Child protection with adolescents.

Encouraging and supporting adolescent girls and boys to participate in a safe and peaceful society.

Adolescents girl with her friends in a school

The Challenge

Children aged 10-19 experience rapid physical, emotional, social, sexual and psychological development. Adolescence can be an exciting time filled with opportunities for social, economic and personal independence. Yet, these freedoms can also bring a host of dangers if children are not prepared. 

As many as one-third of all legal trials pending nationwide involve some sort of violence against a child. Corporal punishment is widespread and generally accepted in homes and schools. Other children, who may still be feeling the residual effects of conflict, are at risk of getting involved in violent actions or serious crimes. In Sri Lanka, the age for criminal responsibility is 12. This contributes to the unnecessary and unfair institutionalization of children. Youth who have been institutionalized for care-specific reasons often find themselves housed with convicted offenders. No formal mechanism exists to divert children away from the justice system and towards more humane alternatives for support and rehabilitation. Adolescents aged 16-18 are not recognized as children by criminal legislation and are subject to justice procedures designed for adults.

The digital age has also brought in new challenges. Adolescents, particularly girls, can be subjected to online exploitation, abuse and blackmail The government has limited resources to handle such cases. The Cyber Watch Unit, formed under the National Child Protection Authority, has identified over 300 potential sex offenders who have lured children using social media and, in 2014, there were 2,368 complaints of online incidents. While data on this issue is not readily available, it is clear that as smart-phone and internet penetration rises rapidly across Sri Lanka online exploitation and abuse needs to be tackled. .

Adolescence is also a critical age for children to get involved with national development as agents of change. Unfortunately they lack the knowledge, the skill or the opportunity to share their voice and participate in the discussions and the decisions that affect them most. Schools, which are sometimes segregated along ethnic, linguistic or religious lines, do not provide the type of social and cultural exchange that can positively contribute to social cohesion. Adolescents lack the knowledge and skills to analyze the root cause of conflict and are not equipped to take positive steps towards reconciliation and peace building.

Gender sensitive education is also lacking on topics such as social norms, gender stereotypes and sexual and reproductive health.


The Solution

To help meet the Government of Sri Lanka’s national and international obligations, UNICEF provides assistance in strengthening the juvenile justice system. We work with key partners to develop and model a program that will prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of children. Efforts and resources are to be channeled towards the delivery of timely and effective child protection services for children across the country with a special emphasis on victims of child and sex abuse. These efforts will help in reducing the current caseload and formulating alternative avenues for redress as it pertains to children in conflict with the law.

UNICEF will continue to advocate for increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 14 years of age, increasing the age that defines a child in the criminal justice system from 16 to 18 years of age and including provisions that will give children access to adequate legal representation and legal aid. UNICEF will also use its legal expertise to address gaps that currently allow for corporal punishment. UNICEF will support initiatives to improve data collection and analysis to facilitate evidence-based juvenile justice programming.

UNICEF will also play an active role in empowering adolescents to become agents of change in their own communities and across the country as a whole. The first step is to advocate that children be recognized not only as victims of conflict but as key stakeholders in building sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. In partnership with the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, and other government and non-government stakeholders, UNICEF will play a key role in facilitating adolescents’ participation in addressing issues that affect their lives, with a particular focus on national reconciliation and transitional justice mechanisms. UNICEF will also invest in building the capacity of government institutions to meaningfully engage with adolescents and ensure that their rights are protected and promoted.


Everything we do at UNICEF, from planning to execution, is grounded in empirical data, independent evaluation, rigorous research and thoughtful analysis. This information is gathered with the help of our own staff and the help of our network of partners in communities around the country.

UNICEF supports research and uses it to inform every decision we make. We rely on hard evidence to assess any situation on the ground, and we use these findings to drive programs, policies and initiatives.

If you would like to learn more about child protection issues during adolescence, please have a look at the resources below.

For every child, #ENDViolence campaign


Watch our three powerful #ENDViolence films to learn more about how violence is impacting children in Sri Lanka, and take action