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A survey of children in Sri Lanka

Children from an area known for high risk of sexual abuse were asked questions with parental consent about what they understood about sexual issues and HIV/AIDS

1999 Available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese

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From: Child participation – Footsteps 38

How to encourage children to share their views and take part in community activities

Project aims

The LEADS groups in Sri Lanka used a written survey with school children. A random sample of children was selected from several different schools by choosing every fifth child in the school registers. This was in an area known to be at high risk from sexual abuse. Parents were informed about the survey and children could choose not to complete the survey if they felt uncomfortable. They were told that the individual results would be confidential from teachers and parents, and the way the overall results would be used was explained.

After asking a number of questions that gave a picture of their socio-economic background, children were asked questions about what they understood about sexual issues, HIV/AIDS, and what they wanted to know more about. They were also asked whether they had done sexual things with children their age, with adults and with adults for money. They were then asked what would help children not to be involved in sexual behaviour with adults and what would help children once they were already involved.


10% of children (aged between 13 and 17) said that they had taken part in sexual activities. Most felt it was OK to be involved with people their own age but wrong to be involved in sexual activities with adults and gave many reasons for this. When asked why children took part in sexual activies with adults, 19% said for fun, 38% for money, 30% to earn money for their families and 34% because they were forced to. Further explanations mentioned force, poverty, lack of parents or adults to care for them and the influence of TV, films and tabloid papers.

When asked how they learnt about sex, 46% said they learnt from magazines and videos, 32% from friends and only 10% from parents and 12% from teachers. 80% had heard about AIDS but less than half knew how AIDS was passed on. Only 23% had received education about pregnancy and only 12% had received advice on contraception. Most children wanted to learn more about these issues.


The results provided both a clearer understanding of the level of child sexual exploitation in the area and an awareness for teachers on what subjects needed to be included in the sex education lessons. It gave children a rare opportunity to voice their opinions and these were then made available to the decision makers – teachers, health workers, social workers and police.


  • Teachers were trained about what they should include in sex education and in understanding the needs of child protection.
  • A larger study was done with older children.
  • The results and clearer understanding of the size of this problem was shared with police and decision makers.

The responses to questions on how children could be helped enabled LEADS to appreciate that children may often have the answers to our problems if we are prepared to ask them.

Information supplied by Tony Senerewatne of LEADS.
E-mail: [email protected]

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