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2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

In 2012, Sri Lanka made a minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The Government conducted an island-wide survey to determine the number of out-of-school children at risk for child trafficking and launched a project to increase primary and secondary school attendance rates. In addition, the Government continued to raise awareness about child trafficking and child labor through social media and documentaries. However, the Government’s coordinating mechanism for child labor was inactive and enforcement efforts were weak, due to funding shortages and lack of institutional capacity. Children continue to engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in manufacturing and dangerous activities in agriculture.


Learn More: ILAB in Sri Lanka | Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor | Previous Reports:

Prevalence and Sectoral Distribution of the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Children in Sri Lanka are engaged in dangerous activities in manufacturing and agriculture.(4-8) Children working in agriculture may use dangerous tools, carry heavy loads, and apply harmful pesticides.(9, 10)

Children, predominantly boys, are exploited in prostitution in coastal areas as a part of sex tourism.(6, 8, 11-13) Children are also employed in domestic service, a largely unregulated and undocumented sector.(4, 6, 7, 14) Some child domestics are subject to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; there are also reports of rural domestics in debt bondage living in third party households.(6, 11, 13) Children reportedly work in the mining, fishing, transport, and construction sectors.(5, 6, 14)

Children are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor.(4, 11, 12) Children are also trafficked internally and abroad to work as domestic servants, primarily in Middle Eastern countries, which can leave them vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation.(11, 15) Some child domestic workers trafficked to Colombo households are subjected to nonpayment of wages, and restrictions on their movement, along with the hazards discussed above.(4, 6, 11)

There are reports that children are subjected to bonded and forced labor on dry zone farming areas (tea estates). Although information is limited, there are reports that children are also subjected to bonded and forced labor in the fireworks and fish-drying industries.(6, 11)

Most children in Sri Lanka have access to basic education.(1) However, both the two-decade-long civil conflict and the 2004 tsunami devastated parts of the country, which has increased educational disparities in the affected areas.(16-18) In the former conflict and tsunami affected areas of the Northern and Eastern provinces, security issues, acute teacher shortages, and the charging of school fees remain a problem, primarily for children from poor families. In addition, thousands of school children remaining in Welfare Camps lack access to continuous and quality education.(19, 20)

There are reports of children working on the streets, but specific on hazards is unknown.(5-7, 14)

Laws and Regulations on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act sets the minimum age for employment at 14 and the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at 18.(4-6, 21) The Government has a hazardous work activities list that includes the 51 occupations and/or working conditions in which child labor is most prevalent, with the exception of domestic service.(5)

Children under age 14 may engage in light work on family-run farms or as a part of their technical education, as long as their employment does not prevent them from attending school.(22)

The minimum age for voluntary recruitment in the armed forces is 18; there is no conscription into the military.(23) The Penal Code criminalizes and prescribes penalties for individuals who engage children younger than age 18 in debt bondage, forced labor, slavery, armed conflict, or trafficking.(24) The Penal Code also criminalizes and prescribes penalties for individuals who engage children younger than age 18 in pornography and prostitution.(25, 26)

Education in Sri Lanka is compulsory and free until the age of 15.(7) However, there are cases where school fees are extracted from families.(19) In addition, many schools in areas with high rates of returnees from the conflict have insufficient classrooms and teachers, damaged infrastructure, and low school attendance due to the lack of adequate transport facilities.(27) Children unable to access school are particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.

Institutional Mechanisms for Coordination and Enforcement

The National Steering Committee on Child Labor (NSC) coordinates the implementation of the Roadmap to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor (2011-2016), the Government’s key mechanism for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.(7, 8, 28) Chaired by the Secretary of the Ministry of Labor and Labor Relations (MOLRR), the NSC includes representatives from key government agencies, employer and workers’ organizations, the ILO, UNICEF, and other NGOs.(7) The NSC met for the first time in January 2012; research was unable to determine the meeting outcomes. Nonetheless, funding and administrative deficits rendered the NSC inactive over the reporting period.(7)

The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) is an independent agency under the MOLRR’s Women and Children’s Affairs Division. It shares responsibility with the NSC for coordinating actions to protect children, including protecting them against the worst forms of child labor.(6, 7) This body’s mandate includes formulating policies and enforcing laws on child abuse and exploitation, coordinating groups that combat child abuse and exploitation, and conducting research and mobilizing resources.(5, 29) The NCPA is mandated to assist children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and armed conflict.(29)

