Daily News Woman
Agony of the stars
Cheryl Perera unveils horrors of child sex tourism:
When thousands of horror images unfolded on the screen "grown up"
spectators turned a blind eye to simply sweep the gruesome reality under
the carpet calling it "horror". But a girl as young as 16 not only kept
her mind open to feel the horror and agony encountered by the little
actors but also actively responded against the horror of child sex
Cheryl Perera began speaking about the horrors of child sexual
exploitation and sexual tourism when she was in high school, after
reading about it for a school project.
Soon after, she travelled to Sri Lanka, where she went undercover as
a decoy in a sting to nab a paedophile. There, she was able to talk to
the children themselves, hear their stories. When she asked them how she
could help, they responded, "Tell my story."
Upon her return, she vowed to do just that. She mobilised the
Canadian Travel and Tourism Industry to get involved in the fight
against Child Sex Tourism, and she started OneChild Network and Support
Systems Inc., an organisation created and run by young people dedicated
to ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children around the
They actively took the matters into their hands. They made an
in-flight video for Air Canada that warns all outbound international
passengers against child sexual tourism. This video is seen by over
400,000 people a month.
Cheryl's passion and inspiration have touched more than 20,000 young
people as she has travelled the world, speaking out for the protection
In 2007, at the age of 21, Cheryl was named a BRICK Award Winner in
the category of Global Impact.
"It was just reading about this issue and just being so angry and sad
about it, Cheryl recalls how frustrated she was which finally turned her
a children's rights activist. She had never heard about the issue and
she just couldn't fathom anything like that. "I basically compared my
life with the lives of these children, and the differences were so
So that is what really moved me," Cheryl said. The book that she read
about a 12 year-old boy who had learned about child labour and had taken
action on it, inspired her to actually act against it. Cheryl had to put
on the dress of a child prostitute to reach the core of the matter.
"I was playing a 15-year-old girl on the internet. These people will
go on child pornography sites, and they will post messages saying, "I'm
interested in a girl of this age, or a boy of this age." And you may
have the children, or you may have the pimps who go on and offer these
They set up a place, a time to meet. If they like the way they look,
then they go to a hotel. So the police had already built up that rapport
with that person, the perpetrator, and they needed someone to come in
and act that initial meeting.
"It was like movie on screen, thrilling, adventurous and at the same
time risky. "If he liked the way I looked, then we would go to a hotel.
So we ended up meeting, and we talked for about an hour. I had a spy
camera rolling and all that stuff.
So I was able to get his confession, basically, on tape. I was asking
him what interested him and he would talk in very graphic detail. And
then the idea was that as we get up to go to the hotel, then the police
come in." Cheryl explained her mission.
Cheryl says the stories of the victims she came across pull people in
and put a human face to the issue. Sex tourism, isn't predominant in
certain countries which makes people find it hard to connect. So when
you tell stories, it puts a face to it. A human touch, she says.
Cheryl drew the support of the Canadian Tourism Board and the travel
and tourism industry to put a stop to child sex tourism in Sri Lanka and
OneChild is specifically about young people reaching out. As you
yourself get older - you are now 21 - do you see yourself stepping away?
Do you have people younger than you ready to take over?
Cheryl Perera's OneChild Network's advisory council is made up of
children between 13 and 23 years. It's not only youth-driven. It's
"This is an issue where our own people have a stake in it. It's our
own people who do go overseas and sexually abuse children.
These children are being forced into prostitution. It's being fed by
the demand of sex tourists who are coming from countries like Canada,
USA and Europe. So bringing it back to them and showing them that, they
have a responsibility to do something.
Cheryl says her visit to Sri Lanka was a mix of passion, wanting to
learn, and to bring an experience back to tell to others. She also spoke
with the National Child Protection Authority to study the state of
Cheryl hopes her movement would be expanded to sexual exploitation in
war and child labour,. "It's my dream to work for the U.N. in this area
of child protection. I would still, obviously, be involved with OneChild,"
Cheryl says. She wants to create little OneChilds everywhere.