Sri Lanka Sets Out to Protect Victims of Human Trafficking

Sri Lanka - Sri Lanka steps up to international standards regarding human trafficking victims. The launch of the “Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on the Identification, Protection and Referral of Victims of Human Trafficking” is evidence of the Government of Sri Lanka’s strong commitment to improve the identification of victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups. This includes foreigners detained for visa overstays, women arrested for prostitution and related crimes and Sri Lankans who find themselves victims of trafficking and exploitation whilst working regularly and irregularly overseas.

Trafficking in persons, not to be confused with the smuggling of migrants, is an organized crime extending beyond boundaries and jurisdictions. It is an issue for Sri Lanka, both within the country and abroad. Many outbound migrants are exposed to the risk of being trafficked as a result of deceptive recruitment practices and subjected to physical or sexual abuse, forced labor-like practices, movement restrictions, withholding of passports, and detention and deportation threats for immigration violations. Within the country, often women and children are exposed to the risk of being trafficked for the purpose of sexual and/or labour exploitation as a result of deceptive or coercive means used by unscrupulous criminal networks.

Combating and preventing trafficking requires a holistic, coordinated and proactive approach by all stakeholders and integrated actions on identification, protection and prosecution. The development of the SOP is a significant effort to empower the victims of human trafficking. “A rights-based approach was used when developing the SOP, with the aim to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators,” states Hon. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice and Labour Relations.

Following the recommendations of the Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, the SOP was developed by the National Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force led by the Ministry of Justice and Labour Relations in collaboration with IOM in Sri Lanka. This initiative is supported by the US Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The SOP is a step-by-step guide to all agencies involved in the identification and provision of assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking, with a special focus on the Sri Lanka police – the first responders to trafficking and related crimes –  to sensitize on their roles and responsibilities. In order to effectively combat human trafficking, strong coordination among all stakeholders is essential. Previously, it was possible that many victims of human trafficking may have been overlooked, unidentifiable, or afraid to come forward due to the lack of such support.

“Most trafficking victims are reluctant to come forward due to the absence of a protection framework. Their timely identification, referral and assistance are crucial in a country’s response to combat human trafficking. The recently passed Act on Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses provides the foundation for the implementation of these SOPs,” notes Giuseppe Crocetti, Chief of Mission, IOM Sri Lanka.

“The adoption of the Standard Operating Procedures for Trafficked Persons in Sri Lanka is part of a wider process aimed at the strengthening of the anti-trafficking system in Sri Lanka. The final aim of all extensive effort was, is and will always be the full protection and support of trafficked persons with the ultimate view to empower them and free our society from one of the most pervasive violations of human rights – trafficking in human beings,” states Kamalini De Silva, Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Labour Relations.

The SOPs, once fully implemented, will streamline a victim-centered approach in the identification, referral, and provision of services to victims of human trafficking with equality, fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy.

For further information please contact Maya Karunaratne, IOM Sri Lanka Tel: +94 (0)11532 5300, Email:mkarunaratne@iom.int