The Government of Sri Lanka addresses child trafficking through the National Anti-Trafficking Task Force’s (NTF) National Action Plan. The NTF is charged with coordinating governmental ministries, departments, law enforcement and civil society anti-trafficking interventions; reviewing related legislation; and recommending legal and policy reforms on the country’s response to trafficking in persons.(7, 13, 30) In 2012, the NTF and Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs (MCDWA) established a center for victims of trafficking, engaged in monitoring child trafficking, and organized awareness-raising and training programs on child trafficking.(7, 13)

The NCPA and the Women and Children’s Bureau of the Sri Lankan Police (WCBSLP) are the key agencies responsible for coordinating the efforts to combat child trafficking, forced child labor, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the involvement of children in illicit activities.(5, 7, 29) The NCPA’s Police Unit employs approximately 40 officers responsible for investigating complaints. In addition, the NCPA has child protection officers based in district-level offices that focus on the prevention of child related crimes and victim protection.(7)

The NCPA and WCBSLP work closely with the MOLRR’s Department of Labor (DOL), which has legal authority to enforce child labor laws.(6, 7) The DOL’s labor inspectorate employs 453 labor officers to enforce all labor laws, including those related to child labor.(7) The DOL and its district-level offices have existing mechanisms in place for the public to use when filing complaints on child labor.(7)

The WCBSLP enforces laws on child labor, child trafficking, and commercial sexual exploitation of children. The WCBSLP has 45 officers and 43 branch operations throughout the country.(7) In the remaining police stations without WCBSLP representation, the officers in charge oversee functions of the division.(5, 7) Children found during inspections are referred to the Department of Probation and Child Care Services (DPCCS), under the MCDWA, by the court.(7) Under the direction of the DPCCS, case workers refer child laborers and children involved in commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking to psychosocial and protection services, including four shelters and two national training and counseling centers. These centers provide victims with medical, legal, psychosocial, life skills, and vocational skills training.(11, 13, 31)

Complaints on child labor, child commercial sexual exploitation, and child trafficking violations can be made via a hotline to the WCBSLP and the NCPA.Both the WCBSLP and the NCPA face a shortage of funds that affects their ability to carry out their mandate.(7)

During the reporting period, the DOL conducted more than 63,000 labor inspections and received 209 child labor complaints.(7) Eight children were removed or assisted as a result of the inspections. Among the complaints received and filed by the DOL, eight violated the child labor law. The outcome of these cases is still pending.(7)

The NCPA carried out four investigations on reported cases of child trafficking during the reporting period. The outcome of these cases is still pending.(13) The Attorney General also filed indictments in two complaints related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.(13) Information on the total number of child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation cases received by the NCPA during the reporting period was not available. The WCBSLP received 25 child trafficking complaints, but information on the number of violations incurred or cases filed was not available.(7)

The DOL conducted training of trainer programs for 80 labor enforcement officers and revised the handbook on labor laws to include hazardous labor regulations.(13) In addition, the DPCCS trained probation officers on the management of child abuse, child labor, and child trafficking cases.(13) Nonetheless, government officials maintain that DOL’s capacity to enforce hazardous occupation regulations is weak; the officers need training on approaches to identifying children who are engaged in hazardous occupations.(7)

The Government of Sri Lanka acknowledges and is committed to investigating allegations of previous recruitment and the use of children in armed conflict by non-state armed forces. While some recruiters of child soldiers were killed during the conflict, research has found no evidence of prosecutions and convictions of living survivors who violated the law on children and armed conflict.(32-34)

The NCPA continues to investigate the whereabouts of missing children.(34) In addition, as of April 2012, the Family Tracing and Reunification Unit of the Northern province had registered 736 tracing applications from families of missing children since 2009, the majority of whom were recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Of these children, 139 have been matched and referred to the Unit; 42 have been reunited with their family.(34)

Government Policies on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government’s child labor policy is the Roadmap to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor (2011-2016). The Roadmap specifies time bound goals, including developing and/or strengthening the management, coordination, implementation, resource mobilization, and reporting of programs that will lead to the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.(8) The Roadmap also provides district-level mainstreaming strategies to address specific sectors of child labor, including armed conflict, plantations, fisheries, and tourism. In addition, the Roadmap outlines strategies to include child labor issues within social protection and education goals.(8, 35)

The formation of the Roadmap’s goal of child labor elimination by 2016 relied heavily on data from a 2008-2009 government survey on child labor that excluded the Northern province of Sri Lanka.(8) Although child labor rates in the rest of the country were low, the lack of recent child labor data on the Northern province could indicate a need to coordinate additional efforts prior to achieving the Roadmap’s goal of complete elimination of the worst forms of child labor by 2016.

