Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Sri Lanka

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 10 September 2009
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2008 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Sri Lanka, 10 September 2009, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Selected Statistics and Indicators on Child Labor
Population, children, 5-14 years, 1998:3,186,838
Working children, 5-14 years (%), 1998:15.0
Working boys, 5-14 years (%), 1998:17.9
Working girls, 5-14 years (%), 1998:11.9
Working children by sector, 5-14 years (%), 1998:
     – Agriculture71.5
     – Manufacturing13.1
     – Services14.8
     – Other0.7
Minimum age for work:14
Compulsory education age:14
Free public education:Yes
Gross primary enrollment rate (%), 2006:108.1
Net primary enrollment rate (%), 2004:96.7
School attendance, children 5-14 years (%), 1998:97.1
Survival rate to grade 5 (%), 2005:93.4
ILO Convention 138:2/11/2000
ILO Convention 182:3/1/2001
ILO-IPEC participating country:Yes

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

Children in Sri Lanka sometimes work during the harvest periods in both plantation and non-plantation agriculture, including on small family farms. Children also work in the informal sector, family enterprises, small restaurants, stores, repair shops, small-scale manufacturing, and craft production. Children between the ages of 14 and 18 also engage in work as domestic servants, and some have reported experiencing sexual abuse.

Sri Lanka is also a source country for children trafficked to Singapore and the Middle East for commercial exploitation and for work as domestic servants. Internal trafficking occurs for domestic service, commercial sexual exploitation, and for service in military activities. The prostitution of children is reported to be of concern in the country. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 boys engaged in commercial sexual exploitation in Sri Lanka. Girls are also victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of children in prostitution are exploited by local citizens, though there are reports of sex tourism as well. Some of these children have been trafficked and many boys are from coastal areas and are exploited in the sex industry at southern beach resorts.

Conflict intensified in Sri Lanka during 2008 and the use of children in armed conflict remained a pressing concern. Reports indicate that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed terrorist group fighting for a separate ethnic Tamil state, and the Tamil Makkai Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a paramilitary group, both continued to heavily recruit children as soldiers, often forcibly. The LTTE recruited and abducted children to serve in combat and various battlefield support functions. There is evidence that the Government security forces were supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment by the TMVP. In May 2009, the Government declared victory over the LTTE, bringing the 26-year conflict to an end.

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

The law sets the minimum age for employment in most occupations at 14 years. The minimum age for employment at sea is 15 years. Children under 14 years may be employed in family-run agricultural enterprises or as part of technical training activities. However, these children may not be employed during school hours, for more than 2 hours on a school day or Sunday, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., or in any activity that jeopardizes health or education. The law limits the work hours of children 14 and 15 years to 9 hours per day and the work hours of children 16 and 17 years to 10 hours per day. The law also requires medical certification of children less than 16 years prior to employment in factories. The maximum penalty for child labor violations is 12 months of imprisonment and/or a fine.

The law prohibits all children from employment in any hazardous occupation and in industrial facilities after 11 p.m., except in certain training or apprenticeship situations. The Minister of Labor Relations and Manpower (MOLRM) plans to prohibits the employment of children in any of 49 identified hazardous occupations. Forty occupations are unconditional and are to be completely prohibited for children 14 to 18 years, while the other nine occupations will be conditionally prohibited upon the publication of the relevant regulations. MOLRM is responsible for the enforcement of child labor laws. As of January 2009, MOLRM employs approximately 300 labor inspectors tasked with enforcing child labor laws in addition to other labor laws. In 2008, MOLRM received 164 complaints of child labor violations that resulted in eight prosecutions.

The law prohibits forced labor, debt bondage, and all forms of slavery by persons of any age. The maximum sentence for violating the law pertaining to children is 30 years of imprisonment and a fine. It is illegal for any person to cause or encourage a girl under 16 years to be seduced or prostituted. According to the law, offenses may be punished with 6 months in prison and a fine. The law prohibits sexual violations against children, defined as persons under 18 years, particularly with regard to child pornography, child prostitution, and the trafficking of children. Penalties for pornography and prostitution violations range from 2 to 5 years of imprisonment. Trafficking of children is punishable by imprisonment of 3 to 20 years. It is also an offense to cause or procure a child for the purpose of begging.

The minimum age for recruitment into the Armed Forces is 18 years. The law criminalizes the act of engaging or recruiting a child for use in armed conflict.

Current Government Policies and Programs to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Government concluded implementing a Policy and Plan of Action to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor as part of the National Plan of Action for Children (NPA) 2004-2008. MOLRM implemented the child labor components of the plan, which included strengthening child labor laws and enforcement, improving the availability of child labor data, increasing vocational training programs for out-of-school youth, sensitizing the public to child labor issues, and reducing domestic child labor by 30 percent each year. The Government works with social welfare officers to implement the NPA at the community level and has established 25 district child development committees to further raise awareness of child abuse issues, including child labor. In December 2008, the Government signed an Action Plan with TMVP and UNICEF that calls for all child soldiers to be released by March 1, 2009. USDOS reports that this goal will not likely be met.

MOLRM trains labor inspectors, probation officers, and police officers on child labor issues. Training includes trauma and psychosocial counseling, surveillance, legal awareness, as well as training those who train others on these issues. The Women's and Children's Affairs division of the MOLRM conducted eight training programs in 2008 to improve the enforcement capacity of 250 labor, police, and probation officers responsible for combating child labor. The division also conducted 130 awareness-raising programs on the elimination of child labor, and organized a training program to raise awareness among parents.

The National Child Protective Authority (NCPA) is responsible for the prevention of child trafficking. NCPA has a Special Police Investigations Unit comprised of 20 officers whose primary responsibility is responding to complaints of abuse against children including commercial sexual exploitation. Under the purview of NCPA, the Government is implementing a National Plan of Action to combat trafficking of children for exploitive employment. The Government supports six resource centers and two rehabilitation centers that offer counseling, legal assistance, shelter, career guidance, and vocational training to child trafficking victims. In addition, health, judicial, and psychological services to children are supported at the local district level. The Government also supports two rehabilitation centers for child soldiers. As of March 2008, the most recent date such information was available, 50 children had been assisted by these centers. The Government operates a hotline for complaints about child labor. In addition, the Government is participating in an IOM-funded project to train police officers on anti-trafficking strategies.

The Government participated in a USDOL-funded USD 562,000 ILO-IPEC project to address the effects of the tsunami on children that concluded in March 2008. The project withdrew 27 and prevented 2,438 children from exploitive work. The Government participated in a UNICEF-supported project to assist children affected by war, which ended in July 2008. Currently, the Government participates in an ILO-IPEC implemented youth employment project in Sabaragamuwa province, an area with many tea and rubber plantations. The project aims to enable rural youth to avoid exploitive work activities by strengthening their employability through providing training in agricultural-related skills, life skills, and entrepreneurship. The Government is also participating in a 4-year USDOL-funded USD 6.8 million ILO-IPEC project to conduct data collection on child labor.

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