Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and domestic violence, but enforcement of the law was inconsistent. The prescribed penalties for rape are seven to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 200,000 thousand rupees (Rs) ($1,333); for domestic violence, a victim can obtain a protection order for one year and request a maintenance allowance. The law only prohibits spousal rape if the spouses are separated legally. Sexual assault, rape, and spousal abuse are pervasive societal problems.
Many women’s organizations believed that greater sensitization of police and the judiciary was necessary to make progress in combating rape. 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. Language barriers between service providers and victims also were reported in the north and east, where Tamil speaking victims lacked access to Tamil speaking service providers. There was one government established shelter for victims of domestic violence. The Ministry of Health, in partnership with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), maintained hospital based centers to provide medical assistance to those requiring attention for sexual assault related injuries before referral to legal and psychosocial services.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sexual harassment was common. In October, the National Police Commission decided to designate senior female law enforcement officers for every province to respond to sexual harassment claims.
The Supreme Court found in October in favor of a schoolteacher who went public with her claims of sexual harassment after school authorities did not take any action on her claim. The schoolteacher gave an interview to the media about her views on the official inquiry, although public officers are not permitted to disclose information on internal disciplinary matters. The court found that the continued sexual harassment and inaction on her case and her need to express this suffering outweighed the rules on disclosing information.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: Women have equal rights 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 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act permits girls to marry at age 12, in contrast to the civil law, which sets the minimum marital age at 18 and the minimum age of sexual consent at 16. According to Tamil civil society groups in the Northern Province, marriages are governed by civil law, while the Thesawalamai customary law governs the division of property.
Birth Registration: Children obtain citizenship from their parents. Authorities generally registered births immediately, and failure to register resulted in denial of some public services, such as education.
Child Abuse: Although there are no available government or NGO statistics on child abuse, there were reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers, school principals, and religious instructors, as well as a number of child rape cases in which government officials were the suspected perpetrators. Civil society organizations working on children’s issues asserted there were insufficient mechanisms for children 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, this was not consistently implemented throughout the country. During the reporting period, the government cooperated with UNICEF to run a social media campaign highlighting online safety and violence against women and children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent. The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs conducted programs in many districts to educate the public at the village level on the complications that may result from early marriage. According to the penal code, sexual intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age, with or without her consent, amounts to statutory rape. The provision, however, does not apply to married Muslim girls above the age of 12.
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 of consensual sex was 16. According to UNICEF, children under age 18 from conflict affected zones, tea estate regions, and poor rural areas were widely engaged in prostitution.
Child sex tourism remained a problem.
Displaced Children: Children in IDP welfare centers and relocation sites were exposed 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population remained very small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
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 were no regulations guaranteeing access to information and communications.
Both local and Indian origin Tamils maintained they suffered longstanding, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens. Tamils throughout the country, but especially in the north and east, reported security forces regularly monitored or harassed members of their community, especially young and middle-aged Tamil men.
The government had a variety of ministries and presidentially appointed bodies designed to address the social and development needs of the Tamil minority. The primary entities were the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, and Hindu Religious Affairs and Prison Reforms and the Ministry of Upcountry New Villages, Estate Infrastructure, and Community Development, both headed by ethnic Tamils.
The government has implemented a number of confidence building measures to address grievances of the Tamil community. It has replaced military governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces with former diplomats and seasoned civil servants.
The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, established by the president, coordinated the government’s reconciliation efforts. Its four main focus areas were promoting social integration to build an inclusive society, securing language rights for all citizens, supporting a healing process within war affected communities via the government’s proposed Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Nonrecurrence, and providing coordinated development planning for war affected regions.
The Muslim community constitutes the third largest ethnic and religious group in the country, accounting for 9.7 percent of the population. There were reports of occasional attacks on Muslims and their property, especially by Sinhalese, for their distinct cultural and religious practices in dress, food, and lifestyle.
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 nominally protected them. There were no legal restrictions on their participation in political or economic life, but lack of legal documents was a problem for many. Vedda communities complained that the creation of protected forest areas pushed them off their lands and deprived them of traditional livelihoods.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Three legal statutes constitute the architecture for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in the country: Section 365(A) of the penal code, which criminalizes acts “against the order of nature”; Section 399 of this code regarding “Cheating by Personation”; and the Vagrancy Ordinance. Section 365(A), although lacking clear legal definition, puts those convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity in private or in public at risk of 10 years’ imprisonment. Antidiscrimination laws prohibited discrimination based on sex but did not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
UN human rights officials noted that police used the Vagrancy Ordinance to detain transgender individuals on suspicion they were engaging in prostitution. Police used Section 399 to harass persons who expressed themselves in gender nonconforming ways on grounds of “impersonation.” Criminal prosecutions under these statues were rare, however. Human rights organizations reported that police targeted LGBTI individuals for assault, harassment, and monetary and sexual extortion.
Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and abuse, including arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and discrimination accessing employment, housing, and health care. In August the government approved the issuance of gender recognition certificates by consultant psychiatrists, which would enable transgender individuals at various stages in the gender reassignment process to amend their gender on government issued identity documents. One transgender individual alleged persons from her community could apply for new government issued identity documents only after having undergone a full course of sexual reassignment surgery.
A Sinhala nationalist group known as “The Island Nation of Sinhale” (Lion’s Blood) threatened and insulted the organizers of Colombo PRIDE 2016 on Facebook.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were reports of discrimination against persons who provided HIV prevention services and against groups at high risk of infection. For example, there are reports hospital officials publicize the HIV positive status of their clients and occasionally refuse to provide healthcare to HIV positive persons. In an April 28 decision, the Supreme Court issued a directive prohibiting HIV discrimination in education in a case in which the school system had denied entry to a student based on a rumor he was HIV-positive. The court held that the constitutional mandate of universal access to education requires that children living with or affected by HIV must have such access. The court further outlined the state’s obligation to take necessary measures to protect, promote, and respect the human rights of persons living with HIV.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Sources stated some Buddhist monks regularly tried to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship on the grounds they lacked the Ministry of Justice and Buddha Sasana’s approval. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka documented a total of 77 cases of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services as of October 31.