Humanitarian Aid

On the Front Lines: How One Social Worker Is Protecting Children in Sri Lanka

World Concern
May 16th, 2018

There are some people who look evil in the face and instead of running, they step up and fight.

Niranjini is one of those people.

Living in a city at the northern tip of Sri Lanka, Niranjini began her career as a law assistant. It was here she first encountered case after case involving child abuse. Shocked by the sheer volume of children affected and seemingly “light” punishment for perpetrators, Niranjini made the decision to become a defender of children’s rights.

For the past two years, Niranjini has worked as a social worker with World Concern, actively responding to cases of child abuse and exploitation.

A social worker poses outside a children's shelter in Sri Lanka. A social worker poses outside a children's shelter in Sri Lanka.

On a typical day, Niranjini responds to cases called into the anonymous S.O.S. Hotline or dropped into a suggestion box. Operating similarly to the hotline, the suggestion box provides a way for someone without access to a phone to anonymously report cases of abuse. If urgent, she’ll respond immediately.

Note: S.O.S. stands for "Seek Out and Stop,” which is an initiative to protect vulnerable children from trafficking, exploitation, and abuse in Southeast Asia.

Amrita’s Story

The day her call came in was not one of those days. Niranjini heard the phone ring not once, but twice—both callers panicked about a young girl who was at that moment being rushed to the emergency room. After hearing the extent of the girl’s trauma and injuries, Niranjini packed a few emergency supplies and ran to the hospital to meet her.

“They requested urgent support for this girl and we responded within one hour,” Niranjini explained.

Unconscious and in the ICU, the little girl couldn’t speak with Niranjini directly, but through the testimony of a first responder from the girl’s village, she quickly learned her story.

Amrita was six years old.

At night she was home alone with her father. Her siblings had already been sent to live in children’s homes, but for some unknown reason, Amrita stayed behind. It was at night that he would drink, and the abuse would begin.

The morning Amrita was admitted to the hospital her aunt had arrived for a visit and noticed the little girl bleeding, alone, and the father nowhere to be found.

He had disappeared.

A young girl plays in a garden outside a children's home in Sri Lanka. A young girl plays in a garden outside a children's home in Sri Lanka.

Looking down at the little girl, Niranjini was horrified. Never before had she encountered such a case.

With a quiet resolve, Niranjini dedicated herself to walking with Amrita, providing the compassion and dedication this little girl had yet to experience.

Niranjini was by her side from the moment Amrita arrived at the hospital. Though other cases took her away from Amrita often, Niranjini made sure to call the nurses at least once a day for an update on her condition.

After 45 days Amrita left the hospital to go live in a safe, loving children’s shelter.

While she was in the hospital, Niranjini remembered Amrita as quiet, unwilling to speak with anyone.

But slowly, visit by visit, Niranjini gained her trust.

Now when Niranjini walks up to the gate of the children’s home, Amrita comes running to greet her. Living with other children her age has been a crucial part of Amrita’s healing process. And not just any girls, but girls who had endured similar abuses.

“She will have a bright future because she is in good hands now, and I am praying for her to have a great future,” said Niranjini.

A social worker comforts a little girl in a children's shelter. A social worker comforts a little girl in a children's shelter.

Amrita is able to live in a safe environment, attend school, and receive regular counseling—all things that are crucial to her healing.

Niranjini works on more than 10 cases a month, Amrita’s only one out of hundreds of others in the area. Every day more children are at risk, but very few have someone like Niranjini to advocate for them.

Through World Concern’s S.O.S. Initiative (which stands for “Seek Out and Stop”), children receive protection, education, and training on how to protect themselves from traffickers and abuse.

Names of individuals in this post have been changed to protect their identities.