14 year old Sunil*, a resident Katharagama, is a 4th standard student. His hobby includes watching Tamil movies and is a huge fan of superstar Vijay. Sunil watches three to four movies a day, with each DVD costing Rs. 60.00. With no interest in learning, Sunil collects lotus seeds to meet his expenditures.
Sunil’s parents are unaware of how he finds money to buy movies. Sunil’s father is a drug addict. His mother plucks flowers for the Kataragama Kiriwehera. As the breadwinner of the family, she collects lotus seeds and sells 1kg for Rs. 400.00 to provide for the family. However, her meager income is not sufficient for the family to live on.
“Sunil doesn’t like to learn. The school is not willing to accept him. So I also don’t force him to go to the school. I’m waiting him to find a job,” Sunil’s mother said.
Kataragama, which attracts thousands of devotees, is an ancient sacred place venerated by the Hindus and Buddhist alike. Sunil made acquaintance with ‘Indika Akka’ a female sex worker in the area who introduced him to a businessman that visits the Kataragama temple every month.
Tidying himself up in the evening, Sunil goes to the temple and sits under the ‘Nuga tree’, a notable place in the sacred land. ‘Indika Akka’ diverts pilgrims seeking young boys to Sunil, who solicits at least two for an income of Rs. 500 from each.
The income he earns, Sunil uses to buy drugs. Instead of going to school, Sunil and his friends go to the rest house located in front of the busy bus stand, which goes unnoticed as it is always crowded with pilgrims, thus making it easy for the smooth running of Sunil’s business.
“I earn money from this; I eat well, buy perfumes, talc and sometimes give some money to my mother,” Sunil had boasted to his friend.
Sunil’s parents are unaware of their son’s profession, but the villagers including the neighboring villager’s and pilgrim’s know Sunil very well as he can be seen near the Kiriwehera most evenings.
Having been a year undertaking such a profession, Sunil has not managed to save any money. During the peak seasons, October-December and July-August, Sunil travels with pilgrims to various destinations, not returning home for days. He tells home that he is at friend’s houses.
It can be seen that 14 year old Sunil has been brutally abused and exploited by individuals that come to visit the sacred temple and engage in religious activities. However, Sunil is not the only victim of exploitation in this holy land. Over hundred children, boys and girls, are victims to the desires of pilgrims and face vulnerable situations as they are sexually exploited by travelers.
*Name changed to maintain anonymity