Population: 22,889,201 (July 2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 57th. In 2005 the population of Sri Lanka was 19,722,000; in 2002 it was 19,580,000; in 1992, it was 17,631,000. South Asia — Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — is home to about 25 percent of the world’s population. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =, other sources, older data]

Sri Lanka has a high population density, one of the highest among non-industrial countries.. Population density: 341 people square kilometer (compared to 2 per square kilometer in Mongolia, 35 per square kilometer in the United States, and 511 in South Korea). Population density: people square mile: 844 (compared to 5 per square mile in Mongolia, 93 per square mile in the United States, and 2,890 in Bangladesh). The population density of Sri Lanka was 300 persons per square kilometer (777 persons per square mile) in 2005. [Source: World Population Review]

The population is primarily concentrated within a broad wet zone in the southwest, urban centers along the eastern coast, and on the Jaffna Peninsula in the north. Most people live in the southwest, where rainfall is plentiful, while the relatively arid north is more sparsely populated. Sinhalese, the predominate ethnic group, have traditionally been concentrated in the southwest, while the Tamil minority has traditionally lived in the north and east.

The population of Sri Lanka more than doubled between 1970 and 2000, but the overall growth rate has slowed considerably in recent decades. An important factor in regard to population growth in recent years has been outward migration, primarily to the Middle East, by Sri Lankans in search of work.

Age Structure and Sex and Dependency Ratios in Sri Lanka

Age structure: 0-14 years: 23.11 percent (male 2,696,379/female 2,592,450)
15-24 years: 14.58 percent (male 1,700,442/female 1,636,401)
25-54 years: 41.2 percent (male 4,641,842/female 4,789,101)
55-64 years: 10.48 percent (male 1,110,481/female 1,288,056)
65 years and over: 10.63 percent (male 1,023,315/female 1,410,734) (2020 estimate) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Age Distribution and Sex Ratios in 2002: 0-14 years: 25.6 percent with 1.05 male(s) per female (sex ratio); 15-64 years: 67.7 percent with 0.95 male(s) per female; 65 years and over: 6.7 percent with 0.91 male(s) per female; Total population sex ratio: 0.97 male(s) to 1 female. =

Population 14 and under: 24 percent (compared to 40 percent in Kenya, 19 percent in the United States and 13 percent in Japan). [Source: World Bank data.worldbank.org ]

Population 65 and above: 11 percent (compared to 3 percent in Kenya, 15 percent in the United States and 27 percent in Japan). [Source: World Bank data.worldbank.org ]

Dependency ratios: Dependency ratios are a measure of the age structure of a population. They relate the number of individuals that are likely to be economically "dependent" on the support of others. Dependency ratios contrast the ratio of youths (ages 0-14) and the elderly (ages 65+) to the number of those in the working-age group (ages 15-64). Changes in the dependency ratio provide an indication of potential social support requirements resulting from changes in population age structures. . .
total dependency ratio: 53.7
youth dependency ratio: 36.4
elderly dependency ratio: 17.3
potential support ratio: 5.8 (2020 estimate) =

Median age:: total: 33.7 years; male: 32.3 years female: 35.1 years (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 97. =

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.86 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2020 estimate)
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

There has traditionally been a strong preference for boys. Sex ratio at birth has recently emerged as an indicator of certain kinds of sex discrimination in some countries. For instance, high sex ratios at birth in some Asian countries are now attributed to sex-selective abortion and infanticide due to a strong preference for sons.

History of Population Growth in Sri Lanka

The population of Sri Lanka grew considerably between independence in 1948 and the early 1990s. In the 1980s it was increasing by approximately 200,000 people or 1.37 percent each year. Because of this population pressure, the government faced a major development problem as it has attempted to reconcile the divergent interests of caste, class, and ethnic groups while trying to ensure adequate food, education, health services, and career opportunities for the rapidly expanding population. Politicians and officials have attempted to meet these needs through a form of welfare socialism, providing a level of support services that is comparatively high for a developing nation. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

During the early nineteenth century, the population of Sri Lanka was small and concentrated in the southwestern part of the island and in the Jaffna Peninsula in the north. The first official census, conducted by the British in 1871, recorded a total population of 2.8 million. Between then and the 1980s, the population increased sixfold. Population growth until around 1900 was given impetus by considerable immigration from southern India, as the British brought in hundreds of thousands of Tamils to work the plantation economy. These immigrants accounted for an estimated 40 to 70 percent of the population increase during the nineteenth century. Another significant factor in the growth of population after 1900 was a decline in mortality rates. The period of fastest growth was the decade after independence, when the annual rate of increase was 2.8 percent. The official total in the 1981 census was 14,846,750, and some projections suggested a total of 18 million by 1991 and between 20 and 21 million by 2001. Furthermore, if the 1980s trends continue, the population will double in forty years.

