A sordid racket involving the enslavement of girls, including minors as bonded sex slaves in prostitution is reported to be taking place at a location known as Paradise Watte in Kuruwita in the Ratnapura District.
The girls are also alleged to be used in drug peddling which is being run parallel to the prostitution ring.
On an investigation made by Nation, Kuruwita police confirmed the existence of prostitution and drug trafficking, involving the girls but denied that minors were part of the illegal set-up.
The masterminds behind the racket are said to be an elderly woman identified by her alias Sewwandi, Fathima Rizna and Anusha,Nuwan, said to be her ex-husband and another man named as Prabath.
Consultant for Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere, WA Sarathchandra who is an author of various publications on criminology and formerly attached to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a thorough insight into the scourge. He is also a former coordinator of the Child Protection unit of World Vision Sri Lanka.
A woman who rescued one of the girls has also been an eyewitness to the nefarious activities allegedly under the very noses of law-enforcement officers in Kuruwita, Kahawatte, Embilipitiya and Kandy.
Sewwandi, one of the chief operators in the sex trade, is an ex-prostitute who plied her trade in Chilaw before settling down in Ratnapura. Over the years, she built up the business and made her contacts in the trade which enabled her to rope in the girls from rural areas and offer them to customers.
Sarathchandra told Nation that the girls, most of them without parents, are also taken to pack banned drugs like ganja and heroin which are sold to users.
Sarathchandra said he had information that six girls are currently being kept in the location.
The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Kahawatte Police, Chief Inspector Rohan Olugala told Nation that Kuruwita did not fall within his jurisdiction and that it was the responsibility of police in Kuruwita to conduct a crackdown if there were any illegal activities taking place.
While denying any police complicity, the acting OIC of the Kuruwita Police, Inspector Hewage explained that they knew about the matter and had sought the assistance of trustworthy villagers known to them to obtain factual information in order to build a solid case against the ringleaders and racketeers prior to making arrests.
He further added that the matter had also been discussed with the relevant officers responsible for combating crime in the said areas and were hopeful of making raids by next week.
“This type of criminal activity is not ordinary, and we are proceeding with caution in obtaining information not in a haphazard manner. Presently, we are conducting inquiries with our informants,” Inspector Hewage emphasized.
He said their initial bout of information was provided by a 20-year-old girl from Horana who escaped from the sex trade and is presently in hiding.
She was lured into prostitution at the age of 16 before her escape and earned her keepers Rs.4000 from each client. She claimed no payments were made to her by her keepers who also confiscated her national identity card. She was told to pay a ransom of Rs. 150,000 for her freedom according to Sarathchandra who said the girls would also be bailed out by Sewwandi, whenever they were arrested and produced in court.
The escaped girl who is now in the protective custody of a woman had also revealed that Sewwandi had threatened to plant drugs on her and hand her over to the police if she tipped off the law-enforcement authorities. Sewwandi is said to be shielded by a group of males who indulge in strong-arm tactics and threaten the girls.
According to information given by the escapee, the youngest presently kept in sexual slavery is a 15-year-old girl. The escaped girl has wounds on her legs, evidence of regular beatings.
The woman who now keeps the escaped girl in her custody has also been threatened by Sewwandi.
Sarathchandra and the woman providing protection to the escaped girl pointed out that there was no use in filing a police complaint and alleged that the culprits are protected by some policemen in the areas in question.
The duo want to bring Sewwandi to book and also obtain compensation for the girl by way of prevailing upon a trustworthy police official to whom they would in turn file a complaint and afterwards lodge a complaint at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and finally file a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court.
Provincial Director of the National Police Commission’s Sabaragamuwa Provincial Office, P. Koditiwakku said that the Commission could only act if the police were not taking any action on a complaint lodged by a member of the public or was taking action albeit, however, in a manner inadequate with the law or were acting in a partisan manner.
“They should lodge a complaint first. If a complaint is lodged at the Kuruwita Police and no investigations are being conducted, then one can file a complaint with Assistant Superintendents of Police or Senior Superintendents of Police or the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police attached to the Ratnapura Police or go straight to the Panadura-Walana Anti-Vice Squad who will in turn conduct a direct raid,” he elaborated.
The investigative desk of Nation is currently in possession of a telephone number related to Sewwandi who dogged an attempt to question her.
Deputy Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority, Sajeewa Samaranayake said that they had already commenced looking into the matter.
Police DIGs Priyantha Jayakody and Ajith Rohana were not available for a comment.