Child protection in middle childhood

Children need knowledge and support to stay protected from all forms of violence.


The Challenge

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’.[1] 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.


[1] 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




The Solution

UNICEF’s technical support emphasises:

  • the establishment of a national coalition of broad-based stakeholders to generate greater awareness about violence against children and its impact on children and community
  • building resilience among children to prevent abuse and violence; and
  • improving the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of parents and community members and generating demand for services.

These will be closely interlinked with efforts to strengthen services that prevent and respond to violence and abuse. The aim across all interventions is to create a protective environment in which girls and boys can grow up free from violence.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MWCA) in its campaign to end all forms of violence against children through the ‘National Partnership to End Violence against Children’ (NPEVC) which was launched in 2016. This effort will include stakeholders such as other government agencies, civil society organizations, NGOs, the private sector, religious institutions and children themselves.

Methods to collect, analyze and disseminate data on issues of violence against children across the country are being refined and bolstered. Social services are being strengthened in order to improve the response to victims of child abuse and exploitation, as well as children that are separated from their families.

Within communities, UNICEF helps families, community groups and front-line agencies prevent and respond to cases of abuse, neglect and violence against children by increasing knowledge, changing attitudes and enabling new skills. UNICEF is also addressing harmful attitudes and norms with a specific focus on corporal punishment in schools and homes. We also train education professionals and parents on positive methods of discipline and behavior management. 

At the same time, UNICEF will review the existing resilience and life-skills programs available to children and, in partnership with the National Youth Services Council, will pilot programs geared towards increasing children’s access to life skills development both inside and outside school. These programs, initially rolled out in select districts, will then be considered for national implementation.


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 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 middle childhood, 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