During the reporting period, the Ministry of Education (MOE) began implementation of a National Education Sector Development Framework and Program (ESDFP) (2012-2016) to increase the equitable access, quality, and delivery of education.(7) In addition, the ESDFP aims to support accelerated learning and non-formal education for drop-outs from the formal education system.(7)

During the reporting period, the NTF developed a National Plan of Action on Anti-Human Trafficking. The NTF held several meetings with civil society stakeholders to discuss best practices on ways to better collaborate.(13)

Social Programs to Eliminate or Prevent the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The DPCCS conducted an island-wide study to identify children at risk of being trafficked. The study results found that 32,000 children were not attending school.(13) During the reporting period, the DPCCS sought measures to reintegrate the out-of-school youth revealed through the survey into school. In addition, they worked with NGOs to provide protection services, such as shelter, to child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.(6) The DPCCS is undergoing a study on the institutionalization of children subjected to human trafficking and child labor.(13)

During the reporting period, the NCPA ran an undercover operation in the Southern coastal region of the country to identify perpetrators and child victims of sex tourism. In addition, the NCPA collaborated with the Government’s tourism police to conduct a national awareness raising program on child sex tourism that targeted travel guides, coastal communities near tourist destinations, and children.(6)

During the reporting period, the DOL conducted awareness programs on hazardous child labor island-wide for divisional secretaries, labor officers, teachers, welfare officers, students, law enforcement officers; and residents and employers of plantations, exporting zones, and factories beyond export processing zones. (7, 13, 28) In addition, the Government sponsored an education and development exhibition, held in February 2012, which featured several films and documentaries on human trafficking. Approximately 500,000 people attended the exhibition.(13, 28) The Ministry of Justice and NTF continued to deliver media on safe migration and human trafficking through a docudrama, TV advertisement, and a poster developed through a 2011 U.S. Department of State project.(28, 30)

In June 2012, the World Bank launched a $100 million education project, Transforming School Education, to support the ESDFP. This project aims to increase the age of primary and secondary education completion of children to ages six through 16.(7) The project appoints school attendance committees to promote school enrollment and attendance and runs school nutrition and health programs.(7)

During the reporting period, the MOE continued its efforts to improve education for the children of plantation workers, who are vulnerable to dangerous forms of child labor such as domestic work in third party homes. The MOE conducted teacher training for plantation teachers; held supplementary classes for secondary school aged children; and took steps to improve math, science, and English skills of plantation school children.(7)

The Joint Plan for Assistance for Northern Province project (JPA) is a collaborative effort among the Government of Sri Lanka, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs. During the reporting period, the Government and its partners continued to strengthen resettlement and security efforts in the conflict-affected Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka by providing support services to the recently resettled in those areas.(27, 36) One JPA program supports education services, including a sponsorship program for children who lost one or both parents during the war, and vocational training for youth unable to complete their formal education. These programs have awarded educational assistance to more than 200 children in the Northern and Eastern provinces.(27) JPA also supports construction and infrastructure development in and around schools, such as the construction of water supply systems and toilets within schools in Jaffna and Kilinochchi, which benefitted more than 2,500 children during the reporting period.(27) The issue of whether these programs have an impact on child labor does not appear to have been addressed.

Based on the reporting above, the following actions would advance the elimination of the worst forms of child labor in Sri Lanka:


Suggested Actions

Year(s) Action Recommended

Laws and Regulations

Create protections for children engaged in domestic service.

2010, 2011, 2012

Ensure all children have access to free compulsory education, as called for by the law.


Coordination and Enforcement

Provide additional funding for the NCPA to adequately carry out investigations on child trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

2011, 2012

Prosecute individuals who have violated laws related to children’s exploitation in the armed conflict.

2009, 2010,2011, 2012

Provide labor officers with training on approaches to identifying children engaged in hazardous occupations.


Provide adequate resources for the enforcement of child labor and child trafficking laws.


Provide adequate funding to coordinate planning for the Roadmap for the Elimination of Child Labor.



Conduct a child labor assessment in the Northern Sri Lanka province and incorporate findings into the Roadmap.

2011, 2012

Social Programs

Assess the impact that existing programs may have on child labor.

2011, 2012

1. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Gross intake ratio to the last grade of primary. Total.; February 4, 2013; Data provided is the gross intake ratio to the last grade of primary school. This measure is a proxy measure for primary completion. For more information, please see the "Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions" section of this report.

