Hashtag Generation

Prevention of GBV and Child Abuse through Proactive Caring and Action

The International Women’s Day and the Women’s History month falls on March each year, and it feels timely to take stock of the still-growing need for preventative action to tackle gendered harm. Gender Based Violence (GBV) is defined as any act of sexual, physical, psychological, mental, emotional, and socioeconomic abuse that is perpetrated on the basis of gender (OCHA, 2019, as cited in CEJ, 2023). While not always on the basis of gender, child abuse, especially child sexual exploitation, is also a predominant problem in our society.

This article is an attempt to reiterate the pressing need for providing comprehensive sexual education based on certified scientific knowledge and expert opinions on formative developement for children, young adults, as well as adults as a preventive measure for GBV and child abuse, and to provide necessary awareness to people for the safe, healthy and consensual expression of their sexuality.

In a remote part of Sri Lanka, a thirty-six year old father died by suicide after it was revelaed that he had raped his daughter during the six month period that his wife was abroad. After the actions came to light  he was in extreme distress which would lead to him making attempts on his life, eventually succeeding on his second attempt. This was a bleak scene, with relatives and siblings mourning his loss, while a fifteen year old child was left grappling with both the violence that was done to her and the loss of a parent. 

There are several ways our society reacts to such an incident. Too often, children and affected are left with no mechanisms to address the trauma they endure and are left to deal with the social stigma within a culture that almost always places blame and responsibility on the victim.  The mother, too, in this case and many like this, is blamed and ostracised for leaving the children behind to go for a job abroad. Mainstream media reacts by sensationalising the news, savouring the gory details about the abuse. The ethics of victim confidentiality and victim-centricity are absent in Sri Lankan reporting of sexual violence, and the use of clickbait language is becoming increasingly popular as online modes steadily become a common way of disseminating and consuming information.  As such, there is a need for our society to dig deeper into the lack of awareness and opportunity at many levels: a lack of awareness that disempowers and disallows  Sri Lankans to have the opportunity to lead a dignified life.

On one level there is a huge discrepancy in the availability of good, holistic education and critical awareness that allows people to make informed decisions about their lives and bodies. The government budget allocation for the education sector as of 2022 was only 1.09% of the overall budget(publicfinance.lk, 2022).

The centralisation of resources around main cities and the capital city of Colombo leaves little resources to be disbursed to the remote and already multiply marginalised geographies within Sri Lanka. There is a persisting gap in Sri Lanka in terms of resource allocation between urban and rural areas, and between national and local schools. 

The lack of quality educational facilities means that most people in our society do not have access to a proper education that equips them with critical life skills and opportunities for employment. For decades, civil society and non-governmental organisations have been filling these widening gaps by conducting workshops on critical thinking to children and youth from different areas and different backgrounds of the country.

The education that is received by the majority of Sri Lankans is based on the national syllabus which does not carry enough information about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, nor about emotional and mental well-being. Opposition to including comprehensive sex education in syllabuses are often religious or rooted in hegemonic ideas of tradition, cultural purity, and rigidly sexist gender roles. Many people believe that sex should not be directly talked about in a society or taught in school as it is ‘inappropriate’. Sexuality is a basic need of humans and cannot be suppressed on the basis of socio-cultural ideology. Avoiding the topic does not mean our society does not need safe, healthy and consensual expression of sexuality. The taboo-isation of  the subject only further shames and guilts society into suppressing feelings, to express their sexuality in hidden ways. Ultimately, this is what results in unhealthy, unsafe and nonconsensual expressions of sexuality that violates and traumatises children.

Household poverty is another issue that directly connects to lack of education attainment. It was estimated that approximately one-fifth of children affected by poverty dropout of school after the age of 14  (Nanayakkara, 2020). There is a lack of awareness regarding the long-term benefits of education, and school dropouts are sometimes caused by the sentiment that it is more productive to have children start working at a young age, or even stay at home rather than pay for costs such as school books. In the current economic crisis, school dropouts have also become the norm due to the sheer lack of economic capacity to send children to school. There are also many social, cultural, economic and political factors that do not allow people to complete their education beyond primary or secondary school.

