Last updated: December 2017
Flag of Sri Lanka Country report for Sri Lanka

*Sri Lanka is committed to reforming its laws to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings.*

Summary of law reform necessary to achieve full prohibition

Sri Lanka’s commitment to prohibiting corporal punishment

Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to prohibiting all corporal punishment of children, including in the home, at the July 2006 meeting of the South Asia Forum, following the 2005 regional consultation of the UN Study on Violence against Children. This commitment was reiterated during the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka in 2017, during which Sri Lanka clearly accepted a recommendation to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings.

 

Summary of necessary legal reform to achieve full prohibition

Prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, alternative care settings, day care, schools and some penal institutions.

Article 82 of the Penal Code 1883 states: “Nothing, which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age, or, of unsound mind, by or by consent, either express or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause/or be intended by the doer to cause, or be known by the doer be likely to cause, to that person….” Illustration (i) of the offence of “criminal force” (article 341) states that a schoolmaster who flogs a students is not using force illegally. Article 71(6) of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 recognises “the right of any parent, teacher or other person having lawful control or charge of a child … to administer punishment to him”. The near universal acceptance of corporal punishment in childrearing necessitates clarity in law that no level of corporal punishment is acceptable or lawful. These provisions should be repealed and prohibition enacted of all corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, in the home and all other settings where adults have authority over children.

Alternative care settings – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all alternative care settings (foster care, institutions, places of safety, emergency care, etc).

Day care – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, preschools, family centres, etc) and all day care for older children (day centres, after-school childcare, childminding, etc).

Schools – The instruction by Circular No. 17/2005 not to use corporal punishment should be confirmed through the enactment of legislation clearly prohibiting all corporal punishment in all education settings, as well as explicit repeal of the Criminal Code provision on criminal force in relation to flogging of students (art. 341) and the right of teachers “to administer punishment” in the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 (art. 71(6)).

Penal institutions – Corporal punishment is unlawful in prisons. Legislation should now be enacted to prohibit it in all other institutions accommodating children in conflict with the law (remand homes, approved homes, certified schools, training schools etc) and to repeal any provisions for corporal punishment still on the statute books.

Legality of corporal punishment

Home

Corporal punishment is lawful in the home. The Penal Code 1883 was amended in 1995 to provide for the offence of cruelty to children (art. 308A, amended further in 2006), but article 82 of the Code states: “Nothing, which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age, or, of unsound mind, by or by consent, either express or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of any harm which it may cause/or be intended by the doer to cause, or be known by the doer be likely to cause, to that person….” Illustration (i) of the offence of “criminal force” (art. 341) states that a schoolmaster who flogs a student is not using force illegally. Article 71(6) of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 confirms “the right of any parent, teacher or other person having lawful control or charge of a child … to administer punishment to him”. Provisions against violence and abuse in the Penal Code, the Children’s Charter 1994, the Torture Act 1994, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 2005 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act 2007 are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment of children.

At a meeting of the South Asia Forum in July 2006, following on from the regional consultation in 2005 of the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children, the Government made a commitment to prohibition in all settings, including the home. During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2008, the Government accepted the recommendation to ensure its domestic legislation is fully compliant with the Convention on the Rights of the Child but a subsequent review of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance did not result in proposals to prohibit corporal punishment.[1] In 2010, Government representatives in SAIEVAC (South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children) developed a national action plan to achieve prohibition and in 2011 endorsed a report on progress towards prohibiting corporal punishment in South Asia states which included an analysis of the reforms required in Sri Lanka.[2] In the context of accepting recommendations on children’s rights made during the UPR in 2012, the Government stated that laws would be reformed in line with the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[3] In 2017, the Government supported a recommendation to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings extended during the UPR,[4] reaffirming its commitment to enacting prohibition.

A National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016, based on the UPR recommendations of 2008 and the recommendations of treaty bodies, was adopted with its implementation strategy approved in 2011. Despite media reports in 2011 that the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Welfare was drafting legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in settings outside the home,[5] the Plan provided only for prohibition of corporal punishment in schools (goal 7.5): it did not explicitly address the issue in other settings. It did, however, envisage the enactment of a Child Protection Bill/amendments to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 and other legal reforms in relation to other issues, and the incorporation of children’s rights in the Constitution.