Although the increase in the number of people remained a major problem for Sri Lanka, there were indications in the 1980s that the country had moved beyond a period of uncontrolled population expansion into a pattern similar to that of more industrialized nations. The crude fertility rate declined from 5.3 in 1953 — at the height of the postindependence baby boom — to 3.3 in 1981. Emigration, which outpaced immigration after 1953, also contributed to the decline in population growth. Between 1971 and 1981, for example, 313,000 Tamil workers from the plantation areas emigrated to south India. Increased employment opportunities in the Arab nations also attracted a substantial annual flow of workers from Sri Lanka (a total of 57,000 in 1981 alone). The lowering of the population growth rate was accompanied by changes in the age distribution, with the older age-groups increasing, and by the concentration of people in urban areas. Those phenomena also accompanied lower population growth in Europe and the United States.*

By 1985 a slowly declining crude birth rate hinted at a gradual aging of the population and changed requirements for social services. For the time being, however, there was considerable pressure for jobs, education, and welfare facilities from the large number of people who were raising families or pursuing careers. In the remaining decades of the century and beyond there was likely to be greater pressure for housing and health care for an aging population.*

Population Patterns in Sri Lanka

Population is not uniformly spread but is concentrated within the wet zone and urban centers on the coast and the Jaffna Peninsula. The country's mean population density — based on 1981 census data — was 230 persons per square kilometer, but in Colombo District density was 2,605 persons per square kilometer. In contrast, the dry zone districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaittivu, and Moneragala had fewer than fifty-five persons per square kilometer. One reason for the unequal settlement pattern was the rainfall distribution, which made it possible for the wet zones to support larger village farming populations. Another reason was the slow but steady concentration of people in urban centers during the twentieth century. The ratio of Sri Lankans living in cities increased from 11 percent in 1871 to 15 percent in 1946 and 21.5 percent in 1981. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Urbanization has affected almost every area of the country since independence. Local market centers have grown into towns, and retail or service stores have cropped up even in small agricultural villages. The greatest growth in urban population, however, has occurred around a few large centers. In 1981 the urbanized population was 32.2 percent in Trincomalee District and 32.6 percent in Jaffna District, in contrast to the rural Moneragala District where only 2.2 percent of the people lived in towns. Colombo District, with 74.4 percent urban population, experienced the largest changes. Between 1881 and 1981, the city of Colombo increased its size from 25 to 37 square kilometers and its population from 110,502 to 587,647.*

As in South Asia as a whole — and in contrast to global patterns — Sri Lankan males outnumbered females in the mid-1980s. In Sri Lanka, for every 100 female births registered there were 104 males. In the past, the gender ratio of the general population was even more unequal — 113 men to 100 women in 1941. In part, this imbalance is attributed to the emigration of plantation workers, many of whom were men. Much of the change, however, may be due to a growing sensitivity to the health of women. Since 1963, the average female life expectancy has increased by seven years, while male life expectancy has risen by three years.*

Population Growth and Fertility in Sri Lanka

Population growth rate is relatively low: 0.67 percent (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 143. The population growth rate in Niger is 3.8 percent. In the U.S. it is 0.5 percent. The population growth rate in Sri Lanka in 2002: 0.85 percent. For some time Sri Lanka has had the slowest-growing population in South Asia. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Birth rate: 14.2 births per 1,000 population (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 132. Death rate: 6.5 deaths per 1,000 population (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 143. Net migration rate: -1.3 migrant(s) per 1,000 population (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 150. In 2000 the birth rate was estimated at 16.8 per 1,000 people and the death rate at 6.4 per 1,000 people. The net migration rate in 2002: –1.39 migrant(s) per 1,000 population.

