As children grow older, they must be educated to understand their basic rights and empowered to speak up or seek assistance when they need it. It is also critical that their families and communities have the same knowledge, so that children can be brought up in caring, secure environments where they can be helped and supported if they find themselves in danger.
Despite developmental progress, too many Sri Lankan children miss out on opportunities to reach their full potential. The latest figures from the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) show that over 12,000 cases of child abuse were reported in 2015, a slight increase from the previous year. This number includes over 735 cases of sexual harassment and 433 cases of rape. A low national reporting rate of only 0.15 per cent indicates a lack of confidence in the protection and justice systems and does not reflect the true magnitude or prevalence of violence, abuse and exploitation.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is of significant concern. A report by the Leader of the Opposition‘s Commission on the Prevention of Violence against Women and the Girl Child states that out of a total of 2,150 instances of rape or incest that were perpetrated in 2012, 89 per cent were violations against children below the age of 16. In a study conducted among 2,389 late adolescent school children in Sri Lanka, it was found that 14 per cent of female students had been subjected to some form of ‘child sexual abuse’. Furthermore, a study of 353 children presented during a medico-legal examinations after alleged SGBV revealed that, in 96 per cent of instances, the perpetrator was a person known to the survivor. In many parts of Sri Lanka, victims of such abuse and violence simply do not have access to rehabilitation and support services. Even where cases are reported and brought to court, they are often delayed or mishandled, which further erodes trust in the system.
In schools and homes too, behavioral change is needed. A UNICEF study found that 40.7 per cent of parents used some form of corporal punishment and 96per cent of respondents in another UNICEF study indicated that ‘shaking, tying up and boxing a child’s ears’ were ‘accepted’ forms of discipline. A recent government-led study among school children revealed that 80 per cent of school children experienced at least one form of corporal punishment in schools. This harmful behavior is a direct result of poor parenting skills and a lack of support programs to learn positive methods of instilling discipline in schools.
Online child abuse and the overall online safety of children is a source of increasing concern with cases of cyber-bullying and online blackmail on the rise.
Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable because of a lack of early identification and intervention services across the country.
 Perera B, Østbye T., Prevalence and correlates of sexual abuse reported by late adolescent school children in Sri Lanka. International Journal of Adolescent Mental Health. 2009 Apr-Jun; 21(2):203-11