said, ¨Send me a photograph of you through Viber to ensure you are suitable for the job.¨

Not suspecting foul play, G had forwarded a photograph of herself to the individual, who informed through a call that she had been selected and instructed her to come to Battaramulla for the interview.

G was directed to a rest house in Robert Gunawardena Mawatha, Battaramulla where she was interviewed by a Sri Lankan and a Bangladeshi national.

Massage parlour

She says she was expected to work in a salon in the Maldives. ¨They asked me to pretend I was the spouse of the Sri Lankan man who will accompany me, so as not to arouse any suspicion,¨ she says, adding that however, she had no suspicions regarding the real nature of her employment.

Nevertheless, the truth dawned on her when she was put to work in a massage parlour instead of a salon as promised. ¨They said, I could earn more if I would provide customers with sexual services, ¨ she says.

G says, it prompted her to escape with the help of another woman as she could not agree to provide sex to the alleged VIP clients visiting the brothel, operating under the guise of a massage parlour. Having returned to Sri Lanka G proceeded to lodge a complaint at the Foreign Employment Bureau regarding the ongoing prostitution ring and trafficking of women to the Maldives.

¨Under the guidance of the Minister of Foreign Employment Thalatha Athukorale, we then proceeded to organize a sting operation to nab the suspects¨ says Media Secretary to the Ministry, Nalin Rajapaksha. Using a female officer of the Special Investigation Unit as a decoy the operation continued for over one and a half months.

On November 15 the unit was able to nab the suspects involved, through a special sting operation in Battaramulla. ¨The decoy was asked to meet him at Diyatha Uyana in Battaramulla and we apprehended the suspect as she was handing over her passport to him¨ Rajapaksha said, adding that intense grilling of the suspect revealed more about the sordid racket.

¨It was revealed that around 70 - 100 Sri Lankan women are working as sex workers in the Maldives, where there is a huge demand for them,¨ Rajapaksha said, adding that the Bureau was able to recover photographs of women already sent and others being currently vetted by suspects. ¨Women from areas such as Kurunegala, Kegalle and Galle have been sent to the Maldives,¨ he said.

¨Many women however knew what the job entailed¨ he said. “Such a racket had not been previously reported to the Bureau. This was the first time that a prostitution and sex trafficking ring has been reported to us” Rajapaksha said.

With sex trafficking becoming a global concern, in June this year, the United States placed Sri Lanka on a watch list in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. While the report stated that Sri Lanka is a primary source for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, it identified sex trafficking happening within the country, in brothels. However, the report made no mention of trafficking of women out of the country for sex trade, alleging that it could be a recent phenomena making the situation more challenging for the authorities at a time when the US has declared that the Government of Sri Lanka does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

In an effort to combat trafficking, the Government has ratified the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol while also implementing a national action plan. Establishing a special investigation unit at the Foreign Employment Bureau, and setting up a National Research Center to Counter Human Trafficking at the Department of Immigration and Emigration to train staff, promote research and enhance information sharing among stakeholders on human trafficking, have been part of their continued efforts.

Obstacles

When asked if the National Research Center to Counter Human Trafficking is still functional, Controller General of the Department of Immigration and Emigration M.N Ranasinghe confirmed, it was. However, according to Ranasinghe officers of his department often have to face obstacles when identifying possible victims.

¨If the individual has the necessary documents and does not appear to be under any duress we must let them through¨ he said.

According to Ranasinghe, officers attached to his Department can take action on a tip off or a complaint, failing which there is not much they can do.

According to Deputy Director of the Children and Women´s Bureau of the Sri Lanka Police WASP Lanka Rajani Amarasena, the unit in the recent past has not received any complaints of sex trafficking of women over the borders.

¨Such incidents can bring our country into disrepute¨ says Minister Athukorale, requesting the public to come forward with any such information regarding similar rackets. ¨Our special unit will continue to investigate and bring offenders to book to protect the country’s reputation abroad¨ she claimed. 

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