Societal attitudes towards unwed mothers, particularly Singhalese mothers [LKA41786.E]

According to a Colombo-based lawyer who is currently conducting research in the area of interracial relationships (Gender Equality Incorporated n.d.),

The social organization and relations of the Singhalese is based mainly on caste. Usually marriage outside the caste was not accepted as valid. Marriage is an important institution and through marriage an intricate network of relationships will be established. This has to be examined considering the differences regarding social and economic status, and also religion. You have Singhalese Buddhists (the majority) and Singhalese Christians and Catholics. Pregnancy outside marriage is socially considered a "disgrace" that will affect not only the mother to be but her family, therefore they usually suffer isolation. That explains the high number of abortions in the country and also suicides (5 Aug. 2003).

Citing a paper entitled "Single Women's Sexuality and its Cultural Versions," which was written by Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Director of WERC-Women's Education and Research Centre, the lawyer quotes that

"During peace times or normal times, the single women are protected socially by the extended family and by the immediate family and perhaps by the elderly kindly neighbors. This protection acted as a barrier to any unwanted advances made by males. Under the present situation this barrier is no more there. The women are left severely alone. Relative and others who consider them a financial burden have distanced themselves.
The single women both at home and at the work place have to face many physical advances from men young and old, married and unmarried. In our interviews these women found it difficult to discuss these sexual advances" (5 Aug. 2003).

The lawyer adds that "[i]n the present context the number of cases of rape and incest reported in the media have increased but the real numbers remained uncertain. To be single and [e]specially an 'unwed mother', will mean that you are 'available' or 'easy'" (ibid.). Furthermore, "[t]he responsibility of a child born outside marriage rests solely on the mother. The lack of support on behalf of family and the state will make her living quite hard and sometimes unbearable" (ibid.).

The periodic report prepared by the government of Sri Lanka, which was submitted under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in March 1996, states that there is "social stigma attached to unwed motherhood" (UN 13 Jan. 1997).

On its Website, Isis International, a feminist non-governmental organization that is "dedicated to women's information and communication needs" (Isis n.d.a.), states that Sri Lankan society "looks down on ... unwed mothers" (ibid. n.d.b.).

In an article on women and the media in The Island, a national newspaper in Sri Lanka, the author makes reference to a news report that had been published in the Daily Mail, a United Kingdom-based Sri Lankan newspaper, stating that the way the article in the Daily Mail was written suggests that "having a child out of wedlock is a socially unacceptable activity [in Sri Lanka]" (14 Aug. 2002).

In Gulf News, a Sri Lankan ambassador reportedly stated that some women who have children out of wedlock abandon them because they are afraid of the social stigma attached to raising children out of wedlock (25 Nov. 2002).

In August 2001, Daily News reported a story about a Sri Lankan woman who had become pregnant while working in the Middle East (2 Aug. 2001). Upon discovering that she was pregnant, her employer sent her back to Sri Lanka, but the child's father had abandoned her and "[h]er family had cast her off" (Daily News 2 Aug. 2001). This led her to turn to the Department of Probation and Child Care Services and give her child up for adoption (ibid.). Upon the completion of these procedures, she was hopeful that her parents would accept her "now that she has given up her baby" (ibid.).

In its third and fourth periodic report submitted to the United Nations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in October 1999, the Sri Lankan government stated that

Article 5
55. Sri Lanka is a country in which the traditional role of women in society is still respected to varying degrees in the rural and in urban societies. Ours is a conservative society with strong beliefs in cultural norms and deeply rooted prejudices. ...
56. ...If adherence to stereotype roles for women still exists, it is due to the fact that Sri Lankan society is slow to discard tradition. ... (UN 18 Oct. 1999).

However, according to its second periodic report submitted under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in November 2002,

87. ... the structure and functions of the family as a basic social unit have undergone significant changes. ... There are also now more truncated, nuclear families or single-parent families, which comprise mother and children or father and children or widows living alone (ibid. 19 Nov. 2002).

Similarly, Women's Feature Service (WFS), an "international women's news/features syndicate ... on development from a gender perspective" which began in 1978 as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and United Nations Population Fund initiative (WFS 5 Mar. 2001), states that female-headed households are "now seen increasingly in Sri Lanka," even though according to the executive director of the Women's Education and Research Centre (WERC), "'[t]he male-headed household in Sri Lanka is the norm, and it was not culturally accepted for the household to be female-headed'" (WFS n.d.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Daily News [Colombo]. 2 August 2001. Aditha Dissanayake. "Children Living in the Middle of Chalk Circles." (NEXIS)

Gender Equality Incorporated. n.d. "Bio." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2003]

Gulf News [Dubai, United Arab Emirates]. 25 November 2003. "New Sri Lanka Law a Boon for Children." (Dialog)

The Island [Sri Lanka]. 14 August 2002. "Women and Media: Have Things Improved?" [Accessed 28 July 2003]

Isis International. n.d.a. "About Isis." [Accessed 28 July 2003]

_____. n.d.b. Lorna Israel. "Growing Up, Getting Old as a Nun." [Accessed 28 July 2003]

Lawyer, Colombo, Sri Lanka. 5 August 2003. Correspondence.

United Nations (UN). 18 October 1999. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Third and Fourth Periodic Reports of States Parties: Sri Lanka. (CEDAW/C/LKA/3-4) [Accessed 28 July 2003]

_____. 19 November 2002. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention: Second Periodic Report of States Parties: Sri Lanka. (CRC/C/70/Add/17) [Accessed 28 July 2003]

_____. 13 January 1997. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Initial Reports Submitted by States Parties: Sri Lanka. (E/1990/5/Add.32) [Accessed 28 July 2003]

Women's Feature Service (WFS). 5 March 2001. "About Us" [Accessed 28 July 2003]

_____. n.d. Aurora Vincent. "Displaced Women Rebuild Their Lives." [Accessed 28 July 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases


Internet sites, including:

Asia Observer


Asia Times


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002


European Country of Origin Information Network

Human Rights Watch

International Centre for Ethnic Studies [Colombo, Sri Lanka] (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs)

The Sierra Times

United Kingdom, Immigration and Nationality Directorate

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