Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sri Lanka faces a growing epidemic of child abuse

Time   Every day, three to five children are raped in the island nation. Police statistics show the total number of child rapes in 2011 as 1,463; the figure jumped to 1,759 cases in 2012, according to a parliamentary report. Police records also give a total of just over 2,000 sexual offenses against children, besides rape, in 2011; child-molestation cases in 2012 soared to over 5,000, according to parliamentary figures. The total number of all crimes against children — which besides sex crimes include crimes of violence, abduction, trafficking and other offenses — increased by a dramatic 64% between 2011 and 2012. 

 Some of the increases can be explained by growing awareness of child rights leading to increased reporting of incidents, but Sri Lanka remains a country where “the family unit is extremely tight-knit and the honor of the individual reflects on the entire family,” says Alia Whitney-Johnson, the founder of an NGO working with survivors of sexual abuse in Sri Lanka, who was interviewed by TIME via e-mail. “It is extremely difficult to report abuse, particularly incest.” [...]

But a more important factor may be the growing number of Sri Lankan women who seek to alleviate poverty at home by taking jobs overseas as domestic helpers. The children they leave behind are often defenseless against abusive fathers and predatory male relatives. (Even so, a comparison with the Philippines — another country where large numbers of women have been obliged to find work overseas — is disconcerting. Based on available official statistics, there are roughly 17 cases of child abuse for every 100,000 people in Sri Lanka; in the Philippines, there are just six cases per 100,000 head of population.) [...]

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