Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and domestic violence, but enforcement of the law was inconsistent. The law does not explicitly criminalize rape of men but does criminalize “grave sexual abuse.” The prescribed penalties for rape are seven to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 200,000 rupees, a modest amount. For domestic violence, a victim can obtain a protection order for one year and request a maintenance allowance. The law prohibits spousal rape only if the spouses are legally separated.
Women’s organizations reported police and judiciary responses to rape and domestic violence incidents and cases were inadequate. The police Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse of Women and Children conducted awareness programs in schools and at the grassroots level to encourage women to file complaints. Police continued to establish women’s units in police stations. Services to assist survivors of rape and domestic violence, such as crisis centers, legal aid, and counseling, were generally scarce nationwide due to a lack of funding.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Some of the country’s Muslims historically practiced FGM/C, but it was not a part of public discourse until recent years, when media articles drew attention to the practice. There were no statistics on the current prevalence of FGM/C in the country, which does not have laws against FGM/C, although it was not believed to be widely practiced. Several civil society groups led mostly by Muslim women continued to campaign against FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sexual harassment was common and was a particularly widespread problem in public transport.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health. They have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. No significant legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth or contraception. In April the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka reported that sexual and reproductive health services, in both the public and private sectors, were heavily curtailed during COVID-19 lockdowns except for deliveries and pregnancy-related services. Most pharmacies remained open during lockdowns and many contraceptives remained accessible.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence; however, NGOs reported police were often unaware of resources available, limiting referrals.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced by some parts of the Muslim community. A 2018 Ministry of Health circular banned medical practitioners from carrying out FGM, but, since the practice was usually carried out by traditional practitioners known as Ostha Maamis, activists said the prohibition had little effect.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no credible reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women have equal rights to men under civil and criminal law. Adjudication of questions related to family law, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, varied according to the customary law of each ethnic or religious group, resulting in discrimination.
The National Police Commission increased the contribution of women in the police service by increasing the number of female officers at each post.
Birth Registration: Children obtain citizenship from their parents.
Child Abuse: According to reports and evidence from fundamental rights applications and complaints filed with police during the year, school authorities frequently violated government regulations banning corporal punishment in schools. There was also growing public concern regarding the high incidence of violence, including sexual violence, against children in the family and community.
Despite successful efforts to reform the penal code, the basic criminal law, and other laws on child abuse, cruelty to children and their exploitation in trafficking and child labor persisted. Penalties vary based on the type and degree of child abuse, but trials tended to drag on for years.
Most child abuse complaints are received by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) via a toll-free 24-hour hotline. Teachers, school principals, and religious instructors reportedly sexually abused children. Civil society organizations working on children’s issues asserted children had insufficient mechanisms to report domestic violence or abuse safely. Although police stations are supposed to have an officer dedicated to handling abuse complaints from women and children, the government did not consistently implement this practice nationwide. Although the police Children and Women Bureau played a major role in investigating abuse cases, depending on the severity of the case, some fall under the jurisdiction of the magistrates’ courts as outlined in the criminal procedure code. In these instances, police file a formal complaint sheet and begin a judicial medical process. The attorney general files indictments for child abuse cases exclusively in high courts.
Ministry of Justice data confirmed a backlog of more than 20,000 cases of child abuse dating back more than a decade, with 5,292 cases of child sexual harassment reported in the first six months of the year. On August 18, however, the Attorney Generals Department announced it concluded 12,968 cases of child abuse sent by police from January 2019 to July 2020 and forwarded indictments against suspects in 6,149 cases. The Attorney General’s Department declined to proceed with 4,372 cases and instructed police to investigate 2,447 cases further.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Civil law sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, although girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent. According to the penal code, sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 16, with or without her consent, amounts to statutory rape. The provision, however, does not apply to married Muslim girls older than 12. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which applies only to Muslims, permits the marriage of girls as young as 12 with the consent of the bride’s father, other male relatives, or a quazi (a judge who interprets and administers Islamic law).
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography, but authorities did not always enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.
Displaced Children: IDP welfare centers and relocation sites exposed children to the same difficult conditions as adult IDPs and returnees in these areas.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish population was very small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Various laws forbid discrimination against any person with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel, other public transportation, and access to health care. In practice, however, discrimination occurred in employment, education, and provision of state services, including public transportation. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than other persons. There were regulations on accessibility, but accommodation for access to buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities was rare.
There are legal provisions for assisted voting of persons with disabilities. Anyone with a partial or full visual or physical disability may their ballot with the assistance of a person of their choice or the senior presiding officer if they are unable to be accompanied by an assistant. According to the Asian Network for Free Elections, most polling stations had steps for which wheelchair-bound voters required assistance. Election assistance to persons with disabilities was limited in some instances due to conflicting COVID-19 social distancing regulations.
Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained that they suffered long-standing, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens. Throughout the country, but especially in the north and east, Tamils reported security forces regularly monitored and harassed members of their community, especially activists, journalists, and former or suspected former LTTE members.
The government failed to prosecute individuals and groups involved in vandalizing mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and homes after the May 2019 riots that followed the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. Some extremist Buddhist monks and other extremist groups continued to use hate speech on social media with impunity.
On May 19, Human Rights Watch stated the government used the COVID-19 pandemic to “stoke communal tensions” as well as to limit religious freedom. Human Rights Watch reported that authorities did not intervene or speak out when social media users falsely claimed Muslims were purposefully spreading COVID-19 and others called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses.
Since March the government, contrary to global health guidelines, forced Sri Lankans to cremate their dead during the COVID-19 pandemic, violating Muslim religious tenants and the religious preferences of some Christians and Buddhists. Four UN special rapporteurs wrote to President Rajapaksa condemning the burial ban in April. Government authorities violated patient confidentiality by disclosing the ethnic or religious identity of COVID-19 patients.
The country’s indigenous people, known as Veddas, reportedly numbered fewer than 1,000. Some preferred to maintain their traditional way of life, and the law generally protected them. They freely participated in political and economic life without legal restrictions, but some did not have legal documents.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Those convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity in private or in public face 10 years’ imprisonment. Although prosecutions were rare, human rights organizations reported police used the threat of arrest to assault, harass, and sexually and monetarily extort LGBTI individuals. Antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender persons continued to face societal discrimination, including arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and discrimination accessing employment, housing, and health care.
On October 20, Human Rights Watch and LGBTQ rights NGO Equal Ground said in a statement that authorities ha subjected at least seven persons to forced physical examinations, including forced anal and vaginal examination, since 2017 in an attempt to provide proof of homosexual conduct.
LGBTQ rights advocates said that authorities abused six defendants detained for male homosexual conduct following their arrest in October 2019. This included whipping them with wires and courts ordering three of the men to undergo HIV tests without their consent, the results of which were made public in court. One defendant said that after the police severely whipped him, they forced him to undergo an anal examination. In another case, a man was threatened that a choice to reject an anal exam could be used against him in a potential prosecution.
Persons who provided HIV prevention services and groups at high risk of infection reportedly suffered discrimination. In addition, hospital officials reportedly publicized the HIV-positive status of their patients and occasionally refused to provide health care to HIV-positive persons.
The number of HIV-infected male patients between the ages of 19 and 25 appeared on the rise in the country, according to the National Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)/AIDS Control Program of the Ministry of Health. The ministry reported in August that there were 3,600 HIV-positive patients in the country, but only 2,000 HIV-positive patients were registered with the National STD/AIDS Control Program and were receiving antiretroviral treatment.