2020 May 26
According to The National Child Protection Authority, a total of 292 child protection complaints were reported between March 16th and April 07th.
Children of all ages have the fundamental right to live, learn, and grow without fear of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation, and discrimination. Pulse went Live on Instagram this week with the theme of focus on child abuse in Sri Lanka with guest hosts Kumudini David, an ardent Women’s and Child’s Rights activist and a survivor of child abuse herself. This theatrical nightingale was accompanied by Monroe Jayasuriya, who currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Leads Sri Lanka who deals directly with child abuse survivors/victims. Here’s everything that was discussed:
The nature of child abuse in Sri Lanka
Social and cultural norms that tolerate emotional, physical and sexual violence against children still exist throughout Sri Lanka. Further, parents, teachers and children are often unaware of how to access and utilize child protection services, even if a violation is experienced. A lack of coordination at a national, district and divisional level have made it difficult to weave important child protection principles into the work of other connected sectors such as health, education, social protection and justice.
Most importantly, Sri Lanka lacks a national child protection framework. This means that well-meaning stakeholders at every level, lack nationally accepted guidelines and a defined hierarchy within which to carry out their tasks. To make matters more challenging, insufficient evidence and data make it hard for policymakers to assess and react to challenges on the ground. The approach going forward needs to be multi-pronged and a change needs to be experienced across the board. We need to accept that we are all accountable and we need to keep the children safe.
Several communities lack the ability to identify and respond early to the needs of these children and do not have suitable parental support schemes to provide the type of safety net that they and their families need. Children with disabilities are at a greater risk. Essential services for children with physical or mental disabilities are either not affordable in many areas or absent altogether.
What we see in Sri Lanka’s problem with child abuse is the ‘tip’ of the iceberg as more often than not, child abuse is not reported or brought to light. We must also shed light on the psyche of an abuser as most of those who abuse have been abused themselves.
Child abuse during COVID-19
According to Kumudini David and her extensive work with NGOs, INGOs and CSOs report that 1 in 2 children are exposed to child abuse of some sort in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, there has been a dramatic rise in the proportion of child cruelty cases reported to the 1929 child helpline since the start of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 curfew. The National Child Protection Authority keeps the line operational 24/7 and ensures it is fully staffed and reported that from March 16th to April 07th – A total of 292 child protection complaints were brought to light. These cases pushed the percentage of the proportion of child cruelty cases by 33%, as reported by ECPAT.
With schools closed, children at home all day and many parents unable to work, stress, isolation and economic hardships increase the risk of domestic violence, child cruelty and abuse. The dramatic rise experienced is consistent with global evidence from previous infectious disease outbreaks that show that child protection incidents such as violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect are aggravated during these times. Further, these lockdowns have had a massive negative impact on the recovery process for survivors of abuse.
Leads and Child Development Centers
On March 25th, 1983, LEADS was formally established to partner with other like-minded organizations to develop and implement programs that will alleviate human suffering and promote wholeness. In response to the growing threat of paedophiles using Sri Lanka as a base, ESCAPE (Eradicating Sexual Child Abuse Prostitution and Exploitation) – a special child protection unit was set up by LEADS in 1995, with an array of services provided to marginalized communities. LEADS, together with several others working in this field facilitated and advocated for the inauguration of the NCPA (National Child Protection Authority), the first deputy chairman of NCPA was a seconded staff member of LEADS.
LEADS has been a pioneer in the child protection sphere and has established development centers in Colombo, Jaffna and Badulla that cater to 600 children in need. The centers provide a family for all children through alternative methods as natural families may be subjecting their children to neglect and abuse. They provide education and psycho-social support and try their best to bridge the gap between legal aid and a child in need of respite.Their network continues to grow, but due to lack of support and resources, thinned out.
Monroe notes that due to COVID-19, it has proven to be very difficult to conduct family follow up meetings, counsellors could not reach the children with the support they need. LEADS COVID 19 relief response includes supporting families in vulnerable regions who can not even afford to feed their children one meal a day. This effort is further fortified by providing special recreational packs which include toys for the children as well as communication devices so that they can continue special counselling and reach out to the children in need.
To all concerned citizens
Always speak up against abuse, we need broader awareness about the issue so it can be streamlined into national action plans in order to give the weight and priority it deserves. Look to the needs of the children in your household and in your neighbourhood, look beyond health and nutrition needs of your child and use this time to teach your child key messages such as ‘you are special, your body belongs to you’. It is also important to keep your child informed and aware of what to do if such a situation arises.
Refer to the guidelines on the LEADS Sri Lanka website that has material for parents on how to deal with the lockdown and your children’s welfare and further keep a tab on their social media sites and promote all the good work they have been doing to keep the children of Sri Lanka safe.
If you know of a child at risk or in a vulnerable position, please inform the authorities – 1929 is the hotline for the National Child Protection Authority, and the number for Leads Sri Lanka is 075 712 1212.
There is so much we can do together, and every step counts!