A Study on Unnatural Deaths of Women and Girls in Sri Lanka

by Ajith

"While ‘Unnatural deaths’ is the term used, I urge that we use more direct terminology such as ‘Death by Violence’. Let us not sugarcoat this grave issue,"  Emeritus Professor of Law, Savitri Goonesekere said addressing a panel discussion held in Colombo on 5th March 2018 after the launch of study on Unnatural Deaths of Women and Girls in Sri Lanka (Prevention and Justice).

The study highlighted that 1/3 of female homicides are related to Intimate partner violence and  69% of such incidences are not reported to the law enforcement authorities. 

The study, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka to understand the contributory factors of unnatural deaths from a gender perspective, was conducted by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with the University of Kelaniya. 

The study focused on unnatural female deaths in five provinces in the country. An ‘unnatural death’ is said to occur as a result of external causes such as injury, trauma or poisoning whereas the manner or circumstance could be homicidal, suicidal or accidental, or at times even not determined.

Physical trauma is the leading cause for hospitalization in Sri Lanka. Out of the 243 homicides reviewed in the study, 128 of the cases identified the perpetrator as the legal husband. At the end of the 3-year study, it was found that only 30% of the homicide cases had reached the High Court; while the healthy time period for conclusion of cases is 3 years from the time a case is filed.

Speaking at the event, Ms. Ritsu Nacken, UNFPA Country Representative stated: “Gender-based violence is not only a violation of individual women’s and girls’ rights. The impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, and the fear generated by their actions, has an effect on the entire society. Despite the extensive work done by the government, women’s organizations, the UN and other partners, victims of violence often lack access to essential services that support their safety, health and access to justice.”

"The number of deaths considered in the study may not be huge, but they reflect the tip of the iceberg. I hope the findings add momentum to the change that we must bring to society ensuring men and women are treated equally," said Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Prof. Nilanthi de Silva.

Addressing the panel discussion, Prof. Anuruddhi Edirisinghe, professor of forensic medicine of Kelaniya University and the principal investigator of the study said, "The investigation of unnatural female deaths in Sri Lanka is important, not only to find out how and why these deaths occur, but to ensure justice and to hold perpetrators accountable." 

Dr. Subhangi Herath, senior lecturer on sociology, Colombo University told that it was important to know the number of deaths but more importantly, the reasons behind these deaths of violence. 

The panel discussion was chaired by Prof. Maithri Wickramasinghe, senior professor of English Department of Kelaniya Universtiy.  

A Policy Brief on 'Reportage of Unnatural Deaths of Women and Girls in Sri Lanka' was also launched in this occassion. 

Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe chairs the panel discussion following the launch of the two policy briefs on 'Unnatural Deaths of Women and Girls in Sri Lanka', and media reportage of the same issue. On the left Prof. Anuruddhi Edirisinghe, on the right Emeritus Prof. Savithri Gunasekere

The research team that carried out the three-year study with UNFPA Sri Lanka Representative Ms. Ritsu Nacken and other distinguished guests.