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Sri Lanka: Whether widows, single women and single mothers are vulnerable to violence or any other ill-treatment in Colombo (January 2003 - June 2004)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 25 June 2004
Citation / Document Symbol LKA42449.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sri Lanka: Whether widows, single women and single mothers are vulnerable to violence or any other ill-treatment in Colombo (January 2003 - June 2004), 25 June 2004, LKA42449.E, available at: [accessed 25 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.

Specific information on whether widows, single women and single mothers are vulnerable to violence or any other ill-treatment in Colombo could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, the following general information obtained from news reports is relevant.

In Sri Lanka, one in every five households is headed by a woman (Daily News 25 Mar. 2003). Of the total female households, 23.3 per cent are located in urban centres, and 65 per cent are headed by widows (ibid.).

Two news articles reported that discrimination and social stigma are common towards female-headed households, which are deemed to be inauspicious and are not culturally accepted (ibid.; Women's Feature Service n.d.). Female heads of households are viewed as being unlucky and a bad omen and are generally not invited to community ceremonies such as weddings and festivals (ibid.; Daily News 25 Mar. 2003). Furthermore, "[f]atherless children are ... often ill-treated by society. Female-headed households are always under the threat of rapists, womanizers and often become easy targets of criminals" (ibid.).

This is also true of widows, who are also reportedly discriminated against (UNIFEM 10 June 2004; IPS 4 Nov. 2003; Daily News 25 Mar. 2003). One source referred to widows as being considered "inauspicious" by Sri Lankan society (ibid.), another as "bad luck" (UNIFEM 10 June 2004) and still another as victims of "[s]ocial stigma, loneliness, economic difficulties, pressure from the family and sexual harassment" (IPS 4 Nov. 2003). The Inter Press Service (IPS) explained that although a system of financial assistance exists for war widows, there are problems because those who collect this money are often "at risk of harassment from military personnel" while those who remarry risk losing their husband's salary or pension (ibid.). Another news article stated that

"[n]ight [v]iolence", a new phenomenon in rural areas, is experienced by war widows, and other widows, single parents, divorcees and others. Women in Anuradhapura have reported threats of violence at night, as well as actual violence where men trespass [into] their homes to make demands for sex (Daily News 19 July 2003).

Spinsters, a term used in reference to single women, are also discriminated against and are not socially accepted in Sri Lankan society (ibid. 8 Aug. 2003). One source notes that single women have in the past been referred to as an anti-social group (ibid.).

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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Daily News [Colombo]. 8 August 2003. Nadira Gunatilleke. "Discriminating Against Vulnerable Groups: A Widespread Ill." [Accessed 8 Aug. 2003]

_____. 19 July 2003. Indrani Iriyagolle. "The Problem of Violence Against Women." [Accessed 22 July 2003]

_____. 25 March 2003. Nadira Gunatilleke. "The Dilemma of Female-Headed Households." [Accessed 25 Mar. 2003]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 4 November 2003. Kumudini Hettiarachchi. "Rights - Sri Lanka: Stigma, Harassment Add to War Widows' Burdens." [Accessed 23 June 2004]

United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). 10 June 2004. "Sri Lanka." [Accessed 23 June 2004]

Women's Feature Service. n.d. Aurora Vincent. "Displaced Women Rebuild Their Lives." City Life. [Accessed 23 June 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

The Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR), in Colombo, did not respond to a letter requesting information.

A Colombo-based lawyer, who has conducted research on women's issues, did not respond to a letter requesting information.

Unsuccessful attempts to contact Voice of Women, in Colombo.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), BBC, Centre for Women's Research (CENWOR), Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003, Dialog/WNC, European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Freedom in the World 2003, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), United Kingdom - Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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