Total fertility rate: 2.01 children born per woman (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 112 and 1.6 in Germany and 6.9 in Niger). The total fertility rate in Sri Lanka in 2002: 1.93 children born per woman The fertility rate is the average number of children estimated to be born per woman during her childbearing years. The fertility is a good indicator of potential for population change in the country.A fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is called replacement-level fertility. If replacement level fertility is sustained over long period then, theoretically each generation would exactly replace itself and the population would remain the same. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Families in Sri Lanka are smaller than elsewhere in South Asia. The population growth rate in the 2000s was relatively low at 0.9 It is lower than that now. The trend of postponing marriage until couples are in their late 20s and have jobs has helped lower the population growth rate from 2.6 percent in the 1960s to 1.7 percent in the 1970s to 1.3 percent in the 1990s.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “The low fertility rate and high life expectancy has led to a larger increase in the older population than the younger population. It took most western countries 45 to 135 years for their elderly population to double, while in Sri Lanka this process is expected to take only two decades. Sri Lanka is expected to have the third oldest population in Asia in 2025. The rising burden of maintaining an aged population could exert considerable restraints on the government's fiscal resources, and the need to provide retirement support income and health care will have serious consequences on the economy as a whole. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Sri Lanka’s Demographic Challenge: Dealing with an Aging Population with Few Resources

The World Bank reported in 2012: In Sri Lanka, “the share of the elderly population over 60 years old is expected to increase from 12.5 percent to 16.7 percent in 2021. By 2041, one out of every four people is expected to be an elderly person. Effective policy planning such as improving labor market outcomes and providing adequate services for vulnerable groups can help ensure that the demographic transition is smooth. The report examines some of the economic implications of Sri Lanka’s demographic transition, focusing on employment and productivity related issues on one side; and the performance of cash transfer programs to assist the poor and vulnerable groups on the other. It highlights the findings of a series of technical studies jointly prepared by Sri Lankan academics and World Bank staff, covering demographic change, National Transfer Accounts, labor markets and cash transfer programs. [Source: World Bank, September 29, 2012]

“Sri Lanka stands out as one of the success stories of considerable advancements in human development in South Asia. Early investments in health and education have resulted in significant reductions in infant mortality rates, increases in life expectancy and decreased fertility rates. These achievements have influenced Sri Lanka’s demographic cycle. The population is projected to reach its peak of 21.9 million people in 2031 and start declining after 2046. By 2041, one out of every four persons is expected to be an elderly person, making Sri Lankans the oldest population in South Asia. [Source: World Bank, September 29, 2012]

“A large informal sector, high unemployment and low female employment rates are key labor market challenges. At present, Sri Lanka is enjoying a demographic bonus with the share of the working age (15-64) population at 67 percent. However, a number of impediments prevent Sri Lanka from taking full advantage of this dividend. The report highlights three important policy challenges: a large informal sector, high unemployment, and low levels of female employment. Only 56 percent of the working age population is employed – driven by low labor force participation and high unemployment rates among women and youth. Professor Indralal De Silva said: “If a demographic bonus is available, it is very conducive to economic take off. "

“An aging population presents significant social protection challenges for vulnerable groups, particularly low-income families supporting the elderly. About 9 percent of the Sri Lankan population is below the poverty line. The number of female-headed households has also increased in recent decades as has the number of people with disabilities. Public spending on social safety net programs has decreased as a percentage of GDP from 2.2 percent in 2004 to 0.3 percent in 2009. As a result, Sri Lanka has moved from being a country with relatively high safety net spending to one with limited resource allocation for safety nets. Sri Lanka’s main safety net program, Samurdhi suffers from poor targeting and benefit adequacy.

“Policies that emphasize labor market competitiveness with efficient delivery of services for poor and vulnerable groups can help mitigate the social costs of this demographic transition. The report provides a series of policy recommendations to help strengthen safety nets for vulnerable groups and increase labor market competiveness. Sri Lanka’s existing pension system only covers an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the elderly that were employed in the formal sector. Therefore any broad-based social protection policy should be complimented by extending pensions, social insurance and credit to the large proportion of workers employed in the informal sector. The report also highlights the need to improve existing safety net programs such as Samurdhi to improve targeting and adequacy of transfers to ensure they reach poor and vulnerable households.