In September 2014, the Government reported to the Human Rights Committee that amendments to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance had been proposed but gave no further information.[6] As at August 2017, no child-related bills appeared to have been tabled in Parliament.[7]Sri Lanka’s 2016 report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child declared that the “draft Children (Judicial Protection) Act would be enacted to repeal the Children and Young Person’s Ordinance”.[8] As at August 2017, the Government was finalising the “Child Protection and Justice Bill” – we are enquiring as to whether this is the same text.[9] We do not know whether prohibition of corporal punishment is included in the draft. The Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure are under reviw.[10]

After conducting a visit in April/May 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture recommended that Sri Lanka “repeal all relevant legislation so that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in all settings”.[11]

A new National Human Rights Action Plan was drafted in 2016 for the period 2017-2022. As of March 2017, the Cabinet-approved Action Plan is not yet public. The National Plan of Action for Children in Sri Lanka 2016-2020 was published in 2016 but did not address corporal punishment. Within the context of its Pathfinder status with the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, Sri Lanka produced a Discussion Paper in 2017 which identified the prohibition of corporal punishment as a “pathway” to end violence.

 

Alternative care settings

Corporal punishment is lawful in alternative care settings under articles 82 and 341 of the Penal Code 1883 and article 71(6) of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 (see under “Home”). Under examination by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2010, the Government stated its intention to prohibit corporal punishment in alternative care settings.[12] The National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016 planed for law reform in relation to orphanages and inspection of childcare institutions but it did not refer to corporal punishment in this context. The Guidelines and Standards for Childcare Institutions 2013 prohibit the use of corporal punishment in children’s homes and hostels, but this prohibition is not translated into law.

 

Day care

Corporal punishment is lawful in day care under articles 82 and 341 of the Penal Code 1883 and article 71(6) of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance 1939 (see under “Home”). The National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016 planed for law reform in relation to early childhood care and development but it did not refer to corporal punishment in this context. The Guidelines and Standards for Childcare Institutions 2013 prohibit the use of corporal punishment in day care centres, but this prohibition is not translated into law.

 

Schools

Corporal punishment is lawful in schools, as confirmed in the explanation of acceptable criminal force in the Penal Code 1883 (see under “Home”). Section 2 of Circular No. 17/2005, issued by the Ministry of Education in 2005, states that corporal punishment should not be used in schools, but this has not been confirmed in legislation. Provisions in the Education Ordinance 1939 allowing the court to order corporal punishment for persistent truancy (s56) were repealed by the Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 2005.

The National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016 had provided for the enactment and enforcement of legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and educational institutions within the timeframe of two years (goal 7.5).

 

Penal institutions

Corporal punishment is lawful as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions. The Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 2005 repeals corporal punishment in prisons under the Prisons Ordinance 1877 (amended 1939), but there is no prohibition relating to other penal institutions for young persons in conflict with the law such as remand homes, approved homes and certified schools. Article 14 of the Youthful Offenders (Training Schools) Ordinance 1939 provides for the Minister to make regulations for discipline in training schools, but we have no information concerning such regulations. Under examination by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2010, the Government stated its intention to prohibit corporal punishment in remand homes.[13] The National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2011-2016 plans for amendments to laws on juvenile justice but does not refer to corporal punishment in this context.

In 2013 a Children (Judicial Protection) Bill had been drafted.[14] As at October 2015, it was expected to be tabled in Parliament soon.[15]

 

Sentence for crime

Corporal punishment is prohibited as a sentence for crime by the Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 2005, which repeals the Corporal Punishment Ordinance 1889 and all provisions authorising judicial corporal punishment in other laws.

