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Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka

Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice continue to lead to effective denial of justice for survivors of sexual violence in South Asia, including in Sri Lanka.

Patterns of Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

There were 1792 reported rape cases in Sri Lanka in 2018, and 1779 in 2019, with 1490 cases of rape against children reported in 2019. 

Patterns of Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls From Socially Excluded Communities

Numerous cases of sexual violence have been reported against Tamil women, particularly during the conflict. While there is no official estimate of the number of such rape cases, Human Rights Watch has found that sexual violence perpetrated against Tamil women by security forces has continued even after the end of the conflict. The report provides detailed accounts of 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse between 2006-2012 in both official and secret detention centers across Sri Lanka, where army, police, and pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups frequently participated in rapes.

The Law Relating to Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka

Definitions of Sexual Violence and Consent 

  • While the rape offense is narrowly applied to include peno-vaginal penetration only, other forms of sexual penetration are covered under the crime of “grave sexual abuse” which carries the same penalties as rape.
  • Sri Lankan law provides that consent is immaterial in cases of sexual violence with a person in detention. Other forms of coercive circumstances where the victim is raped by a person in a position of authority such as the management of a remand home, hospital, custodial home, and the like are considered as aggravating factors, though lack of consent still needs to be proved in such cases.
  • Sri Lankan law recognizes that consent is immaterial in situations where the victim is incapable of giving consent, such as unsoundness of mind and intoxication.

Marital Rape

  • The law explicitly permits marital rape unless the parties are judicially separated.
  • The law explicitly permits marital rape of children over the age of 12. This is in conflict with Sri Lanka’s family law which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, though personal laws such as the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act have no minimum legal age of marriage.

Laws Requiring/Permitting Discriminatory or Overly Burdensome Evidence

The evidence law specifically allows the introduction of evidence in rape cases which shows that “the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character”.

Special Provisions for the Protection of Socially Excluded Communities

Sri Lanka does not have specific laws or provisions which address the added vulnerabilities of socially excluded communities in relation to crimes of rape/sexual assault.

Barriers to Accessing Justice Within the Criminal Justice System

Through interviews with stakeholders and review of available data and reports, our report found that the implementation of rape laws remain poor and survivors, particularly those from communities marginalized based on caste, class, and ethnicity, face many obstacles in accessing justice, including:

  • corruption amongst law enforcement officials,
  • failure of the police to register cases of sexual violence,
  • long delays in police investigation and trial of rape cases,
  • the extremely low conviction rate in rape cases (around 3.8%),
  • continued use of the two-finger test,
  • difficulties in accessing support services for survivors, and many others.

The information on this page is derived from Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, jointly published by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International in April 2021.