“Labor market reforms in Sri Lanka need to strike a balance between protecting the rights of workers with potential overregulation of jobs. Improving the quality of higher education and vocational training emerge as key priorities. Private sector participation in skills training can ensure the relevancy of such programs, to meet the needs of the expanding services sector as well as skills demanded by the economy. Female labor force participation can be improved by provision of private or community-based daycare centers. Vocational skills and internship programs can also be tailored to the needs of working women, who are concentrated in low-pay occupations, resulting is a sizeable gender gap in wages.”

Birth Control and Contraception in Sri Lanka

Contraceptive prevalence rate: 61.7 percent (2016, CIA World Factbook, 2020). Contraceptive use (any method, women ages 15-49): 65 percent in 2016 (compared to 12 percent in Sudan and 84 percent in the United Kingdom) [Source: World Bank ]

Types of birth control used (2015); female sterilization: 17.3 percent; male sterilization: 0.7 percent; pill: 8.6 percent; injectible: 15.7 percent; Implant: 0.3 percent; IUD: 6.9 percent; male condom: 6.1 percent;early withdrawal: 5.7 percent; rhythm method: 10 percent; traditional: 0.2 percent; total: 71.6 percent [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 — the United Nations un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications ]

Types of birth control used (1994): female sterilization: 24.2 percent; male sterilization: 3.8 percent; pill: 5.7 percent; injectible: 4.7 percent; implant: 0.1 percent IUD: 3.1 percent; male condom: 3.4 percent; early withdrawal: 5 percent; rhythm method: 15.3 percent; traditional: 2.2 percent total: 67.6 percent. [Source: Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015 — the United Nations un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications ]

Injection or injectible contraceptives such as Depo-Provera, Sayana Press or Noristerat release the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Depo-Provera lasts for 13 weeks. [Source: Birth Control Around the World onlinedoctor.superdrug.com ]

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “In a study of 500 Sinhalese Buddhist women in a southern town, Padma Karunaratne (1995) found that 17.4 percent of her sample used modern methods of contraception (i.e., the Pill, IUD, and condoms). Twelve-and-a-half percent of females opted for sterilization compared to only 0.8 percent of males; 21.8 percent used rhythm, 3.8 percent used withdrawal, and 2.6 percent used some other method of contraception. Thus, 58.8 percent of the adult female population used some form of contraception. However, the choice of when to use contraceptives differed substantially from that of Westerners. Women seldom chose to use any form of contraception prior to the birth of their first child. Only after the first child was born or the desired family size was reached did most women decide to adopt some form of birth control. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“Husband and wife are typically too “lajay” (“shy”) to discuss birth control methods. Aside from the Victorian cultural norms that inhibit couples from discussing contraception with each other, the three factors that most impede the use of birth control methods among married couples are neither men nor women are instructed in the way modern contraceptives work, so that they then use them improperly; rumors about the harmful effects of a particular contraceptive may spread without impediment, as no one will know enough to refute them; and most doctors at family planning clinics are males, and women are often too embarrassed to ask them about contraceptive options. Better education about contraceptive use, and directing male or female patients to doctors of their own sex to discuss sensitive matters, would help increase the use of contraceptives.”

Family Planning in Sri Lanka

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “Many Buddhists systematically practice family planning, a feature that has led some conservative elements within the community to worry about future population trends in relation to birth rates among Muslims and Catholics.” [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: “Modern-day Sri Lankans generally favor small families. This is reflected in the dramatic decline of the fertility rate from 5.3 children in 1980 to an estimated 1.9 in 2001. Much of this decline is because of the convergence of two modernizing processes: More married women are working and more women are receiving high school and college degrees. The societal image of women is gradually being reshaped from a traditional one, where to be a successful adult woman meant only to be a mother, to one where women choose to find their sense of identity in their occupation, as well as through their family. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

“Padma Karunaratne (1995) found that the increased “empowerment of women” in Sri Lanka has led to increased control over reproductive choices. Empowerment is reflected by the comparatively high levels of education Sri Lankan women enjoy, the deferred age of marriage, “egalitarian welfare measures adopted by successive governments” (Karunaratne 1995), and the new economic opportunities afforded by multinational companies locating factories in Sri Lankan Free Trade Zones and domestic work opportunities abroad (Gamburd 2001). In a study of 500 women in a southern rural town, Karunaratne noted that 90 percent had some formal schooling and lived within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of a government-subsidized family health clinic. Even in this rural town, the vast majority of women had access to both public education and public health facilities.

