Sri Lanka’s ability to stop international offenders from entering the country underwent a very serious and very public expose this week when it was revealed that a child abuser with 252 counts against him had managed to enter the island with no steps taken by the Police to stop him.
International media reported that a former Catholic brother wanted in Australia on more than 250 child sex charges was reported to have fled New Zealand for Sri Lanka before his extradition could be secured.
Bernard McGrath is facing 252 child sex charges in Australia relating to his time in church-run institutions in the 1970s and 1980s and was due to be extradited from New Zealand earlier this year.
But McGrath’s brother Clem told Australia’s Fairfax newspapers he had flown out of Christchurch several months ago after being contacted by a friend who said: “Why don’t you come to Sri Lanka? You’ve got nothing here.”
According to Fairfax, McGrath was now living on a tea plantation in the Sri Lankan highlands. He was paroled in New Zealand in 2008 after serving jail time for child sex offences at a Christchurch school in the 1970s – his second stint in prison for such crimes.
However, the seriousness of having such a perpetrator within the country’s borders and not being aware of it puts into perspective the challenges faced by local authorities. What is even scarier is that there may be more criminals that are entering Sri Lanka under the benign disguise of tourists to sun on sumptuous beaches and drink tea in the cool hill climes without the knowledge of law enforcement authorities.
Given the high number of child abuse cases already taking place the danger of such tourists entering the island can hardly be overstated. With limited access to international media, the space for such offenders to vanish into rural areas and return to their disgusting practices is large. It is downright frightening to consider what would have been the result if media reports had not highlighted this offender.
Even with such knowledge it is unclear what steps will be taken by the Police. Police Spokesman SSP Jayakody told media that they are “unaware” of McGrath’s arrival and would not initiate any investigation unless a complaint is made by an offended party. When asked why the Police are unable to take action against a convicted sex offender to protect local children, he Pefended police inaction by pointing out that Sri Lanka is a “democracy”.
This level of public incompetence is staggering and the fact that they are unwilling to do anything unless Australian Police and Interpol take action is nothing short of disgraceful. As a force that is sworn to protect Sri Lanka’s people, they surely do not need to sit back and wait until external police do their job.
Tourism is a two-edged sword. While it is necessary for the economy it can also have serious impact on society and Police as well as other stakeholders have a responsibility to make sure that such offenders are taken to book immediately. Unfortunately the failure of Sri Lanka’s Police to act swiftly is a testimony to their incompetence and a glaring indictment on lip service paid to protect children.