Preventing child abuse | Sunday Observer

Preventing child abuse

11 June, 2023

The theme of Universal Children’s Day in 2022 was equality and inclusion for every child. The UN Agreement on the Rights of the Child protects all children, regardless of class, colour, faith, or ethnicity, and guarantees them the rights outlined in the agreement, which Sri Lanka adopted in 1991.

Sri Lanka approved the Children’s Charter a year later to ensure that the convention’s provisions would drive legislation reform and enforcement, policy formation, and resource allocation in the country. The charter’s efficacy in directing legislative change and enforcement is called into doubt in the aftermath of a troubling surge in child abuse and sexual exploitation cases, some of which have ended in fatalities.

According to the information published by the National Child Protection Authority, in 2022, 10,492 incidents were reported, of which nearly a thousand related to sexual harassment, rape, grave sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation. According to law enforcement and other related sources, unreported incidents can be much higher and could easily run into several thousands more.

Child abuse is a deeply deplorable and persistent issue that continues to afflict cultures all over the world. It includes different types of physical, mental, and sexual maltreatment, as well as neglect, that cause lasting traumatic harm to victimised children. Child abuse may have serious implications, affecting not just the victims’ immediate well-being but also their long-term physical, psychological, and social development.

The most noted form of child abuse in Sri Lanka currently is sexual exploitation, which involves all forms of sexual activity imposed on a child by an adult or older person.


This can include fondling, penetration, exposure to pornography, or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. The trauma caused by sexual abuse can be devastating to a child, male or female, resulting in a range of extremely distressing psychological issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and difficulties with intimacy and trust.

Regrettably, the most disappointing factor in Sri Lanka is that the victims of sexual abuse often suffer in silence, burdened by shame and fear of insult or reprisal from society.

Ironically, the free availability of pornographic sites creates one of the most disturbing public safety issues for Sri Lankan society today. It continues to harm the present generation of children in the country. According to informed sources, free access to all pornographic sites that are easily accessible without any regulation leads innocent youngsters to appalling exploitation.

Child sexual abuse material such as videos and images, self-generated materials such as sexting, the use of software applications and social media platforms, and even live streaming are spontaneously available for both adults and children. Child abuse is one clear example of the negative effects inflicted on societies by advanced technology.

Currently, there are several acts, laws, and regulations that exist to prevent child abuse in Sri Lanka. Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No. 34 of 2005, provisions in the penal code such as Sections 308–314, cover offences related to sexual abuse and exploitation of children, such as child molestation, child pornography, and statutory rape, and Section 305 deals with cruelty. In addition, the Children and Young Persons Ordinance No. 48 of 1939 and the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Act No. 50 of 1998 are in effect as legal frameworks in Sri Lanka.


However, the most conspicuous major drawback is the prevailing undue delays in the judicial system due to multiple reasons. Despite various attempts during the past several decades to speed up legal procedures, the delivery of justice remains slow, impacting the victims tremendously.

Nevertheless, the legal framework surrounding child abuse seems to be improving with emerging proposals to introduce new stringent laws.

The Government plays a crucial role when it comes to child protection. The Government has enacted various policies, schemes, and acts for the protection of children. Though the Government has implemented several policies and schemes, as mentioned above, evidently there is still a gap between the implementation and the outcome.

It is inevitable that preventing the sharp spike in child abuse in Sri Lanka requires a more comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders, including Government institutions, community organisations, schools, healthcare providers, and the general public.

Except the perpetrators themselves, every citizen who aspires to stop child abuse of any and every form will wholeheartedly support any harsh move and action made by authorities to punish child abuse offenders.

Hence, strengthening the legal framework further is imperative to prevent child-related crimes in the country. The relevant authorities must ensure that they are comprehensive, enforceable, and aligned with international standards. Impose strict penalties for perpetrators of child abuse to deter such behaviour.

Currently, the media is playing an important role in reporting incidents. However, the evidently appealing coverage they offer to the public when reporting a crime cannot be seen when they report punishments to the offenders. This writer’s opinion is that more importance must be given to the punishments they are given by the Court of Law to make the public aware of the gravity of guilty individuals.

No matter how many laws and regulations are in place, nothing can effectively substitute for awareness and training. Therefore, first and foremost, raising awareness about child abuse through well-strategised public campaigns, community workshops, and school programs must be initiated immediately. The prevailing ad hoc efforts do not seem to be sufficient to curtail the present rapid rise in sexual crimes.


Educating parents, teachers and children themselves is of paramount importance at this juncture. A complete education about the signs of abuse, its consequences, and the importance of reporting suspicions or incidents must be included in these programs.

These initiatives often focus on teaching adults to recognise the indicators of abuse and to provide a safe environment for children. Workshops, seminars, forums, and other interactive activities are planned to allow the community to learn more about the law and share their experiences and views on how to effectively address this issue.

These programs strive to teach individuals their roles and responsibilities when it comes to spotting situations of child abuse and acting against offenders.

Parenting support is a vital aspect of preventing child abuse incidents. Hence, making parents properly aware of the subject through parenting support programs that focus on positive parenting techniques, stress management, and child development can be of tremendous value. Offering resources and training to parents on effective discipline methods, communication skills, and nurturing healthy relationships with their children can strengthen these efforts.

The authorities must also take steps to enhance the capacity of child protection services, including helplines, hotlines, and counselling centres. Ensure that these services are easily accessible, well-publicised, and responsive to reports of abuse.

Apart from law enforcement and other responsible institutions, the authorities can invite volunteers to take part and provide adequate training to ensure appropriate and timely interventions.

Empowering children to recognise their rights, understand appropriate boundaries, and develop skills to protect themselves by teaching them about personal safety, consent, and how to seek help if they feel unsafe is another constructive step that can be taken by the authorities.

In addition, the authorities can encourage the creation of child-led initiatives, such as child advocacy groups or peer support networks, to amplify children’s voices and promote their well-being.

Also, awareness of mandatory reporting guidelines, classroom-based discussions, assurance of total confidentiality on reported incidents, and professional counselling on identifying possible wrongdoers are some of the areas the authorities must address.

Child abuse is a grave violation of a child’s rights, leaving deep physical, emotional, and psychological scars. It is imperative for individuals, communities, and governments to work together to prevent and address this issue effectively.

It is also essential to remember that preventing child abuse requires sustained effort and collaboration from all segments of society. By prioritising the safety and well-being of children, Sri Lanka can work towards creating a society where every child can grow up in a nurturing and protective environment.