A Sri Lankan child draws a picture in this file photo. Caritas are training preschool teachers to combat child abuse. (ucanews.com photo)
The Catholic social welfare agency Caritas in Sri Lanka is training pre-school teachers to identify children vulnerable to physical and mental abuse.
According to Caritas, children of migrants are at higher risk, with many abusers being caregivers or family members.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) received 9,361 complaints of various abuses in 2016, including 2,180 cases of cruelty and 713 instances of sexual abuse, 196 of them considered grave.
Further, the NCPA received complaints about 347 alleged rapes and 283 cases of child labor.
Most cases were reported from Western Province, including in the capital, Colombo, as well as Kalutara and Gampaha districts.
Geethani Fernando, a preschool teacher from the coastal city of Negombo in Western Province, said an aim was to help children develop well-balanced personalities in a psychologically conducive environment.
She is in charge of 40 children aged 3-4.
Caritas Colombo, locally known as Sethsarana, has trained pre-school teachers to identify children, through their behavior, who could be victims of abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
Parents are educated on how to keep their children safe at home as well as at school, including by teaching children about potential dangers.
Art therapy is used as a tool to allow children to express their emotions. Caritas provides free counseling for needy children.
Prasad Fernando, field coordinator of Caritas Colombo, said few people spoke out about sexual abuse of children within the "family circle".
A recent case that came to his attention involved a father from Negombo accused of using his 3-year-old daughter for oral sex.
P.S. Vidaya, an 18-year-old girl, was in May 2015, abducted on her way to school, gang raped and murdered.
In September 2015, Sri Lankans were angered by the murder of Seya Sadevmi Bakmeedeniya, a four-year-old girl. She was kidnapped and raped by a middle-aged man. Her body was found two days later.
Caritas Colombo conducts various programs for children and parents to make them aware of such threats.
Samantha Nilmalgoda, a senior psychological consultant, said; "It is easy to have children as prey for they are so innocent." Nilmalgoda earlier worked for the Sri Lanka Navy as a psychological consultant.
Nilmalgoda, with the support of Caritas Colombo, trains pre-school teachers to identify child abuse victims and render psycho-social help.
T.M. Kamani Manjula, a pre-childhood development officer of Negombo Divisional Secretariat, said that often it was ignorance of parents that led to children becoming victims.
It was difficult to make parents aware about the impacts of verbal and physical abuse as they were often only concerned about sexual abuse, Manjula added.
So far, Caritas Colombo has trained nearly 100 pre-school teachers in Western Province to be vigilant in regard to child protection.
According to UNICEF Sri Lanka, 50 percent of all sexual abuse offences against children are committed by a parent, care giver or someone well known to the child.