“A demographic and health survey conducted by UNESCO in 1993 showed that about 96 percent of adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 had some knowledge of contraception. Family planning is an accepted and well-received practice in Sri Lanka, and recent studies indicate that adolescent populations have greater knowledge of modern contraceptive methods than do their elders (UNESCO Case Study–Sri Lanka 2002, 1, 6)”.

Abortion in Sri Lanka

It is believed that there are 800 to 1000 abortions occurring everyday a day in Sri Lanka. According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”:“Abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka unless the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Since 1970, members of Parliament have sought to pass amendments to liberalize the law on abortion, thus far to no avail. It is impossible to obtain accurate figures on abortion rates in Sri Lanka, but in a 1997 newspaper article, Dr. Nafis Sadik estimated that 500 abortions were performed daily (Catholic World News 1997). Dr. Sriani Bansayake, Medical Director of Sri Lanka’s Family Planning Association, estimated that, in 2001, between 765 and 1,000 abortions were performed daily. Since almost all of these abortions are carried out illegally, they are performed in unhygienic conditions with improper equipment and by untrained medical doctors. The women undergo agonizingly painful abortions that often lead to “death or serious injury” (Basnayake 2001). A study on reproductive health estimated that 12 percent of all maternal mortalities are a consequence of unsafe abortions (cited in Saturday Magazine 2002, 4). [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

Meghan Davidson Ladly wrote in The Telegraph: “Sri Lanka’s abortion laws are among the world's most restrictive, yet hundreds of women risk their lives every day with illegal terminations. The scant research available indicates that many women who do seek out abortions go though medical providers. A study from 2010 of 665 women who had abortions reported that roughly two-thirds said medical practitioners did the procedure. [Source: Meghan Davidson Ladly, The Telegraph, August 5, 2020]

“The threat of poverty drives many women to abort their babies, says Berney Alwis, senior advisor of the Sri Lanka Women Lawyers’ Association. “If they’ve got two children, the third one is a messy problem for them, so what do they do? They do an abortion. Without the husband’s knowledge, most of them are doing the abortion.”

“Finding up-to-date statistics on the abortion rate in Sri Lanka is challenging. The most recent data is from 1998 when a United Nations Population Fund report estimated the abortion rate was 45 for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. These figures suggest that roughly 658 abortions occur daily within the country. “It’s very difficult to get the data because of the legal grey zone and sensitive nature,” said Family Health Bureau Consultant Physician Dr Kapila Jayaratne, acknowledging the challenge of ethical clearance for this sort of research.

Abortion Laws in Sri Lanka

Meghan Davidson Ladly wrote in The Telegraph: “Sri Lanka’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world and attempts at legal reform are held up in parliament. Yet every day hundreds of women are thought to obtain illegal abortions, risking their lives and long-term health. “Sri Lanka is a very conservative country,” says Padmini Weerasooriya, executive director of the Sri Lankan NGO Women’s Centre. “Society is not willing to accept abortion as a legalised thing, due to its mindset.” [Source: Meghan Davidson Ladly, The Telegraph, August 5, 2020]

“Terminating a pregnancy in Sri Lanka is only permitted if a mother’s life is in danger. A woman who causes her own miscarriage – or a person who helps a pregnant woman miscarry – when the mother’s life is not in danger, can face up to three years imprisonment and a potential fine. Afghanistan is the only other country in South Asia whose abortion laws are as punitive.

“In 1995, the government tried to reform the abortion laws, which have remained unchanged since the colonial era. But lawmakers bowed to anti-abortion sentiment and backtracked on the proposed amendments. Attempts at reform in 2011 and 2013 also failed. “Having the weight of that criminalisation obviously causes a lot of problems in terms of accessing services and generally adds to the stigma and secretiveness around sexual and reproductive health,” said Ms Wijesiriwardena

“In 2017, the Justice Aluvihare Special Committee recommended that abortion be permitted in cases of serious foetal impairments, incest, rape and pregnancy of minors under age 16. But legislation based on this proposal has since stalled, with some local media and activists citing religious groups’ opposition as a key reason.

