Categorized | Feature, Interviews

He is not going to hurt another child:Cheryl Perera – Founder and President of One Child

Posted on 11 November 2009 by .

At the age of 23, Cheryl Perera has been one of the most powerful women of Canada. She has been yearning to do something since she was in elementary school. She has worked with social justice clubs, at local food banks, at old age homes, with mentally disabled kids and the list continues. She owes her sense of compassion to her parents who are immigrants from Sri Lanka.


“I enjoyed helping others,” she says and found her passion in raising awareness about child prostitution and doing something to get rid of it from our communities.

At 16, she researched and made deliberate attempts to help children get their voice. She discovered this passion after reading about child prostitution at Thailand. The read instigated anger in her that she channeled in the most constructive manner. “It was that anger that made me do something,” she says.   Today she is Founder and President of One Child with the motto “one child exploited is one child too many.”

At that young age, it was hard for her to explain to her parents and to other people that you mean business. Cheryl’s case was no different. Her continual talk about the issue of child prostitution, researching about it extensively, made her parents realize that she is really excited about it. However another 12-year old had inspired Cheryl to think to herself “If he can do it, I can do it.”

Belonging to “yes, we can” generation, she requested a meeting with the President of Sri Lanka to take up the issue of child exploitation and prostitution with the highest authority of the country. Eventually she got an opportunity to meet not with the President, but with Advisor to the President on Social Infrastructure.

Taking time off of high school, she went to Sri Lanka to catch one child predator. She acted as a bait to catch this predator. The way she described it, it was like a scene out of CSI. She was dolled up as a 15 year old, she faked Sri Lankan English accent, she was wired, she had a spy-camera rolling, she was told by the predator about his wife and his kids, and after about an hour, at the price of Rs. 2,000, the two decided to meet at the hotel. This is when the police moved in and arrested the man. She, now, jokes about how she was worth Rs. 2,000 which is almost $50.00.

 Her relief was “he is arrested, he’s not gonna hurt another child.” She recalls seeing the man with handcuffs and being happy about it. This was the second time she had visited Sri Lanka and it was to uncover “the worst parts in Sri Lanka.” Her family in Sri Lanka had hard time comprehending why a girl would come from all the way to Canada, to miss school and to “do this dangerous work.”

In spite of all this hard work, she is as normal as the next person when it comes to public speaking. She would sweat, be nervous, tremble; however her commitment to the cause she believes in helped her overcome her fear.

Since she was only 17 and at high school, she had to transfer to a high school that could give her education as well as to provide her room to pursue her passion. Today, at University of Toronto, she is taking classes in Ethics, Society and Law and Political Science.

“What’s the point,” she said when I asked her “didn’t it occur to you that maybe you should finish your education first?” She went on to say “For me it’s seeing someone hurt and saying I have my own life.”

“Racism is definitely an issue..I have faced it right to my face..It’s systemic and very subtle.” She narrated an incident where at her friends’ house, she was told by a six-year-old that “I don’t like you because you’re black.” She felt really sad as to what this kid was learning and that human beings still discriminate one another in terms of skin care. “Education does foster it,” she says. “In our history books, it’s men who really accomplish things. We’ve a black history month, it’s just one month.”

In her attempt to bring about change as a young woman, she feels that youth are not taken seriously, and it pisses her off. She feels insulted that just because she is young, she would not be taken seriously. This had happened more than once to her. When she met with Advisor to the President on Social Infrastructure, the lady was telling her basic facts that she had learned using internet. Her bombardment of questions of what is being done to eradicate child prostitution “shocked” her. Her awareness and dedication to the issue was rewarded as an offer to the position of President’s nominee for child protection. However she refused because “my work is in Canada. I want the youth not to emphatic about the global issues.”

Author:Manjeet Singh

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