PEaCE was launched in 1991 as a campaign to support the global initiative of ECPAT International. PEaCE aims to nurture collaborations among local civil society activists and to widen the child rights community to form a network for the protection of children from sexual exploitation.
The concept of establishing PEaCE originated in the year 1990 in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand when a group of Sri Lanka Child Rights activists participated at an Ecumenical Consultation organized by Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism (ECTWT).
In the late 1980s, the ECTWT conducted a research study on the impact of tourism on the children of Asia. The study initially covered the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka, later extending to Taiwan and India. Following the end of study in 1990, a five day consultation titled ‘Caught in Modern Slavery: An Ecumenical Consultation on Tourism and Child Prostitution’ was attended by sixty three academics, researchers, activists, donors, journalists, government officials and other professionals from around the world to discuss the outcome of the research conducted.
The outcome of the consultation was the launch of the international campaign to ‘End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism’ (ECPAT). ECPAT is an international network of organizations and individuals working together to eliminate child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
On its return, the Sri Lankan working group consisting of Mr. Shirley Peiris (National Christian Council), Mrs. Maureen Seneviratne (Journalist), Mr. Mohammed Mahuruf (Save the Children Fund – UK), Ms. Manel Nanayakkara (National YWCA) and Ms. Faith Abeywardena (Redd Barna), consulted child rights activists and organizations to implement action, based on the output of the Chiang Mai consultation. As a result, the decision to support the international campaign, ECPAT, was undertaken and thus “Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere” (PEaCE) was born. The five member working group that represented the ecumenical consultation in Chiang Mai transpired to be the Core Committee of PEaCE and kicked off its activities as a local campaign. Until now PEaCE remains as a close ally and the local arm of ECPAT.
With the extension of ECPAT, PEaCE was registered as a Non-Governmental Organization under the Voluntary Social Services Organization (Registration and Supervision) Act and also with the National Secretariat for Non-Government Organizations.
The journey of PEaCE began at a time when people did not want to openly address issues about sexual abuse as it was considered a taboo. It was considered against Sri Lankan cultural norms and religious practices to discuss the subject overtly.
The tourism industry and hotels were not in favour of the PEaCE campaign as it would cause severe setback to their businesses. Further, with the 1983 Black July, the industry that was negatively affected was just starting to become strong again and it was speculated that the PEaCE campaign would hamper business opportunities brought forward by large groups of travellers. Child sex tourists and local pimps travelled together in organized groups and issued threats to PEaCE members. The public were reluctant to attend awareness programs, as the subject was considered dirty and indecent to be spoken of.
PEaCE took up these challenges and handpicked organizations, working in areas where tourism had been expropriated by individuals. Intensive awareness and consultations enabled PEaCE to comprehend the real situation underlying tourism. With the help of these organizations, PEaCE was able to reach communities, religious bodies, law enforcement agencies, civil society organisations, guest house keepers and other concerned citizens.
Despite initially opposing the campaign, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board finally understood the grave crime committed against children and began to recognize the work of PEaCE. This understanding led to PEaCE becoming a member of the steering committee of the two -year action plan on “zero tolerance for child sex tourism in Sri Lanka” launched by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. The National Tourist Guide Lectures’ Association of Sri Lanka joined hands with PEaCE to change the landscape of tourism in Sri Lanka.
PEaCE was able to conduct seminars for judges with the support of the Sri Lanka Judges Institute and worked closely with the Legal Draftsman Department and Attorney General Department and was able to influence legislature to amend laws that were outdated or not able to tackle modern crimes against children. As a result there were changes in the Penal Code, Criminal Procedures Code and Judicature Act and Evidence Ordinance. In addition, PEaCE constantly lobbied for a child friendly approach within the police department, particularly in the case of victims, therefore contributing to the formation of the Women and Children Desk in every Police Station Headquarter.
Having established landmarks in combating commercial sexual exploitation of children in Sri Lanka, PEaCE celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016. In the journey towards the silver jubilee of the organization, PEaCE has been successful in contributing immensely to the protection of children living in Sri Lanka.
PEaCE has established networks around the country in safeguarding the rights of children with the aim of preventing children from being lured to prostitution. Furthermore, PEaCE focuses on helping parents, youth and children of the most vulnerable geographical areas to improve their socio-economic wellbeing. PEaCE has organized several national and international conferences, workshops, symposiums and seminar’s and is well-known locally and internationally as an organization that works extensively to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children.