Child protection for early childhood

Young children are most vulnerable during the early years of life.


The Challenge

Even the youngest children are subject to neglect, abuse and family separation. While it is hard to estimate the exact number of children separated from their families at a young age, there are more than 400 children under 3 who have been abandoned by their families and forced to live in residential care facilities. In the absence of a national alternative care policy and services system, at least 15,000 children around Sri Lanka are growing up in 414 government and private residential institutions where vulnerable children that need nurturing care are sometimes forced to share living space with juveniles who may have been abused or even convicted of a crime. This can have negative emotional and physical effects on the healthy development of these children.

Rising female labour migration and teen pregnancy are among the key risk factors that lead to parental neglect, abuse and separation of children from their families. The negative impact is especially acute at a time when children are not old enough to take care of themselves. This issue is poised to get worse as adoption rates remain low and sub-urban families face the financial burdens of rapid urbanization.

Despite their best intentions, many parents and caregivers cannot properly identify and respond to threats to the safety and protection of their children. This is made worse by a lack of community-based social support systems that offer good quality, accessible and affordable assistance. A general lack of awareness in this area also results in a low demand for child-sensitive services, even in instances where they do exist.

Children with disabilities are particularly at risk because, in many instances, specific essential services are either too expensive or simply do not exist. Children with disabilities under the age of 5 are not registered nationally and are therefore excluded from social protection mechanisms that might otherwise assist them. The capacity to identify and respond to issues specifically concerning children with disabilities must be strengthened at every level.

The Solution

UNICEF is working to building the capacity of government agencies to prevent and respond to child protection issues. To ensure that resources are evenly and efficiently distributed, we co-ordinate and plan with the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MWCA) and the Ministry of Social Services (MoSS).

Going forward, coordination mechanisms and avenues for referral of child protection cases will be further developed. In these areas, UNICEF is working to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs to assist in the development and implementation of referral best practices in select districts. Successful implementations will then be scaled up and rolled out across the country, UNICEF will draw on its partner networks to ensure that sufficient technical and financial support is available to execute the national roadmap and action plan.

UNICEF will also work with key government stakeholders to develop a national policy framework with a particular focus on developing and operationalizing an alternative care policy. Guidelines for national case management and referral mechanisms will be developed and refined in conjunction with the relevant government agencies. A review of the national legal framework for guidelines and quality standards for children with disabilities is also a priority.



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 in early childhood, please have a look at the resources below.

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