US helps Sri Lanka combat sex-trafficking, forced labour

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will get 183 million rupees (1.2 million US dollars) from the US government to fight forced labour and sex trafficking in the island, the US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement Friday.

Transit Hub

"Sri Lanka is primarily a source and a destination, and to a lesser extent, a transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the US Department of State said in a 2017 report.

"Some Sri Lankan women are subjected to forced prostitution in Maldives, Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere," The US Department of State’s Trafficking of Persons report says.

Sri Lanka is a transit point for Nepali women subjected to forced labor in the Middle East,”

The US Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs will award the funds to a new project called EQUIP – Equipping Sri Lanka to Counter Trafficking in Persons.

The funding will be made over three years through the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Sri Lanka country office.

"Through the EQUIP project, we will continue to support the government of Sri Lanka in combating the scourge of human trafficking," says Atul Keshap, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka in a statement issued by the embassy Friday.

"United States has a strong commitment to working with international partners to tackle the root causes of modern slavery and protect victims and vulnerable populations," he said.

Human Trafficking





The US Embassy says the EQUIP project will directly assist Sri Lankan men, women, and children who are at risk, and those who are victims, of human trafficking.

Analysts however caution that Western nations, which are the destinations of economic migrants, use the word ‘human trafficking’ loosely. Economic migrants from illiberal, countries where socialism or state interventions has made people poor, or escapees from war, willingly pay so-called traffickers to get them into more liberal countries.

Before World War II, especially before World War I, when there were no visas, and the nationalist-nation-state strengthened, economic migration was the norm and also the main method of reducing unemployment.

The EQUIIP project will work closely with policy makers, law enforcement, recruitment agents, trade unions, as well as business, "to amplify the impact of interventions and achieve lasting change," the statement said.

“This is a very timely opportunity for the ILO to step up efforts to combat human trafficking,” said Simrin Singh, Country Director of the ILO for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.


The EQUIP will also help combat internal exploitation especially of children.

Analysts say particularly in countries where prostitution is illegal, commercial sex workers cannot reach out to law enforcement authorities readily for whatever reason or benefit from labour laws available to others.

According to the US Department of State’s human trafficking report Sri Lankan women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation within the island.

"Boys are more likely than girls to be exploited in commercial sex in coastal areas for child sex tourism,” it says.

“Police reportedly accept bribes to permit brothels to operate, some of which exploit trafficking victims. Sub-agents collude with officials to procure fake or falsified travel documents to facilitate travel of Sri Lankans abroad”.

While Sri Lanka does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking the island-nation is making significant efforts to do so, the US Department of State notes.

Sri Lanka made progress in efforts to combat human trafficking by establishing new anti-trafficking units and creating a special police division for the protection of witnesses and victims of all crimes.


“While official complicity in human trafficking persisted, the government investigated 18 officials for allegedly creating fraudulent documents to provide workers employment abroad, and it prosecuted and convicted more traffickers than in the previous reporting period,” the US Department of State says.

“At times, the government’s inconsistent identification of victims resulted in the penalization of victims for prostitution and for immigration violations committed as a result of the victim’s subjection to trafficking.

“The government provided no specialized services to male victims and sometimes housed child victims in government detention centers.

“The government maintained specific requirements for migration of female migrant workers including those migrating for domestic work, which observers stated increased the likelihood women would migrate illegally and therefore heightened their vulnerability to human trafficking”.

The US Department of State recommends Sri Lanka investigate, prosecute, convict and punish offenders with sentences commensurate with other serious crimes.

Sri Lankan men, women and children identified as victims will also need specialized care. The US is asking Sri Lanka to eliminate all recruitment fees charged to workers by recruitment agents; instead these fees must be paid by employers.

It’s also calling for expanding Sri Lanka’s bureau of foreign employment’s mandate to include the regulation of sub-agents, promote safe and legal migration and ensure migration regulations do not discriminate on the basis of gender.


The foreign employment bureau operates short term shelters for female migrant workers in ten countries.

In 2016 the shelters served 3,552 migrant workers, but authorities did not report how many were trafficked victims.

SLBFE also continued to operate a transit shelter near the Colombo international airport for returning male and female migrant workers who encountered abuse abroad.

In 2016, the transit shelter provided medical, counseling, transportation, food, and accommodation, as needed, to 3,310 female and 3,049 male migrant workers, some of whom may have been trafficking victims.

The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 acknowledges Sri Lanka has increased its law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking, but loopholes persist.

“Article 360(C) of the penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and also covers some non-trafficking offenses, such as selling children.

“The law prescribes punishments of up to 20 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape.

“The government also frequently used article 360(A), the procurement statute that criminalizes obtaining a person to become a prostitute, to prosecute sex trafficking cases,” the report says.

However, procurement crimes, unlike trafficking, carry lesser penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment.

“These cases are often brought before magistrate judges that are generally only authorized to issue sentences of up to two years imprisonment.”

In 2016, the criminal investigation department (CID) initiated seven trafficking investigations, compared with six investigations in 2015. Five were relating to forced labour and two relating to sex trafficking.

There were six cases involved the alleged exploitation of Sri Lankan citizens overseas and one case involved a foreign national allegedly subjected to sex trafficking in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka initiated 35 prosecutions in 2016: ten under article 360(C), which included three forced labor and seven sex trafficking cases, and 25 under the procurement statute.

“One case involved the conviction of a person who procured a 16-year old male victim for a foreign tourist who sexually exploited the child,” The State Department says.

Sentences ranged from one year to seven years imprisonment. Fines ranged from 1,500 rupees to 500,000 rupees. (COLOMBO, January 19, 2018

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