A research conducted by CENWOR previously revealed that common forms of traffickingincluded girls being promised jobs but being taken to brothels to engage in prostitution

Below the decks of boats overloaded to near capsize capacity, men, women and children, the so-called boat people, soiled by the blasted rays of the sun, huddle in the galleys, sweating dysentery on route their treacherous pilgrimage to the utopia of the
Promised Land.

Elsewhere, wives and mothers disembark in Arabia, seeking a way out of dire financial circumstances, only to become a rag doll at the hands of a Middle Eastern slave driver, to be dissembled into the forms and functions of a BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) fantasy.

From the aforementioned instances where human smuggling, particularly in the former and to instances of trafficking such as is the case in the latter which may also in certain instances involve smuggling, the evil of trafficking and smuggling continues unabated.

Minister of Foreign Employment, Thalatha Athukorala recently stated that Sri Lanka had been named for the fourth time in the list of countries where human trafficking took place due to the fact that many persons continued to leave for foreign employment illegally. The United States (US) Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report listed Sri Lanka in the Tier 2 Watch List.

Most recently, 36-year-old British touristguide, Julie Ann Walker who along with three others from the United Kingdom (UK), was arrested in Mumbai, India, this month, on charges of human trafficking, had confessed that she had helped fly two Sri Lankans to the UK on fake passports in January.

The fake Indian passports are reported to have contained fake immigration stamps. She had further confessed that she had become a carrier subsequent to meeting a Sri Lankan agent named Logorajan six months ago. The foursome is charged with helping four Sri Lankans migrate on forged passports.

A sum of Rs 1.7 million each had been sought from the Sri Lankans. The four British nationals have alleged that they too had been duped by agents. The said passports were to identify the Sri Lankans as UK nationals and upon entry the Sri Lankans were to surrender themselves to the British authorities and seek political asylum by stating that their lives were under threat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In the majority of the prosecutions of cases of human trafficking in the country, the actual charges are filed by the police on offences such as fraud and deception, which constitute minor criminal charges when compared to the crime of trafficking in persons.

When investigating cases of trafficking, the police must gather specific hard evidence that a person was transported from one place to another. It all depends on how the police write the report and how they write the initial complaint.

Another obstacle faced by the police is the reluctance on the part of victims to give evidence where the latter out of fear in certain cases because the offenders are known to the victims and perhaps may even live in the same village or vicinity as the victims.

According to the US State Department Report, the Government had initiated investigations into 20 incidents in 2014 and six in 2015. In 2014, the Government had conducted 10 prosecutions and in 2015 conducted five more under Article 360(c) and seven under procurement.

As far as convictions for trafficking were concerned, there had been one each in 2014 and 2015, leading to the offenders being imprisoned for two years each and fined Rs 5000 each. Procurement carries lesser penalties than those for trafficking.

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment’s (SLBFE) legal division in 2014 filed a total of 172 cases and in 2015, 189 cases against illegal recruiters and recruitment agencies for
fraudulent practices.

The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) had identified 29 trafficking victims in 2014 and 30 in 2015. The SLBFE has banned domestic workers below the age of 23 migrating to the Middle East.

The SLBFE is presently holding discussions on the question of how many agents (who should be permanent employees in the agency) should an agency have and employ. The process in this regard is presently ongoing. According to Working Director of SLBFE, Upul Deshapriya, the agency must bear the total responsibility for the employee. The proposed move is in part to halt agencies employing an assortment of criminal elements of society according to Deshapriya.

Section 360c of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, No. 22 of 1995 and subsequent amendments, deals with the offence of trafficking.

Within the context of trafficking, making arrangements for or assisting in it, procuring or recruiting persons for it, knowingly permitting the falsifying of records or registers or obtaining affidavits of consent for it, intimidation and impersonation also fall within the purview of the crime.

If convicted, the crime involves imprisonment of two to 20 years in the case of adults and between five years to 20 years in the case of children plus a fine.

The other locally applicable pieces of legislation are the Vagrants Ordinance, the Brothels Ordinance, the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, No. 47 of 1956, the SLBFE Act, No. 21 of 1985 and the Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution Act No. 30 of 2005.

A research conducted by CENWOR previously revealed that common forms of trafficking included girls being promised jobs but being taken to brothels to engage in prostitution, girls being illegally adopted for forced sex, girls falling prey to the guiles of women masquerading to be good Samaritans who in actuality turn out to be madams running bordellos (all three instances amount to sexual exploitation including for commercial purposes), girls being forced into slavery and having their labour forcefully exploited and girls being duped as to the nature of the work.

In certain cases, there is the removal of organs and putting them out to begging.

