Cheryl Perera is an accomplished children’s rights activist, a captivating speaker and the Founder and President of OneChild, the premiere organization empowering a movement of children and youth taking action against child sex slavery. Her extraordinary contributions to protect children, and her high innovation, achievement, and leadership have earned her honors such as the World of Children Founder’s Award, the BRICK Award in the Global Impact category and distinguished her as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100, and Canada’s Top 20 Under 20.
Cheryl became socially involved at age 16, after reading about the exploitation of children, for a high school project. What she read filled her with anger, determination and resolve. Eager to take action, she traveled to her native country – Sri Lanka in 2002, to investigate the exploitation of children. Wanting to get an insider’s look into the child sex industry, she participated in a treacherous STING operation, as the” decoy” – the main role of a 15 year-old child prostitute, that led to the successful apprehension of a 40 year-old child sex offender. Her breadth of knowledge and bravery attracted the attention of dignitaries, and she was recognized by the Sri Lankan Government, having been offered a placement of one year at the Presidential Secretariat to serve as the President’s Nominee on Child Protection, at the age of 17.
These experiences led her to begin a unique education-driven initiative to mobilize the Canadian Travel and Tourism Industry to take a stand against child sex tourism. What began as a one-child initiative grew to involve hundreds of Canadian youth. At age 19, she established OneChild and under her leadership, the youth succeeded in their negotiations with Air Canada, to screen their youth-created in-flight video warning against child sex tourism. The project was launched in 2005 on all domestic and international flights, as the first and only one of its kind in Canada and the second in North America, with a viewership of 22 million passengers to date, and has been lauded as a best practice by the World Tourism Organization.
She has overseen major partnerships with international organizations such as the PREDA Foundation in the Philippines, and led fundraising campaigns that have garnered over $187,000 to construct 2 homes, and offer support services such as shelter, therapy, education, legal assistance, medical care, vocational skills training, and leadership training, for 80 girls at any one time, rescued from the sex trade, or just before being trafficked out. The current partnership with Action Pour Les Infants (APLE) Cambodia is to fund the “Against Trafficking in Persons project”, to identify, investigate, and prosecute criminals, and provide intensive legal and social assistance.
A sought-after dynamic orator, she actively addresses global audiences, UN organizations, government bodies, international business groups, rotary clubs, educators, students, religious groups, and the media on the importance of children’s rights, social responsibility and volunteerism, and has spoken to over 57,500 young people and adults, inspiring them to make a positive difference in the lives of their peers around the world.
Cheryl has also entered into professional affiliations with Air Canada, and non-governmental organizations and presented at forums, press conferences, and the first-ever nationwide Canadian campaign to mark International Children’s Rights Day, and raise awareness about the principal manifestations and the scope of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism, including its legal implications and consequences.
Through her recent province wide premiere motivational speaking tour “Break the Chains” she evokes a very powerful and important message of change and solidarity to entire school bodies, and is promoting greater awareness in Canada and the U.S. concerning the rights of children around the globe.
Committed to volunteerism with a focus on humanitarian work from age 8, she has acted selflessly and fearlessly and engaged in dangerous fact finding missions from 2002, and conducted interviews with child labourers, and children in prostitution, under the suspicious watch of the perpetrators, involving a high degree of personal risk.
She has also worked independently and with non-governmental organizations in South East Asia, Brazil, and Haiti , accompanied surveillance teams, visited dangerous zones in some of the world’s most famous child prostitution hotspots in countries such as , Thailand, Cambodia , and the Philippines, and interviewed senior state counselors, law enforcement officers, and convicted child sex offenders.
Cheryl has traveled to many others countries such as the United States, Nicaragua, Macedonia, Ecuador, Kenya, Laos, Turkey, Egypt, UK, and Switzerland, meeting with and speaking out for the protection of children, and extended her global travel to Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Mexico & Dominican Republic. She has also visited dolomite factories, slums, and tent camps, helped raise funds to build and renovate schools in impoverished communities and post conflict areas, and undertaken international volunteer missions to acquire characteristics of global citizenship.
While serving as a member of the Senate committee against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth, Chaired by LGen. Romeo Dallaire , Cheryl has also served on the International Advisory Councils and Judging Panels of World of Children Org. USA, The “BRICK “Academy – Do Something Org, USA and FLARE Magazine for several years, and participated in the Women’s Executive Network expanded WXNWisdom program and served as a mentor. Her work has been featured in the book – The Humanitarian Leader in Each of Us: 7 Choices That Shape a Socially Responsible Life, and profiled on CNN, CBC, Global TV, and The Montel Williams Show. She was also featured in various newspapers and magazines such as the National Post, The Financial Times of London, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, Flare Magazine, Herizons, University of Toronto Magazine, and the Sri Lanka Foundation Los Angeles, CA publication.
She holds an Honours BA in Ethics, Society, and Law, and Political Science from the University of Toronto, and is currently pursuing an MAS in Switzerland, in Advanced Studies in Children’s Rights. A recipient of many prestigious national and international awards, Cheryl has broken tremendous ground to turn the tables on the child exploitation industry where few would dare to tread.