Child labour and child marriage are a critical issues in Sri Lanka. Boy children are sometimes kept behind in society for child labour, whilst girl children are given away in early marriage. Sri Lankan politicians have been slow to reform customary law (Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA)) regarding the minimum age of marriage for girls. In some instances, child marriage and even having children in a sexual relationship with adults is justified by parents across ethnicities because it allows economic benefits for both the child and family. This shows that there is also a problem of lack of stable income generating methods for families.

Culturally, women are looked upon as solely responsible for unpaid care-work. In addition to care-work, the work available to women, especially from lower income groups, are limited in choice and are often between low-paying industrial work in the textile industry, or informal labour in the plantation sectors or as housemaids and cleaners. The work conditions in such sectors can be exploitative, difficult and may not pay enough to cover the living expenses. This can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty. This is one of the reasons why women look to more promising opportunities abroad – a choice for which women are often villainised for “abandoning families” and neglecting their “duties”. Following the economic crisis, the government encouraged emigration for employment. In 2022, the cabinet took a decision to lower the minimum age of children of mothers who go abroad for domestic work to 2 years and to make a mandatory family background report unnecessary (The Parliament of Sri Lanka, 2022). This report included information on the capacity of remaining caregivers to provide the children with adequate care. However, these decisions have not been followed up with greater social safety nets for the workers and the families of the workers. Single parents have a more difficult time protecting and providing for their children. Providing families with single parents, children without primary caregivers, and children without reliable care with relevant safety mechanisms should be a priority of both government and society. Such safety mechanisms should include reliable and affordable care giving, psycho-social support, and guidance for both adults and children.

UNICEF (2023) has undertaken to support the government to collect and disaggregate data on child protection. UNICEF facilitates Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) services, in zonal and divisional-levels. Similarly, many international, governmental and non-governmental organisations also work to disseminate information necessary to prevent GBV and child abuse. However, such efforts need to address gaps in our education and value systems.

Information about safe and consensual sexuality, reproductive health, emotional and mental well being should be included in school curricula to promote awareness and understanding. Facilities for education and decent employment opportunities should be made available to marginalised geographies in Sri Lanka along with programmes to improve the financial literacy of the people. We also need to reflect upon gender norms, socio-cultural practices and traditions within communities which specifically limit the mobility of women and girls (British Council, 2020). Changing our socio-cultural and traditional thinking patterns and taking preventive measures might bring a more hopeful outlook for the future, one that keeps the violence and tragedy at bay. 

Article by:

– Chamika Indeevari Wijesuriya – 



  • ChildLine Sri Lanka
  • Women’s Helpline
  • Women In Need
    077 5676555
  • Shanthi Maargam
  • Grassrooted Trust
    +94763488622 (text)

(Infographic courtesy: Centre for Equality and Justice (CEJ, 2023)


  • British Council. 2020. A Community Empowerment Journey: Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls.
  • Centre for Equality and Justice (CEJ). 2023. Labyrinth: Navigating Response Mechanisms For Sexual And Gender Based Violence.
  • Nanayakkara. 2020. “Education Equity in Sri Lanka: A Pathway out of Poverty”. Available at: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2020/12/28/education-equity-in-sri-lanka-a-pathway-out-of-poverty/
  • PublicFinance.lk. 2024. “Free and Open Access to Public Finance Data and Analysis”. Available at:https://publicfinance.lk/en/topics/expenditure-on-the-education-sector-regional-comparison-1642990947
  • The Parliament of Sri Lanka. 2022. “Allowing mothers with children under 05 years of age to go abroad for domestic work has a negative impact on child development – Parliamentary Select Committee on gender equality to make necessary recommendations and report to Parliament”. Available at: https://www.parliament.lk/committee-news/view/2646
  • UNICEF. 2023. Sri Lanka: Economic Crisis 2023 Situation Report No. 1.

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