 

Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka’s human rights record

Sri Lanka was examined in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 (session 2). No recommendations were made specifically concerning corporal punishment of children. However, the following recommendations were made and were accepted by the Government:[16]

“Ensure that its domestic legislation is in full compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Poland);

“Continue its efforts for the full implementation of international human rights instruments to which it is a party (Morocco)”

Examination in the second cycle took place in 2012 (session 14). No recommendations were made concerning corporal punishment of children. However, the following recommendations were made and were accepted by the Government:[17]

“Intensify its actions for a greater enjoyment by the people of fundamental human rights (Benin);

“Intensify its policies and programs undertaken to ensure the protection of women and children (Algeria);

“Formulate a comprehensive national strategy for the protection of the rights of children, with a view to ensuring compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, following the review of national laws (South Africa);

“Take measures to guarantee full protection of children’s human rights by rehabilitating the ex-combatants and eliminating and reducing, among others, child trafficking, child sexual abuse and violence against children (Holy See).”

The Government subsequently confirmed: “Current initiatives to devise reforms to the legislative framework dealing with the protection of children who come into conflict with the legal system and who are in need of care and protection will be expedited, in line with recommendations made by Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice and the Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency.”[18]

Third cycle examination took place in 2017 (session 28). The Government supported the following recommendation:[19]

“Prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings, including at home (Montenegro)”


Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations

Session 055 (2010)

(19 October 2010, CRC/C/LKA/CO/3-4, Concluding observations on third/fourth report, paras. 40 and 41)

"While commending the abrogation of the Corporal Punishment Ordinance of 1889 and the issuance by the Ministry of Education on 11 May 2005 of Circular No. 2005/17, which prohibits physical assault or corporal punishment in the school system by any adult on a child, the Committee expresses concern that the Education Ordinance of 1939 permitting corporal punishment in schools has not been abrogated and that corporal punishment therefore remains lawful in schools as well as in the home and in alternative care settings.

“The Committee, recalling its previous recommendation (CRC/C/15/Add.207, para. 29), draws the attention of the State party to its general comment No. 8 (2006) on the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment and urges that it:

a) prohibit unequivocally by law and without any further delay corporal punishment in the family, schools and alternative care institutions;

b) ensure that laws prohibiting corporal punishment are effectively implemented and that legal proceedings are systematically initiated against those responsible of mistreating children;

c) introduce sustained public education, awareness-raising and social mobilization programmes, involving children, families, community and religious leaders, on the harmful effects of corporal punishment with a view to changing the general attitude towards this practice and promote positive, non-violent, participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline as an alternative to corporal punishment."

Read more from Session 055 (2010)

Session 033 (2003)

(2 July 2003, CRC/C/15/Add.207, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 28 and 29)

"The Committee is deeply concerned that male child offenders can be sentenced to whipping or caning under the Corporal Punishment Ordinance of 1889, and that the Education Ordinance of 1939 permits corporal punishment to be used as a disciplinary measure for boys and girls in schools and that many teachers and principals consider corporal punishment to be an acceptable form of discipline.

"The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation that the State party repeal the Corporal Punishment Ordinance of 1889 and amend the Education Ordinance of 1939 to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment. Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the State party undertake well-targeted public awareness campaigns on the negative impact corporal punishment has on children, and provide teacher training on non-violent forms of discipline as an alternative to corporal punishment."

Read more from Session 033 (2003)

Session 009 (1995)

(21 June 1995, CRC/C/15/Add.40, Concluding observations on initial report, paras. 15 and 32)

"With respect to child abuse, including sexual abuse, the Committee is seriously alarmed by the prevalence of this type of abuse. The Committee is worried about the fact that no specific rehabilitation measures exist for abused children and that they are treated like delinquents. Corporal punishment also persists in Sri Lankan society and is accepted in schools.

"The Committee recommends that the State party take measures to combat violence and abuse of children, including sexual abuse and corporal punishment. During the process of reviewing its laws on child abuse, the State party should carefully take into account all the provisions guaranteed by article 19 of the Convention. It further suggests that professional groups, including teachers, law enforcement personnel, social workers and the military, be trained with respect to the provisions on the Convention. International technical assistance could be requested by the authorities in relation to this matter."

