After World War II, as border controls relaxed, tourism began to flourish in Asia, with people traveling for pleasure. However, international criminal networks also took advantage of the lack of controls in the weaker Asian countries, relocating there and dealing in drugs, sex, and illegal trades. , They preyed on the weakest and most vulnerable local communities, including youth, women, and children.
These criminals targeted incoming tourists for their operations, soon local criminal gangs too began catering to the illegal desires of tourists by selling them drugs, stolen antiques, and trafficked children.
In 1988, the Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism (ECTWT) realized that there was a strong connection between the growth of tourism in Asian countries and the increasing numbers of abused and exploited children. They planned to conduct research in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand from 1988 to 1990.
June Rogers, the ECTWT Research Coordinator, commissioned Shirley J.S. Peiris and Maureen Seneviratne to conduct the Sri Lanka research study. Subsequently, Mohammed Mahuruf, Manel Nanayakkara, and Faith Abeyawardane were added to the research team.
The research mandate was to collect data and document the effects of the increasingly visible tourism-related sex industry on children, their families, and the wider local communities.
The research team braved suspicion and opposition as they visited brothels, entertainment spots, beaches, resorts, and other tourist areas looking for evidence of child sexual exploitation. Sadly, the discoveries they made were beyond what they could have imagined.
The team discovered that Sri Lankan children, mainly boys, were being sold for sex by their parents, neighbors, and various criminal organizations. Although it was a visible social problem, the local communities failed to address it and instead chose to ignore it or even worse, treated the young boys as criminals who brought shame upon their families or communities.
All three countries submitted their reports at the Ecumenical Consultation on Tourism and Child Prostitution, arranged by the ECTWT in May 1990 in Chiang Mai, a tourist hotspot in Northern Thailand. Over sixty individuals from various backgrounds in both tourist sending and receiving countries participated.
The presentations by the working groups, including the Sri Lankan team, highlighted the severity of the issue and the magnitude of children being lured, sold, or trafficked into prostitution. After five days of deliberation, the participants decided to launch a three-year campaign to End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism, thus giving birth to ECPAT.
The working group returned to Sri Lanka following a productive consultation in Chiang Mai which resulted in the formation of a campaign called ECPAT to reduce and ultimately stop child abuse and child sex tourism. They interacted, collaborated, and consulted with local organizations and established a five-member Core Committee for the implementation of this campaign in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka Core Committee founded PEaCE (Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere), which is the local arm of the ECPAT campaign. The primary goal of this campaign is to end Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), with a focus on eliminating Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism (SECTT) specifically.
The campaign encountered a variety of obstacles, including negative reactions from the tourism industry and members of the public. PEaCE initially faced difficulty engaging support for the campaign e to the sensitive nature of the issue. In Sri Lankan society, the word “sex” was taboo and not freely spoken. It took a long time to become an acquaintance.
Moreover, the subject was connected to tourism, and the country was enjoying a good amount of foreign exchange from the tourism industry. It was alleged that this campaign was launched to harm the tourism industry, which could severely affect the livelihoods of countless people and communities who rely on it.
In 2011, Mohammed Mahuruf succeeded Maureen Seneviratne as the new Chairman of PEaCE. Under his leadership, the campaign was formalized into a well-organised structure with effective strategies to address related issues professionally and effectively. The organization’s logo was redesigned to better reflect its focus on child protection.
Over the years, the other founding members of PEaCE passed away, leaving only the current Chairman as its sole survivor. PEaCE is committed to combating the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, as well as all forms of abuse and exploitation, including protecting children from online sexual exploitation and abuse.
PEaCE is a founding member of the ECPAT campaign and the local representative of ECPAT International. The organisation is identified as PEaCE/ECPAT Sri Lanka.
Today, ECPAT International is a global network of organisations and individuals working together to end the sexual exploitation of children. ECPAT International is currently comprised of 124 members in 104 countries across all regions.
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