2. UCW. Analysis of Child Economic Activity and School Attendance Statistics from National Household or Child Labor Surveys; February 5, 2013; Reliable statistical data on the worst forms of child labor are especially difficult to collect given the often hidden or illegal nature of the worst forms. As a result, statistics on children's work in general are reported in this chart, which may or may not include the worst forms of child labor. For more iniformation on sources used, the definition of working children and other indicators used in this report, please see the "Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions" section of this report.

3. Government of Sri Lanka, Ministry of Finance and Planning, Department of Census and Statistics. Child Activity Survey 2008/2009. Survey Colombo August 1, 2011.

4. International Trade Union Confederation. Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Sri Lanka: Report for the WTO General Council Review of the Trade Policies of Sri Lanka. Geneva; November 3 and 5, 2010.

5. U.S. Embassy- Colombo. reporting, January 26, 2012.

6. U.S. Department of State. Sri Lanka In: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices- 2012 Washington, DC; April 19, 2013;

7. U.S. Embassy- Colombo. reporting, March 13, 2013.

8. Government of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's Roadmap 2016 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Geneva, Ministry of Labour Relations and Productivity Promotion; 2010.

9. International Labour Office. Farming, International Labour Organization, [online] January 31, 2012 [cited November 2, 2012];

10. International Labour Office. Children in hazardous work: What we know, what we need to do. Geneva, International Labour Organization; 2011. While country-specific information on the dangers children face in agriculture is not available, research studies and other reports have documented the dangerous nature of tasks in agriculture and their accompanying occupational exposures, injuries and potential health consequences to children working in the sector.

11. U.S. Department of State. Sri Lanka. In: Trafficking in Persons Report- 2012. Washington, DC; June 19, 2012;

12. ILO Committee of Experts. Individual Observation concerning Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) Sri Lanka (ratification: 2001) Published: 2012; November 9, 2012;

13. U.S. Embassy- Colombo. reporting, March 7, 2013.

14. U.S. Embassy- Colombo. reporting, January 19, 2011.

15. U.S. Embassy- Colombo. reporting, February 8, 2010.

16. McBride R. "Education Revitalizes Displaced Communities in Sri Lanka." [online] May 4, 2010 [cited February 23, 2011];

17. Sarah Crowe, Mervyn Fletcher. "New Child-Friendly Schools Bring New Hope to Communities in Sri Lanka." [online] July 15, 2010 [cited February 23, 2011];

18. Room to Read. Sri Lanka: Overview, Room to Read, [online] [cited March 29, 2013];

19. Child Rights International Network. SRI LANKA: Children's Rights in the Universal Periodic Review (Second Cycle). London; October 25, 2012.

20. U.S. Embassy Colombo official. E-mail communication to. USDOL Official. May 31, 2013.

21. ILO-IPEC. National Legislation and Policies Against Child Labour in Sri Lanka, ILO, [online] September 11, 2009 [cited April 27, 2010];

22. Government of Sri Lanka. Act to Regulate the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children 29, (November 7, 1956);

23. Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. London; April 2010.

24. Government of Sri Lanka. Penal Code, Amended 2006, No. 16, (April 24, 2006);

25. Government of Sri Lanka. Penal Code, Amended 1998, No. 29, (June 4, 1998);

26. Government of Sri Lanka. Penal Code, Amended 1995, No. 22, (October 31, 1995); Act%20No%2025%20of%201995.pdf.

27. OCHA. Joint Humanitarian and Early Recovery Update; September 2012.$file/LKRN065_JHERU_September.pdf.

28. Government of Sri Lanka. US Department of Labor’s Findings of Child Labor and Forced Labor Information on Sri Lanka Washington, DC; February 1, 2013.

29. National Child Protection Authority. Functions of the NCPA, [online] 2010 [cited July 16, 2010];

30. ILO-IPEC New Delhi official. E-mail communication to. USDOL official. March 12, 2012.

31. Department of Probation and Child Care Services. Counselling Centre, Department of Probation and Childcare Services, [online] March 5, 2010 [cited March 20, 2013];

32. Lanka Standard. "Sri Lanka Faces Impatience in US Over Rights Record." [online] May 19, 2012 [cited May 23, 2012];

33. United Nations Security Council. Conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka. New York; December 21, 2012.

34. UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Children and Armed Conflict: Sri Lanka, UN Security Council [online ] April 26, 2012 [cited April 2, 2013];

35. U.S. Embassy official Colombo. E-mail communication to USDOL official. March 9, 2012.

36. UNOCHA. Joint Action Plan for Assistance Northern Province 2012; 2012.