Anti-Abortion Sentiments in Sri Lanka

Meghan Davidson Ladly wrote in The Telegraph: “Abortion remains taboo. “The mainstream discourse is a moralistic discourse and that is how it’s always been,” said Subha Wijesiriwardena, programme coordinator at the Women and Media Collective. “The pro- and anti-abortion lobby has always been this hand-wringing about morality— or the immorality of it— and that is obviously hugely shaped by the church, and that is where it comes from,” said Ms Wijesiriwardena. [Source: Meghan Davidson Ladly, The Telegraph, August 5, 2020]

“Despite Catholics making up only a tiny proportion of the population – around six per cent – they are vociferously anti abortion and have disproportionate influence. Marie Stopes International, an NGO specialising in sexual and reproductive health, ran clinics within Sri Lanka whose services included abortion. The clinics were shut down by the government in 2007 – in a move that was attributed to pressure from the Catholic Church – though some are now up and running again.

“Catholics have a visible presence within the medical field in Sri Lanka. They have their own professional organisation– the Catholic Doctors' Guild of St. Luke, Saints Cosmas and Damian, and members have close ties with Catholic clergy over matters, such as abortion, where the church position differs from broader social practices. The Archbishop of Colombo – Malcolm Ranjith – has been outspoken in his condemnation of efforts to reform abortion legislation.

Women Who Get Abortions in Sri Lanka

A 36-year-old woman named Achala, who lives in the Sri Lankan city of Negombo, told The Telegraph about her experience getting an abortion. Meghan Davidson Ladly wrote: “She recounts how she learned she was pregnant. In 2017, she already had a four year-old son when she discovered she was expecting and she knew she couldn’t keep a second child. Achala’s husband is an alcoholic, and at the time he suspected she was having an affair. Achala denies this but she did not want to bring a baby into such a hostile environment. She works as a sewing machine operator in one of the country’s many garment factories but women like her, who have left their homes to work in these factories are often viewed as promiscuous. [Source: Meghan Davidson Ladly, The Telegraph, August 5, 2020]

“Anton Marcus, General Services Employees Union General Secretary, says women who work in the garment industry are socially and economically impoverished and can be exploited by sexual partners. An unmarried mother would be viewed as an outcast, he says. “To allow them to have an abortion is the best thing – some girls have committed suicide because of this situation, they can’t face their families, they can’t face society, so they take their own decision.” Achala is married, and would not have encountered social stigma had she had a second child. But she could have been left destitute had her husband abandoned her, thinking the child was not his.

Abortion Clinics and Getting an Abortion in Sri Lanka

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: In an article in a Sri Lankan newspaper magazine,Namini Wijedasa (2002) offered a description of an abortion clinic in a residential area of Colombo. The clinic was advertised as a maternity clinic run by a Western-trained medical doctor and his staff. The nurse is said to obtain only the first name of the patient, who gives her a “consultancy fee” of 200 rupees. The pregnant woman is told to come back the following day for a “womb wash.” The fee for an abortion ranges between 5,000 to 15,000 rupees — a fee that is beyond the reach of the average Sri Lankan. As maternity/abortion clinics run by medical doctors are usually ignored by the police, well-to-do Sri Lankans do have abortion options denied poorer Sri Lankans, a point brought out by many Sri Lankan pro-choice activists. Professor Indralal de Silva, for instance, wrote: “When the rich need an abortion — whether it is illegal or not — they will have access to safe abortion [s]. . . . However, for the poor, the chance of having a safe abortion is still relatively less satisfactory” (Wijedasa 2002, 6). [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

Meghan Davidson Ladly wrote: “Despite the secrecy surrounding this issue, accessing abortion-inducing drugs is relatively simple. Dotted every two or three blocks along a congested strip of road in Negombo are pharmacies selling everything from ayurvedic oils and paracetamol to tampons. But they also have a sideline in selling mifepristone and misoprostol – pills that induce abortion. Both are illegal in Sri Lanka, unless approved for use in cases where the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. Yet these unregistered – and thus prohibited – drugs are often sold covertly at pharmacies, in doses that are arbitrary and unregulated. “We all know [the drugs are] smuggled to Sri Lanka and available clandestinely,” says Dr Jayaratne. While one pharmacist may respond to a request for the medication with a firm no, another may quietly produce the packets and sell them. [Source: Meghan Davidson Ladly, The Telegraph, August 5, 2020]

“Achala went to one of Negombo’s many private clinics where she was given the pills by a doctor. While police do occasionally raid illegal abortion clinics, the result is often that the practice is driven further underground for the short term, and then clinics remerge. Achala took what she presumes were mifepristone and misoprostol and then returned to the clinic as instructed after she began bleeding, then the doctor removed any further tissue lining her uterus.

