By Christopher Rezel –
The spread of HIV has grown significantly among Sri Lanka youth in the 15 – 24 age group within the past five years, the National STD/AIDS Control Programme says.
Director Dr. Rasanjali Hettiarachchi recently told the media an estimated 3,700 HIV cases have been diagnosed on the island.
She estimated only 60 percent of HIV patients are receiving medication, while the remaining 40 percent live in the community unaware they are infected.
She says unsafe intercourse is the main reason for the spread of HIV among the younger generation.
Doctor Hettiarachchi did not provide figures for gonorrhoea and syphilis, two other serious sexual diseases.
Time and patience are needed to obtain figures for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the nearest annual report (2019) of the National AIDS/STDs Control Program. There, amid colourful photos of officials and graphs, rough quarterly figures are provided, rough because it’s not known how comprehensive the assessment are.
Besides STDs, there are also sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – the difference between the two being the words Disease and Infection.
STIs include hepatitis B, chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, pelvic inflammatory disease, pubic lice and others.
I am unaware if there is central monitoring and reporting for STIs in Sri Lankan.
However, in a report dated 2012, the World Bank tells us that “Every year estimates of detected STI cases in Sri Lanka vary from about 60,000 to 200,000, of which only 10-15 percent are reported by government clinics”. There is no revised and updated report.
Such figures should be worrying even though they relate to a 10-years-old estimate.
Doctor Hettiarachchi says sex education is imperative if Sri Lanka must lessen the spread of AIDs among the young.
Human body deemed vulgar
But learning about the human body and procreations is considered immoral and vulgar by powerful Sri Lanka politicians and religious heads.
As recently as December 2019, Venerable Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera told a press conference that efforts to introduce sex and reproductive health into the school curriculum with the Grade 7 textbook Hathe Ape Potha, was an attempt to sexually exploit young children.
The book was produced by the previous government’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education.
The Thera’s misbegotten outrage played out well in the media and brought about a parliamentary committee meeting and other high-powered gatherings.
Those who got together were the Maha Sangha, medical experts, university professors, academics, officers of the National Child Protection Authority, and officials of the Ministry of Education.
The outcome, if any, has not been made apparent.
Meanwhile the young who are going down with HIV, STDs and STIs are undoubtedly obtaining their sex education on computers or smart phones via the proliferation of phonography sites on such devices.
Indeed, if you were to type in appropriate phrases on your search engine, you’ll find thousands of photos and videos of attractive young Sri Lankans demonstrating a commendable mastery on lovemaking, giving fair competition to their international counterparts.
Gone are the days when schoolboys got sex education through secretly passed-around roneod sheets titled, Tales of a Travelling Salesman. Those provided exciting details about the seduction of wives, daughters and servant girls by the hyper-sexed young Sri Lankan salesman, renting out rooms in home after home.
Some schoolboys of my era were lucky to lay hands on prohibited magazines with nude black-and-white photos.
One sure method of decreasing sexual diseases in society is to regularise the sex industry and make it part of normal tax and commercial activity.
Once policing barriers are removed, social workers can more easily provide medical and counselling assistance to sexual workers.
Decriminalizing the industry will also ensure the health and safety of those participating in it.
Robed & secret hypocrites
But the suggestion may be abhorrent, particularly to those who project themselves as morally upright but engage in all forms of sexual deviations and perversions behind cloistered doors and high authority.
Consequently, we no longer hear of The Centre for Sex Workers Rights (CSWR) and its brave Co-Chairman B. Maheshwari who once fronted a press conference to urge that their profession be legally recognised if only to control the spread of sexual diseases, especially HIV.
But, “We Sri Lankans don’t do sex,” seems to be the attitude of the powers that be, particularly with such “uncorruptable” ministers like Wimal Weerawansa who once raised hell in parliament over the CSWR and over deliberations for granting legal rights to gays.
The country’s media too seems reluctant to discuss at length or consistently the important subject of sex and sexuality (shyness? laggai?).
This is almost 2022 and many decades ago as reporter on The Ceylon Daily News I interviewed a medical specialist on the increase in venereal diseases in the country. My carefully written report was spiked by a deputy editor who chastised me with, “We don’t publish such stories. We are a family newspaper.” The particular individual was installed by the then incumbent political party to ensure nothing adverse against the party got into the paper.
And yet, despite all such shenanigans, Sri Lanka wholeheartedly promotes the tourism industry, ignoring the fact that prostitution thrives parallel with tourism everywhere in the world.
Not a criminal offence
As it legally stands though, prostitution is not a criminal offence in Sri Lanka, but brothels are.
Making that clear was Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake when he acquitted a woman last February who was arrested in a brothel.
He said there were no prevailing laws in Sri Lanka against a woman who independently engages in prostitution as a means of earning a living, but that operating a brothel was an offence.
He said the Vagrants Ordinance and the Brothel Ordinance were the laws that govern prostitution in Sri Lanka.
The Vagrants Ordinance only deals with a prostitute when she is behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner in any public street or highway (Sections 2 and 9) while the Brothel Ordinance provides punishment against any person who keeps or manages or acts or assists in the management of a brothel (Section 2), the magistrate said.
Police personnel who habitually raid brothels and coldheartedly parade women before media cameras, with themselves importantly in the forefront, should be required to get acquainted with the law as it stands.
Attempting to use the police and law to control brothels and prostitution is mere farce.
Such raids and media feeds have been going on over the decades and done little to abolish prostitutes and brothels.
They have only given the raiding party some sought-after prominence.
It is accepted that young men in uniform worldwide are the most frequent customers at brothels, with brothels at the lower end of the scale proliferate near military camps and police stations.
It is also known that brothels operating at the higher end of the scale have little to fear about police raids.
They arrange meetings in private residences or star class hotels.
Additionally, many sophisticated prostitutes have moved online and now market themselves through secret personal websites.
Earning a living
Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake’s reference to “earning a living” is of relevance because that’s exactly what women are doing by working in a brothel.
It must also be recognised that not all men and women prostitutes are victims.
Many do so as a convenient and rewarding way of making a living.
There are also those for whom prostitution is the only prospect due to lack of education, job opportunity, or poverty.
Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, a former chairwoman of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, is on record as having said sex was the only way open to women widowed during the 37-year conflict who had to submit to the sexual demands of officials in order to get anything done, even routine paperwork.