By Thaveesha Bulegoda –
On the first of October, children all over the country has celebrated the Universal Children’s Day. But with the reported child abuse cases recently, there are possible grounds to argue that the child rights are isolated only to one particular day. The recent reports of the National Child Protection Authority indicate that it has received 8558 complaints through the 1929 hotline for the year 2019 (According to the Statistics provided by National Child Protection Authority 2019). Because of the stigma and the attitude of the Sri Lankan public, many cases of child abuse go unreported. Therefore, the statistical overview presented above is only scratching the surface. The bigger picture of the problem is still not visible through the above statistical overview. According to International experience, reported cases are likely to represent only 10 percent of total cases perpetrated.
Unfortunate situation is that, as soon as we hear of child abuse incident, we are reminded only of sexual abuse or physical abuse of children. This is because in general, we have the ability to identify such abuses through external injuries and scars. But child abuse takes on a more complex form. Neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, as well as mental and emotional abuse against a child can be defined as child abuse. In cases of neglect, mental and emotional abuses, there are no visible bruises or scars on the outside of the body like other abuses. But it can also have lifelong consequences for the child’s mind as well as his/her emotions.
The Importance of preventing a child abuse
The term “prevention” is typically used to represent activities that stop an action or behavior. It can also be used to represent activities that promote a positive action or behavior. A successful child abuse interventions must both reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and families. First and foremost importance of prevention of child abuse is the prevention of child abuse going to save children from pain and suffering, both physically and psychologically. And also prevention or early intervention can be more efficient and effective than the later intervention.
Timely interventions and preventions of child abuse incidents can help children avoid long-term physical and mental harm and it will secure the future of the child. Also, a child who has been the victim of child abuse is more likely to be victimized again and again in the justice process. It is also extremely difficult to reintegrate a child who has been abused. Thus, a child who has been victimized through child abuse cases is at risk of committing various crimes based on this incident. A criminal or a rapist is never brought into the world that way. Through negative socialization, a child later becomes a criminal. Therefore, the sustainable solution to prevent children from committing such crimes is the prevention process. This prevention process is extremely important and it will help children to avoid child abuse incidents.
How to implement Prevention Process?
Adequate inclusion of sex education in the school curriculum
It is unfortunate that people in Sri Lanka receive their sex education in a very informal manner. In particular, they gain an understanding of sex education through informal sources such as peer groups, the Internet, and pornography. As a result of these things, Sri Lanka has become first, twice in a row by searching the word “sex” in google. It is unfortunate that the lack of proper sex education is the fundamental reason for the growing number of child abuse cases in Sri Lanka. Sex education is not a topic that should be hidden from society. Giving sex education to children according to their age has become a social need today. Even young child needs to be shown the importance of protecting his or her own body. Children should be told that their body belongs only to them and that if another person touches them in a way that is embarrassing to them, they should oppose it and leave the place and immediately report the incident to a trusted adult. Children in particular need to be made aware of the good touches and the bad touches. Because in 90% of the reported cases, the perpetrator is someone who knows the child very well.
Formulating a National Plan of Action
There are many different government agencies in Sri Lanka that work towards the betterment of the children. By formulating a National Plan of Action, we can streamline the activities of different stakeholders who work towards the betterment of the children. The role and the responsibility of the respective organization is defined in this particular National Plan of Action. This will increase the efficiency of the respective stakeholders and everyone can use this National Plan of Action as a blue print. This should be formulated as a national policy. At the moment ECPAT Sri Lanka – PEaCE has drafted a National Plan of Action and submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
Empowering Child Protection Officials
As mentioned above, there are many institutions actively operating in Sri Lanka that work for the maximum benefit of the child. In order to reap the maximum benefits from those institutions, they need to be armed with updated knowledge. In particular, we find that many cases are stalled due to insufficient evidence or improper gathering of evidence in the administration of justice. It is also a problem that the officers do not possess adequate professional knowledge regarding child abuse incidents. Further, such situations can arise due to the fact that the knowledge of the officers are not updated. This is especially true, when it comes to child sexual exploitation online. In the aftermath of these child abuse cases, it is important for officers to conduct their investigations in such a way that the victim does not become a victim repeatedly. It is also the responsibility of the officials involved in this process to ensure that the child does not become a victim again in the process of administering justice. The fundamental thing is to provide these officers with the necessary knowledge to prevent a child abuse incident. It aims to educate child protection officials on how to identify children at risk and enlighten the community on how to avoid child abuse.
Amending the legal frame work
The Penal Code of Sri Lanka was amended in 1995 after an ECPAT Sri Lanka – PEaCE led campaign against child sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry. But when it comes to today’s context, there is an urgent need to amend the legal framework in Sri Lanka. This is because criminals escape from these wrongdoings through loopholes in the law. This is directly due to the inadequacy of laws related to crimes such as child sexual abuse, especially happens on the Internet. It is also a problem that the existing laws are not updated to match today’s requirement. Amendments to these rules will definitely help the prevention of future crimes.
Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development
When we hear of child abuse incident, we are reminded only of sexual abuse or physical abuse of children. We do not concentrate about the types of abuse, such as neglect, mental and emotional abuse. Through the development of positive parenting skills, we can prevent all kinds of abuses. These positive parenting skills can be developed through awareness programs and home visitation programs. Such programs can provide information, caregiver support, and training about child health and development.
Changing attitudes by raising awareness and building capacities among society
The sustainable remedy to prevent child abuse is to change the attitude of the individual. One way to change that attitude is to create social awareness. Organizing awareness programs and capacity building programs is essential to create social awareness. These awareness campaigns should cover every person in the society. Attitudes can also be changed in society through the development of personal values. Once you feel that you are a valuable person in the society, you are more likely not to commit such crimes. Furthermore, these crimes can be minimized by enhancing the need to appear in society as a respectable person. Building a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence are also a great solution to reduce the existing crime wave.
*The writer is a project officer at ECPAT Sri Lanka – PEaCE