Issues thrown up by recent busting of child smuggling to Australia


Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne

By Randima Attygalle

The National Child Protection Authority’s (NCPA) Police Unit recently exposed a cartel smuggling several underage children to Australia. The boys between 15 and 16 years from Chilaw and Jaffna areas had been smuggled to Australia about a year ago and had been later arrested by the Australian authorities who deported them to Sri Lanka.

According to NCPA sources, the information on the cartel has been obtained from three deported boys who were taken into NCPA custody. The three suspects also from Chilaw and Jaffna areas have been nabbed by the police and remanded until they are produced before the court.

Need for a surveillance


Speaking to the Sunday Island, Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, Sri Lanka’s representative to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said that NCPA Police Unit must be commended for exposing the cartel responsible for the smuggling of underage boys to Australia, and most importantly, nabbing the three suspects responsible.

The efforts of the Australian authorities in this regard too should be appreciated. The parents of these boys had paid large sums to the people smugglers to get their children to Australia.

"The information is that this incident occurred a year ago. It raises several issues. There could be many more children similarly smuggled. We do not appear to have a data base or information system which picks up such serious child rights violations," said Wijemanne urging that a surveillance system, particularly covering vulnerable families where children are at risk, be set up.

An awareness campaign is also necessary so that families would know such activity is illegal and that children smuggled abroad are exposed to many risks. Law enforcement is needed to identify such people smugglers preying on the vulnerable, followed by effective legal action to bring them to book, she further said.

Best interest of children

 In this case, the boys who were smuggled were reported as being 15 and 16 years of age and are considered ‘children’ under international as well as national laws which recognize the vulnerability of children and their reliance on their families for security and protection. "But if these are violated, the State has a responsibility to intervene in the best interest of the child. If vulnerability accords them a special right to care and protection, this special right is contravened when they are smuggled. In fact, women and children are very often victims of smuggling and trafficking because of their greater vulnerability. Thus it is incumbent on State authorities to provide them with the necessary protection, which is in the case of children conferred on the NCPA." 

The suspects had divulged to the police that they had taken the ‘migrants’ to Chilaw and placed them in boats bound for Australia.  They have further said that the children were smuggled with the consent and connivance of their parents.

"This is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. Responsible parenting appears to be declining, particularly when there are factors such as poverty, unemployment, violence and other dysfunctional factors in families.

These are all issues which should be addressed if children are to obtain the rights due to them," Wijemanne observed. Children have a right to grow and develop in a family environment and therefore it is unfortunate that the very people who must provide such an environment were involved in paying for their children to be smuggled abroad, she added. The cartel involved in the smuggling was an illegal, criminal entity looking only for monetary gain.

Access to recovery

Ultimately the State has an obligation in the best interest of child victims to ensure that they have access to recovery services such as psycho social care, reintegrate with their family and regain access to schooling and health care as appropriate.

"It is important to improve surveillance systems to identify smugglers and traffickers. A confidential reporting system should be available for reporting such illegal activity preying on the vulnerability of families.

The factors which make people vulnerable to smuggling must be recognized and addressed. This is particularly so for families with children. Law enforcement is essential to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes are adequately punished according to the law."

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