Meanwhile, the Government of Sri Lanka is scheduled to put forward a Cabinet paper seeking clearance to find a way to regulate the process of foreign employment.

As far as labour migration is concerned, trafficking mainly takes place during the recruitment stage, where acts of deception in the form of falsifying of the salaries and being sent to a different country than originally told, occur.

Licensed agencies and agents, unlicensed agents and brokers operating illegally are involved in it.

Some of these bogus agents charge high recruitment fees and use the pre-departure monetary advance given to the migrant workers as a means to keep them in a bondage to the debt through involuntary servitude.

The latter group operates and engages in illegal activities because nobody can trace or catch them. Sometimes, the visas are sent by relatives overseas in which case the individual migrating for work purposes would not be receiving the sensitization, a combination of training and awareness, programmes conducted by the Government through the SLBFE.

The Cabinet paper is therefore a move to find a link to prosecuting unlicensed agencies, agents, sub agents and brokers.

Elsewhere, there is infrastructure established to protect victims. One includes an anonymous safe house and shelter where victims can take refuge during the period when he or she is giving evidence.

Pre-departure migrant orientation programmes are conducted for domestic housemaids, garment factory workers and labourers including construction site workers and drivers and those employed in construction site related work.

Although the US Department of State criticizes Sri Lanka for not taking adequate measures to curtail human trafficking, the SLBFE noted that some of what was proposed by them was impractical.

“They propose that all sub agents should be registered. They have also proposed that agents should stop charging monies. Based on how the system functions and the nature of the business and how it operates, nothing is practical,” Deshapriya emphasized.

Human trafficking takes place in many sectors, one of which includes aspects which come under the purview of the SLBFE.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs say that they along with the Ministry of Foreign Employment, SLBFE, the Police Children and Women’s Bureau and Divisional Secretariats had implemented social care certification and family background report programmes in relation to mothers seeking to go abroad for employment purposes.

Sans the certification which is given following recommendations by the relevant Divisional Secretariat and the Police, Children and Women’s Bureau, mothers with children cannot seek employment overseas through the SLBFE. A National Task Force on Human Trafficking has been set up in the Ministry of Justice in partnership with the International Organization for Migration Sri Lanka to
counter trafficking.

The Director (Planning) of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, J.P.S. Jayasinghe said that child labour too was closely linked to human trafficking.

According to a recent survey, there are over 43,000 child labourers in the country. According to Jayasinghe, police caller help lines had resulted in the public informing the authorities of instances where child labour and human trafficking were taking place.

He explained that it was of utmost importance in terms of effectiveness that efforts taken in order to tackle human trafficking be amalgamated with poverty alleviation efforts. In this regard, a family support programme for vulnerable populations at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking is to be implemented according to Jayasinghe.

Meanwhile, Deshapriya, who is also an Attorney-at-Law, bemoaned the lack of a national policy with regard to combined law enforcement efforts in this regard and the violation of fundamental rights of those seeking overseas employment at the hands of the SLBFE.

“With regard to the criminal aspect, what happens is that the Police, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and SLBFE conduct investigations separately. The SLBFE sometimes refers matters to the police or the CID. These three State agencies don’t join and discuss. There should be a national policy in this regard involving these three Government institutions,” Deshapriya elaborated.

The Constitution guarantees the freedom to engage in any lawful occupation or profession while at the same time it enshrines as a fundamental right, the freedom of movement.

“We talk of human rights. The rules and regulations of the SLBFE violate these, especially in the case where mothers with a child or children below the age of five years, have to obtain a social clearance certificate,” said Deshapriya.

“Although this is purported to be for the sake of protecting and safeguarding the child’s interests, the move violates the right to engage in a job or seek employment of one’s choice, provided that the choice is legal, along with the freedom to travel legally.”

Another point of concern has been the allegation that women trafficked into the country for purposes of sexual exploitation were being made to pay fines to secure their release from prison prior to their deportment.

“The problem must be addressed. We must prevent this. There is however a hidden process through which human trafficking takes place. We have to minimize this. This remains the challenge. Field officers have been notified. Although during the war, internal human trafficking was a big issue, this is however no longer the case. Even though, we have managed to control the situation to a certain extent, there is more to be done,” Jayasinghe said.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police Priyantha Jayakody, Controller General of Immigration and Emigration, M.N. Ranasinghe, Information Officer of the Department of Immigration and Emigration and Deputy Controller (Computer) of Information Technology and Operation of the Department, A.H. Lakshan de Soyza, Secretary – Ministry of Justice, Padmasiri Jayamanne and Deputy Minister of Justice, Sarathi Dushmantha were not available for comment.