Child Abuse is a Nationwide Crisis in Sri Lanka

Child Abuse is a Nationwide Crisis in Sri Lanka

3 May 2021 10:28 pm

The problem of child abuse is considerable in Sri Lanka and there is an urgent need to strengthen the services offered to the victims. Urgent steps are needed to safeguard these children who are affected by the abuse. There are many triggers and factors that place children at risk for abuse and neglect. Sri Lanka continues to battle the problem of child abuse. There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse in the country over the past few years. It was recently reported that 5,891 of child abuse cases were reported in the country from 2012 to 2020. There have been 54 cases of child abuse reported within the first 15 days of this year.  However, there is no national database on child abuse in Sri Lanka. This is a piece of distressing news.

According to the experts, child abuse and neglect are the most common types of child maltreatment that impact child well-being. Child sexual abuse, neglect, and corporal punishment are the most commonly prevailing child protection issues in the country. In 1995, the penal code was amended to require that sexual acts with minors under the age of consent, 16, be tried under the offense of statutory rape, or under Article 365 of the penal code, which defines unnatural sexual acts and grave abuse. But delays in legal proceedings, lack of witness protection, and lack of assistance to victims are discouraging families and victims from reporting cases or seeking help. The ultimate responsibility to protect its nation’s children lies with the Government. The protection of children requires the combined and closely coordinated involvement of key players, with national governments giving the most important lead. The problem of child abuse is considerable in Sri Lanka and there is an urgent need to strengthen the services offered to the victims.


The WHO Definition of Child Abuse

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child Sexual Abuse Is a serious problem of considerable magnitude and it has profound consequences for the child. It is known to interfere with growth and development and has also been linked to numerous maladaptive health behaviors, and poor social, mental, and physical health outcomes throughout the lifespan. According to a survey, 90% of people sexually exploiting children are known to the children or are people whom the children trust.


Child Abuse -Sri Lanka's Situation

Sri Lanka is facing a nationwide crisis of child abuse. The reports on child abuse, neglect, and exploitation are increasing in Sri Lanka as well. Most child sexual abuse victims never disclose and do not receive needed treatment.  According to the figures tabled in the Sri Lankan Parliament in April 2013, there are about 15,000 legal trials pending Nationwide and more than 4,000 (27%) involve some form of violence towards a child. Parents of sexually abused children are scared to tell anyone due to fear of being shamed in society. A recent Audit Report by the National Audit Office said that 42,073 complaints (53%) had not been resolved. The report further said that cases had not been filed for 55 percent of the complaints submitted to the Attorney General within the previous 10 years. In Sri Lanka, there is also a big need for appropriately trained human resources and adequate child protection budgets. Several well-developed countries of the world have well-developed child protection systems, primarily focused on mandatory reporting, identification, and investigations of affected children, and often taking coercive action. However, Sri Lanka is not having such facilities. A lack of resources and weak political will have made it difficult for Sri Lanka to implement past legislation for protecting children.


Child Sexual Abuse  

Sexual abuse of children can be defined as contacts or interaction between a child and an older or more knowledgeable child or adult (a stranger, sibling, or person in a position of authority, such as a parent or caretaker) when the child is being used as an object of gratification for an older child’s or adult’s sexual needs. These contacts or interactions are carried out against the child using force, trickery, bribery, threats, or pressure. The studies have found a high rate of sexual abuse of both boys and girls within the family and in the community. Local newspapers, in recent times, have been carrying a disturbing number of reports on child rape and sexual harassment. A child is abused once every two hours while at least four women are raped a day in Sri Lanka, according to a top police officer.

Sex between a child and an adult is abusive because of the difference in age, use of force, and lack of understanding between them. Even, child sexual abuse never is the victim’s fault. All children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm in any circumstances. One of the common factors that are found in child sexual abuse cases is that the abuse is done in return for something beneficial for the victim or perpetrator.


Some Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators walk free

Often the complaints and cases stuck with no progress and the investigations show that very few of those cases are resolved through prosecutions. Many child abuse perpetrators walk free without facing charges. For instance, recently  two persons were allegedly involved in serious child abuses and trading in child pornographic material. One was arrested by the Kollupitiya Police following a tip-off that underage boys were being sexually abused. It is alleged that video footages were sold to clients in foreign countries with the help of the other who is residing in Australia. The Police seized 135 CDs containing footages of child abuse, a pen drive, hard disk, memory card, camera, and mobile phone from the suspect’s house. Many photographs of children being sexually abused were discovered in the possession of the suspect and Police say footage saved on storage devices such as CDs recovered will be sent to the Government Analyst and Experts in IT, for a full report. The police report indicates that over 20 boys within 10-12 years of age being sexually abused by the one residing in Sri Lanka.  Although this is a serious crime the suspects seem to be manipulating the investigations and obstructing justice. Recently the key investigator had been removed from the investigation. She is a very efficient and experienced woman police officer who handled many child abuse cases successfully. Due to strange circumstances, she no longer handles this case. According to some reports the suspects have influenced the investigation by various methods. The suspects have spent a lot of money to conceal the crime. Ironically the National Newspapers maintain silence without reporting this child abuse case. We know that corruption remains part and parcel of daily life in Sri Lanka and it is a sad reality.


Nationwide Crisis

Sri Lanka is facing a nationwide crisis of child abuse. The reports on child abuse, neglect, and exploitation are increasing in Sri Lanka as well. According to the figures tabled in the Sri Lankan Parliament in April 2013, there are about 15,000 legal trials pending Nationwide and more than 4,000 (27%) involve some form of violence towards a child. Parents of sexually abused children are scared to tell anyone due to fear of being shamed in society. Victims and perpetrators of child abuse do not typically self-report to child protection services, therefore the responsibility of detection and reporting falls on the others.

A recent Audit Report by the National Audit Office said that 42,073 complaints (53%) had not been resolved. The report further said that cases had not been filed for 55 percent of the complaints submitted to the Attorney General within the previous 10 years. In Sri Lanka, there is also a big need for appropriately trained human resources and adequate child protection budgets. Several well-developed countries of the world have well-developed child protection systems, primarily focused on mandatory reporting, identification, and investigations of affected children, and often taking coercive action. However, Sri Lanka is not having such facilities. A lack of resources and weak political will have made it difficult for Sri Lanka to implement past legislation for protecting children. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has a long way to go to achieve globally accepted child protection standards.

By a Special Correspondent