“Having a doctor supervise the abortion, however, is not a guarantee of a healthy outcome. Sri Lanka’s annual maternal mortality ratio calculation includes data on abortion-related deaths. Abortion accounted for five per cent of maternal deaths with a determined cause in 2016, down from 12.5 percent in 2014

“Achala paid around 5,000 LKR (roughly US$30) for the procedure – around a fifth of her monthly salary. Beyond those who helped her at the women’s shelter, she has told no one of her experience, and she still worries what would happen if her husband found out. “I know it is illegal,” said Achala. “It’s wrong. It’s sinful, but I had to do it as I had no choice.”

Migration in Sri Lanka

Net migration rate: -1.3 migrant(s) per 1,000 population (2020 estimate); compared with other countries in the world: 150. This figure represents the difference between the number of persons entering and leaving a country during the year per 1,000 persons. The net migration rate in 2002: –1.39 migrant(s) per 1,000 population. The negative prefix means there is more people leaving the country as net emigration than arriving. This figure does not distinguish between economic migrants, refugees, and other types of migrants nor does it distinguish between lawful migrants and undocumented migrants. There is also no breakdown of ethnic group or religion of those who leave. Most of them leave in quest of higher-paying work than they can find in Sri Lanka. The net migration rate was -1.27 migrants per 1,000 population in 2005. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans have been also been uprooted by rural economic development schemes and migrations to find better jobs. In recent years, many Sri Lankans have migrated to Middle Eastern countries to work there. More than 200,000 have emigrated to Western Europe, Australia, and North America largely as a result of the war with the Tamil Tigers. An estimated 650,000 people were internally displaced by military activities in 1995 and 1996. Of these were 397,000 still displaced in 2000. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations”, 2007]

Since independence was granted in 1948, there have been four main trends in migration. First, every year more people move from rural areas to the cities. Second, the cities have changed from concentrated centers to sprawling suburbs. During the 1970s, the city of Colombo actually lost population, mostly to neighboring cities in Colombo District. Part of the suburban growth has resulted from a planned strategy to reduce urban congestion. For example, a new parliamentary complex opened in Sri Jayewardenepura in the suburb of Kotte east of Colombo in 1982 (although Colombo is still considered the national capital). Much of the growth, however, has been the unplanned proliferation of slums inhabited by poor and unskilled masses and lacking public utilities or services. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Third, government irrigation projects attracted many farmers from the wet zone to the pioneer settlements in the dry zone. During the decade ending in 1981, the highest rates of population increase occurred in the districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where the Mahaweli Garga Program attracted immigrant farmers. Fourth, SinhaleseTamil ethnic struggles displaced many people during the 1970s and 1980s. During a Tamil repatriation program in the 1970s, large numbers of Tamil plantation workers left for India or moved out of the hill areas toward the north and the east. After the intensification of communal fighting in 1983, an estimated 100,000 Tamil refugees fled to India, where they lived in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State, and thousands more were relocated through refugee agencies in Sri Lanka. During the counterinsurgency operations of the Sri Lankan and Indian armies in 1987 and 1988, many residents of the Jaffna Peninsula fled their homes for temporary shelter in refugee camps.*

There were an estimated 1.6 million Sri Lankans living outside Sri Lanka in the late 2010s. Places with a large number of Sri Lankans: 1) Saudi Arabia (479,391 in 2017); 2) United Arab Emirates (238,601 in 2007); 3) India (158,083 in 2013); 4) Canada (152,590 in 2016); 5) Qatar (145,256 in 2016); 6) Australia (140,260 in 2019); 7) United Kingdom (132,000 in 2015); 8) Lebanon (117,031 in 2007); 9) Italy (109,968 in 2016); 10) Kuwait (99,858 in 2016); 11) France (52,300 in 2017); 12) United States (52,000 in 2018). [Source: Wikipedia]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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