The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country of just over 20 million people occupying an island in the northern Indian Ocean.  Formerly part of the British Empire, “Ceylon” attained independence in 1948, and became a republic in 1972.  There are many ethnic groups on the island and Sri Lanka’s post independence history has been marked by ethnic violence.

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

According to the constitution, every person is “entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” The constitution gives a citizen “the right either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching.”

However, the constitution also accords Buddhism the “foremost place” and commits the government to protecting it, but does not recognize it as the state religion.

Education and children’s rights

Religion is a mandatory subject in the state school curriculum. Parents may choose for their children to study Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity. Students belonging to other religious groups may pursue religious instruction outside the public school system.

Family, community and society

Belief Demographics

Just over 70% of the population are followers of Theravada Buddhism.  There are significant minorities of Hindus (12.6% ), Muslims (9.7%) and Christians (7.4%).  There are no records on the numbers of non religious people and only 0.1% of the population are recorded as “other” in the last census.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Sri Lanka was the 3rd most religious country in the world with 99% stating that religion plays an important part in their lives.

Ethnic and Religious Tensions

Tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian minority—particularly evangelical Christian groups, which are accused of forced conversions—sporadically flare into attacks on churches and individuals by Buddhist extremists. Muslims have also faced harassment: in April 2012, Buddhist monks stormed a mosque in Dambulla and the government complied with their demands to destroy the mosque, ordering that the mosque would be demolished and relocated.

Family law

Matters related to family law, including divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are adjudicated according to the customary law of the applicable ethnic or religious group. In order to solemnize marriages, religious groups must register with the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Although freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, a number of laws and regulations restrict this right.  These including the Official Secrets Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), additional anti terrorism regulations issued in 2006, and laws on defamation and contempt of court.

Journalists throughout Sri Lanka, particularly those who cover human rights or military issues, encountered considerable levels of intimidation, which has led over the past several years to increased self-censorship.  Past attacks on journalists and media outlets, such as the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009 and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda in 2010, have not been adequately investigated, leading to a climate of complete impunity. The government continues to censor the internet, temporarily blocking access to the independent news site Colombo Telegraph in 2012, as well as the websites of Tamil language news sites. In May 2012, the Free Media Movement, a press advocacy group, brought a case to the Supreme Court on behalf of five websites that had been shut down in 2011, but the case was quickly dismissed.

Highlighted cases

In April 2014 a British woman was deported from Sri Lanka after police spotted a tattoo of Buddha on her arm.  Naomi Coleman was held in Immigration Detention centre before being deported.