On 12 February 2021, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka condemned the use of corporal punishment of children in schools. The case was brought before the Supreme Court by a 15-year-old student and his parents against teachers and authorities of a public school.
The student had been slapped across the face by one of the teachers which resulted in a permanent hearing impairment. The complainants argued that the teacher violated article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment.
The Court found that the use of corporal punishment by the teacher violated the Constitution. It ordered compensation to be paid to the student by the teacher and the State respectively. Using clear and unequivocal arguments against corporal punishment of children, the Supreme Court stated:
“…while Corporal Punishment does not amount to torture in itself in the instant case, the practice of infliction of physical or mental punishment which disregards the inherent dignity of a child amounts to inhuman or degrading punishment.”
In practice, the Supreme Court’s judgment will not outlaw corporal punishment in schools and we understand is unlikely to be followed quickly by law reform.
A Circular of 2016 reportedly prohibits the use of corporal punishment in government schools, but it does not apply to all schools and has not been confirmed in legislation.
Since 2017, Sri Lanka has been a Pathfinding country with the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children: this commits the Government to three to five years of accelerated action towards the achievement of Target 16.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In reporting to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2017, the Government of Sri Lanka committed to reforming its laws to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings.
We look forward to seeing to the prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings of Sri Lankan children's lives, including all schools and educational settings, without delay.
Find more information about the Supreme Court judgment here.
Find out more about the legality of corporal punishment in our country report for Sri Lanka.