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Supporting communities to protect children in Sri Lanka

Anshula was just eight years old when she was raped by two teenage boys. Both her parents were speech-impaired, and a schoolteacher alerted authorities about the crime. Anshula was able to receive the support and care she needed, with ChildFund Sri Lanka arranging for her and her family to receive safe transportation to the police station and other agencies, and helped her obtain medical care as well as counselling.

Child abuse, neglect and exploitation are on the rise in Sri Lanka, according to UNICEF. Factors driving this increase include parental substance abuse, early marriage, educational struggles and family disintegration, among others.

In response, ChildFund Sri Lanka staff are trained to immediately respond to child abuse incidents in communities, following established protocols to refer children and families to appropriate agencies for assistance. Every ChildFund and local partner office displays a poster providing clear guidance on the procedures to be followed when staff or volunteers see or suspect abuse, when any allegation of abuse is made either in person or anonymously, or when a child directly reports abuse.

Shanthi is a Lead Mother in a parent training and support program developed by ChildFund to support early childhood development. “The child protection reporting system is very useful and allows Lead Mothers to act proactively on child protection issues while they are doing household follow-up visits,” she says. “The community is much more aware compared to before. It would also be good if awareness programs could be conducted for parents together with their children.”

Grant-funded projects in Sri Lanka also address child protection. The Economic Empowerment for Vulnerable Families project has introduced goat farming as a home-based livelihood for women to enable them to stay at home and care for their children.

ChildFund also helps communities learn about child protection issues, and works to protect children by supporting Village Child Rights Monitoring Committees (VCRMCs) established by the government at the community level. Made up of village residents, the VCRMCs meet regularly to prepare and implement action plans to reduce child abuse. Local partners help them to organise programs which are led by police officers, child rights protection officers, health officers, religious leaders and child protection experts, who communicate about the damage caused by child abuse and how to prevent it.

According to a child protection consultant in Sri Lanka`s Department of Probation and Child Care Services, ChildFund and its local partner in Trincomalee have given “moral support to strengthen the work at the community level.”

A child protection focus extends into ChildFund`s programs for all ages. Thirteen-year-old Hasantha, who is enrolled in a ChildFund program for teens, says, “I don`t know how to define child protection. But I know that a lot of people, NGOs and other committees are working to help children. I also know that in case of any child abuse or child rights violation, children can now call 1929 [a child protection hotline] and explain things. Also, I learned that nobody has the right to hurt children and that all children have to go to school.”

Children are our future. It`s critical that we protect them.

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