Read more from Session 009 (1995)

Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations

CAT session 047 (2011)

(8 December 2011, CAT/C/LKA/CO/3-4, Concluding observations on third/fourth report, para. 30)

"The Committee notes that, while corporal punishment is prohibited as a penal sentence under the Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 of 2005, it is not prohibited as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions for juvenile offenders, in the home or alternative care settings, under article 82 of the Penal Code. The Committee also notes with concern that, despite the issuance of Circular No. 2005/17, by the Ministry of Education in 2005, stating that corporal punishment should not be used in schools, there is no prohibition in law and its use is still widespread. (arts. 10 and 16)

The State party should consider amending its Penal Code, with a view to prohibiting corporal punishment in all settings and raising public awareness."

Read more from CAT session 047 (2011)

CAT session 035 (2005)

(15 December 2005, CAT/C/LKA/CO/1/CRP.2, Concluding observations on second report, para. 3)

"The Committee notes with satisfaction the following positive developments:

g) the recent abolition of corporal punishment by Act No. 23 of 2005."

Read more from CAT session 035 (2005)

Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations

HRC session 112 (2014)

([November 2014, CCPR/C/LKA/CO/5], Advance Unedited Version, Concluding observations on fifth report, paras. 3 and 19)

"The Committee welcomes the following legislative and institutional steps taken by the State party:

a) the Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No. 23 of 2005 which repeals corporal punishment in prisons...

"While taking note that violence against children and corporal punishment is legally prohibited in schools and judicial corporal punishment called “whipping” was outlawed in 2005, the Committee notes with concern that corporal punishment traditionally continues to be accepted and practised as a form of discipline by parents and guardians. (arts. 7 and 24)

The State party should take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings. It should encourage non-violent forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment, and should conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about its harmful effects."

Read more from HRC session 112 (2014)

HRC session 079 (2003)

(1 December 2003, CCPR/CO/79/LKA, Concluding observations on the combined fourth and fifth reports, para. 11)

"While noting that corporal punishment has not been imposed as a sanction by the courts for about 20 years, the Committee expresses concern that it is still statutorily permitted, and that it is still used as a prison disciplinary punishment. Moreover, despite directives issued by the Ministry of Education in 2001, corporal punishment still takes place in schools (art.7).

The State party is urged to abolish all forms of corporal punishment as a matter of law and effectively to enforce these measures in primary and secondary schools, and in prisons."

Read more from HRC session 079 (2003)

HRC session 054 (1995)

(27 July 1995, CCPR/C/79/Add.56, Concluding observations on third report, sections 3 and 5)

"The Committee expresses its satisfaction at the Government’s stated policy of not implementing death sentences and that corporal punishment as a penalty has been suspended for the last 10 years.

"Noting that the definition of torture given in the Convention Against Torture Act passed by Parliament on 25 November 1994 is somewhat restrictive, the Committee recommends that the Act be amended to bring it into conformity with article 7 of the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’s General Comment No. 20 (44). It further recommends that in view of the statement by the Government that corporal punishment has been suspended the provisions of the domestic legislation allowing this form of punishment be revoked."

Read more from HRC session 054 (1995)

Prevalence/attitudinal research for Sri Lanka in the last 10 years

A study involving 194 parents living in Colombo found that 76.3% had physically punished their child in the past month by shaking them, hitting them on the bottom with an object or bare hand, slapping them, pinching them, pulling their ear or hair or hitting them on the head; 40.7% had kicked, choked, beaten, burned, threatened with a weapon, thrown, knocked down, punched or hit their child anywhere other than their bottom with an object in the past month. Nearly 90% had used psychological aggression such as threatening or insulting their child in the past month; nearly 80% had used non-violent discipline strategies such as explaining why something was wrong. When asked about their attitude to corporal punishment, 30% said they were completely against it and a similar number said they were completely for it. After taking part in a two-hour information and discussion session in which they were given information about the negative effects of corporal punishment on children and about alternative discipline strategies, the rates of psychological aggression and corporal punishment declined significantly.

