Child abuse prevention in Anuradhapura | Sunday Observer

Child abuse prevention in Anuradhapura

3 September, 2023
A workshop for health employees including nurses and sisters.
A workshop for health employees including nurses and sisters.

Child sexual abuse and exploitation is a dark and pervasive reality in Sri Lanka, with countless cases going unreported due to the crippling weight of social and cultural stigma. The estimated child population below 18 years in Sri Lanka is 6,214,692.

Every year the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) receives 8,000 to 10,000 complaints related to different types of child abuse including child sexual abuse and child sexual harassments. The NCPA received 10,497 complaints in 2022 and 1,107 are related to child sexual abuse and harassments. (sexual exploitation - 25, sexual harassment - 729, rape - 167, Incest-1, grave sexual abuse - 185).

Dr. Thilani Rathnayake who 
pioneered the Rakawarana program.

These cases are reported from every district, in spite of the efforts of government and non-government organisations, including law enforcement agencies, working tirelessly to prevent this menace. There could be a significant number of cases not reported to the authorities due to various cultural and social reasons. The reporting from different sources has a significant variation. 

For example, a recent study done within 31 sexual Health Clinics representing all 24 districts found the following results. For children presented to clinic in 2022 (Sample size 1968), such as  127 females under the age of 18 years were found be pregnant (teenage pregnancies) and the lowest age for pregnancy was 12 years and  significant number of pregnant teenagers had an education level of below GCE O/L which indicates the current knowledge on safe sex among teenagers in Sri Lanka is inadequate, 101 children diagnosed with and treated for sexually transmitted diseases including Herpes, Syphilis, gonorrhoea, genital warts whereas mostly females are sexually assaulted than males and majority of them were 15 years of age and 92 percent of children who were sexually assaulted had a low education level.

Ninety percent of children were assaulted by a known person and this known person was most of the time stated as a boyfriend. But there were many other different categories which included father, grandfather, brother, mother’s boyfriend and uncle. Some of the children were sexually assaulted by a neighbour, teacher, school driver and priest. It was revealed that male children were sexually abused by adult males but there were few male children assaulted by adult females.

Under these circumstances, Anuradhapura teaching hospital Consultant Venereologist Dr. Thilani Rathnayake has pioneered in launching a program called Rakawarana initiated in 2021 in the Anuradhapura district to establish a child safeguarding system for early identification of children at risk of sexual exploitation through method called “Informant Network Method” to provide services for these identified children to come out of the danger and prevent possible child sexual assaults and child sexual exploitation. It also intends to strengthen the system of child safety by improving the communication and coordination between different service providers and stakeholders working on children’s safety and protection.

An awareness program for health services staff and police.

Dr. Rathnayake said, “There are about 293,865 children under 18 years in the Anuradhapura district. According to the data from National Child Protection Authority, Anuradhapura is one of the districts with the highest number of reported cases of child sexual abuse. Child and Women’s Affairs Division of Anuradhapura police, JMO office and sexual health clinic in the teaching hospital Anuradhapura also report a significant number of confirmed and attempted cases of child sexual assaults every year.

According to the National Child Protection Authority, in 2022, 551 complaints related to different types of child abuse were reported from Anuradhapura and of that, 41 were reported as child sexual abuse.

The Children and Women’s Bureau of Anuradhapura police handled over 200 complains related to child sexual abuse in every year under the rape. More than 10 child rape cases were reported from Anuradhapura, Medawachchiya, Nochchiyagama and Thambuththegama police divisions in 2021. The Judical Medical Office of the Teaching Hospital, Anuradhapura, recorded 104 victims of possible sexual assaults reported among children below the age of 18 during 2021 and out them, one child was found pregnant as result of a sexual assault. In the same year, 51 children under 18 years were referred to the sexual health clinic in the teaching hospital, Anuradhapura and 30 of them were following sexual assault.

In 2022, 49 children under 18 years were referred to the sexual health clinic in the teaching hospital, Anuradhapura and 34 of them were following sexual assaults. Some of them were treated for sexually transmitted infections. The Judicial Medical Office of the Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital said that Anuradhapura police have handled 174 complains on child sexual abuse. Police have investigated into 175 complains based on child sexual abuse in 2022, Dr. Rathnayake said.

Services provided include counselling, life skill development, education and awareness on sexual health (individual and groups), regular family visits, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, economic support, extra support to education and find support within the family circle.

This program involves all stakeholders and takes equal responsibility and maintains continuous coordination among one another.

The main stakeholders are District Secretariat, district health sector including, Paediatric, Sexual Health, Psychiatry, PDHs and DDHS Offices, Education Sector, District Child Protection officer, Children and Women’s Bureau of the police, Rajarata University, Mihintale, Probation Department and Social Services Department and Divisional Secretariat.

Dr. Rathnayake said that the program was initiated as a pilot project in 2021. The pilot project was completed in the Thambutthegama Divisional Secretariat division and is now being expanded based on learned lessons.