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Sri Lanka

map of South Asian Country - Sri Lanka

Socioeconomic indicators

  • - Total population (millions), 2005: 19.1 (i)
  • - Annual population growth rate(%), 2005/15:0.4 (i)
  • - Population under age 15 (% of total), 2005:24.2 (i)
  • - Urban population (% of total), 2005:15.1 (i)
  • - Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births), 2005:12 (i)
  • - Youth literacy rate (%, age 15-24), 2005:95.6 (i)
  • - Female youth literacy rate (%, age 15-24), 2005:96.1 (i)
  • - Primary school enrolment ratio (gross), 2000/07: Male 98/Female 97 (ii)
  • - Secondary school enrolment ration (gross), 2000 - 07 : Male 86/Female 88 (ii)
  • - GDP/capita (PPP US$), 2005:4,595 (i)
  • - Unemployment rate (% of labour force), 1996-2005:7.7 (i)
  • - Population living below the national poverty line (%), 1990/04:25 (i)

(i) Human Development Report 2007-08
(ii) UNICEF: The State of the World’s Children 2009

Child labour situation

According to the National Survey on Child Labour ( 1 ), conducted in 1999, 926,037 children living in Sri Lanka are economically active ( 2 ). However, this number includes children who are involved in some form of economic activity while also attending school or some other educational institution. As many as 234,618 of them (nearly 26 per cent) are engaged in an economic activity while not attending school or any other educational institution. It is reported in the survey that 52 per cent (475,531) of all working children are under 15 years of age.

The majority of the children engaged in economic activity are boys (62.3 per cent). Furthermore, 95 per cent of all working children reside in rural areas.

Nearly 60 per cent of all working children are reported to be working as agricultural workers. Among the children working in the urban sector, the most dominant occupations are classified under the category of 'shop sales persons and demonstrators'. The number of child domestic labourers is estimated to be 19,111 of which a majority are girls from rural areas.

Poverty at the household level is considered as one of the primary reasons for the prevalence of child labour in Sri Lanka. It is estimated that about one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Studies have shown that despite improvements in primary school enrolment, school dropouts at an early stage come from poor families. Recent studies ( 3 ) have confirmed the figure of such dropouts at 60,000. Lack of basic necessities such as food, clothing, school stationery, and bus fare; lack of support and guidance from parents; parents' attitude towards education, and the relevance of the formal education system are all common reasons for children leaving school at an early age. Furthermore, many of these children, particularly girls, are forced to stay home caring for their younger siblings at the expense of their schooling. Those who drop out from school find their way into the child labour market.

Although research methodologies have yet to develop scientifically proven ways of measuring the exact magnitude and scale of the problem of trafficking, indications from a number of research studies and from interventions during the past years have shown that the scope as well as purposes of trafficking have widened. In Sri Lanka, preliminary calculations provide an estimate of approximately 5,000 children ( 4 ), who have been trafficked internally and currently find themselves in some of the worst forms of child labour, including being conscripted to fight in conflict situations and involved in commercial sex tourism.

In the North-Eastern Province, it is estimated that 2,000 children have been involved in the armed conflict as child soldiers ( 5 ), and face difficulties readapting to ordinary life. But other children, not directly involved in the conflict, have also been affected by the war in multiple ways. Many are suffering from traumatic stress due to shocking past events and present living conditions. They are faced with the physical destruction of homes, schools, and hospitals, and are constantly at risk as they live n a heavily mined region. Due to hardships and a lack of options, child labour is on the rise, especially in households headed by women. The school drop-out rate is high, and training opportunities few.

Note 1 - Department of Census and Statistics, Ministry of Finance and Planning: Child Activity Survey (Sri Lanka, 1999), survey undertaken with the support of the ILO.
Note 2 - 'Economic activity' includes both paid and unpaid, casual and illegal work, as well as work in the informal sector, but excludes unpaid domestic services within own household.
Note 3 - Ministry of Education and UNICEF study, 2003.
Note 4 - IPEC Project for Combating Child Trafficking for Labour and Sexual Exploitation, estimation based on a number of reports.
Note 5 - Refer to Plan of Action, p. 3; ILO Inter-regional programme on children involved in armed conflict, p. 11.

Last update: 11 September 2009 ^ top