(De Zoysa, P. (2013), A Study on Parental Disciplinary Practices and an Awareness Program to Reduce Corporal Punishment and Other Forms of Negative Parental Practices, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Child Protection in Crisis, Institute for Participatory Interaction in Development & Save the Children)

A study conducted in four districts found 74% of parents use some form of corporal punishment – this figure was 90% in the Galle district, 86% in Polonnaruwa, 67% in Batticaloa and 50% in Colombo District. The most common methods reported were hitting with the hand (31%), beating with a stick (27%), pulling the ear (13%), “small punishment” not specified (11.5%), hitting with a ‘ekal’ stick (10%), kneeling down (3%), caning (3%) and throwing a nearby object at the child (1%). Nearly one-fifth of parents reported using heavy scolding or verbal abuse as a punishment in combination with physical punishment. Parents reported using corporal punishment to bring up their children in a “proper manner” (31%), for educational purposes or to get the child to study (29%) or to prevent the child from doing things that they felt were wrong, such as engaging in inappropriate associations or relationships, or to deter them from repeating a mistake (20%).

(De Silva, KP Shyamalie, (2012), Use of corporal punishment on children by parents and their perceptions: A study on the perceptions of parents on the use of Corporal Punishment on children in Colombo; Batticaloa; Galle and Polonnaruwa Districts)

A cross-sectional study of 12-year-old Sinhala speaking government school children in the Colombo district found 70% of school children had experienced at least one act of corporal punishment in the particular year, recording an average of 12 acts in the year. In addition, 37% of the children had experienced at least one act of physical abuse in the same year with an average of 11.6 such acts in the year.

(De Zoysa P. et al (2008) “Outcomes of parental corporal punishment: Psychological maladjustment and physical abuse” Child abuse and violence, 121-162)

Footnotes

[1] 6 October 2010, CRC/C/SR.1567, Summary record of examination by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, para. 22

[2] SAIEVAC (2011), Prohibition of corporal punishment of children in South Asia: a progress review

[3] 21 February 2013, A/HRC/22/16/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, para. 4.13

[4] 3 November 2017, A/HRC/WG.6/28/L.14 Unedited version, Draft report of the working group, para. 116(165)

[5] Sri Lanka Guardian, 2 September 2011

[6] 2 September 2014, CCPR/C/LKA/Q/5/Add.1, Reply to list of issues, para. 95

[7] No relevant bills listed at www.parliament.lk, accessed 31 August 2017

[8] [June 2016], CRC/C/LKA/5-6, Fifth-sixth report, para. 209

[9] 24 August 2017, A/HRC/WG.6/28/LKA/1, National report, para. 114

[10] 24 August 2017, A/HRC/WG.6/28/LKA/1, National report, para. 54

[11] 22 December 2016, A/HRC/34/54/Add.2, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on his mission to Sri Lanka, para. 116.k

[12] 6 October 2010, CRC/C/SR.1567, Summary record of 1567th meeting, para. 42

[13] 6 October 2010, CRC/C/SR.1567, Summary record of examination by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, para. 42

[14] 31 January 2013, CCPR/C/LKA/5, Fifth state party report, para. 293

[15] www.sundaytimes.lk/151018/news/bill-to-protect-children-in-custody-and-child-victims-168294.html, accessed 22 April 2016

[16] 5 June 2008, A/HRC/8/46, Report of the working group, paras. 82(9) and 82(10)

[17] 18 December 2012, A/HRC/22/16, Report of the working group, paras. 127(46), 127(62), 127(71) and 127(72)

[18] 21 February 2013, A/HRC/22/16/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, para. 4.13

[19] 23 November 2017, A/HRC/WG.6/28/L.14 Unedited version, Draft report of the working group, para. 116(165)

Child population

6,051,000 (UNICEF, 2015)

National and regional advocacy for law reform

Forthcoming treaty body examinations and UPRs

Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC): 2018, session 77, deadline for exam briefing 15 December 2017

This is an automatic translation service. Extracts from laws, treaty body recommendations and Universal Periodic Review outcomes are unofficial translations.