We have a lot of things to be thankful to Sri Lanka for — pristine, undiscovered (and discovered) beaches, unscarred mountains, that overall chilled islander vibe.
People from across the world envy us our constant summers peppered with refreshing, albeit sometimes vengeful monsoons (or so we like to think).
However like all things beautiful, there are a few things we turn a blind eye to: and the numbers are somewhat disturbing. As John Gimlette so succintly phrased it, "There’s a wonderful serenity, as far as the visitor is concerned, but there’s a sort of rage below the surface."
Despite the low-key raging and infuriating bus-music commuters are regularly tortured with, we still have plenty of reasons as to why Sri Lanka is a great place to be and what there's to absolutely love about living here.
Dim the lights, because this piece is a lot darker than our usual content. We're taking a look into what's been making the news with alarming frequency and is rather disturbing to say the least.
Rape and Domestic Abuse
97% of rapists here face no legal consequences. Take a minute to let that sink in. Most rapists can and do get away with it.
Marital rape isn't criminalized either, "unless the husband wife are judicially separated."
According to a multi-country study conducted by the UN on Men and Violence in Asia the Pacific, more than half of the men had committed rape more than twice. Most of these guys had raped someone before hitting their 20th year even.
There were over 1600 cases of statutory rape last year alone, and 379 cases of rape of women over 16 years of age: and mind you, these are just those that are reported, and the lion's share of incidents go unreported.
You wouldn't think Sri Lanka would be topping the lists for this, but we're the country with the third highest rates for suicide according to the World Health Organization.
In Sri Lanka the highest suicide rate among the males is in the > 60 year age group. Similar to Korea, Sri Lanka has a rapidly ageing population. The social welfare system is yet to recognise the need to care for the elderly. In elderly people in developed countries, suicide is strongly linked to psychiatric disorder, with depression being the main contributor.
– the Sri Lanka Journal of Psychiatry, 2012; 3 (2): 7-11.
On the plus side, the journal also reveals that there's been a drop in suicide rates during the period from 1995 – 2011. However, we're still on the excessive end of the spectrum. As of 2007, we had 21 suicides per 100,000 people; and anything more than 15 suicides per 100k is deemed an excessive case. Local police records state that of all the reported suicide cases in 2006, over half of those were carried out through poison.
The National Council for Mental Health claims that possible reasons for the drop in suicides over the last few years could be due to national strategies which were implemented in the 90s; which were namely
- decriminalizing suicide.
- restricting access to poisonous substances/ banning Class 1 pesticides, and
- providing provincial hospitals with more officials trained in psychiatric support.
The Search for 'Sex'
You've probably heard this before when it first began making headlines a couple of years back, but Sri Lanka has been ranked number one as the country which has searched the term 'sex' on Google for quite a while now — a minimum of four years. The pearl of the Indian Ocean will be maintaining their record for the sixth consecutive year this time around as well, unless someone Out-Googles us by December.
You can check out the list view as well. Breaking it down for you, Homagama is the city which searches it most — and Sri Lanka is the country — with Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and India following in consequent order.
And guess what? We come in second at world rankings for having searched the word 'sexting' as well. Weird, ae? The country's ranking is among the top five for searching for other invaluable subtopics related to sex, such as 'blue-film', 'hot girl', 'lesbian', and more. If this isn't a clear sign of half the country being sexually frustrated (ergo all the ah nangi psst pssts on the road), IDK what is.
Check out Google Trends and prepare to be shocked/ entertained/ surprised at how many more related word-searches Sri Lanka tops the lists at. For a country with such suppressed sexuality, we're apparently a very curious people keen on seeking knowledge… carnal knowledge at that. Perhaps it's finally time to drop those Victorian set of "morals"?
The Central Government debts amounts to a total of 96.6% of our GDP. How that.
And it's something we kinda can't run away from…
According to the Central Banks last publication on public debt management way back for 2006, we just kept taking foreign loans for 'specific projects'.
The outstanding stock of foreign debt as at end 2006 was Rs. 1,131 billion or 38.7 per cent of GDP. In 2006, the foreign debt stock increased by Rs. 174.4 billion mainly due to net borrowings (Rs. 65.8 billion) and the impact of exchange rate depreciation (Rs. 108.6 billion). A large proportion (86.4 per cent) of foreign loans is for specific projects. The sources of foreign debt include bi-lateral sources (45 per cent) and multi-lateral sources (47 per cent). In addition, a small proportion of foreign debt is also raised as commercial loans (8 per cent). Major sources of bi-lateral loans are Japan, USA and Germany, while the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are major multi-lateral sources.
Images of stuupas, temples, and meditating monks are one of the pictures that's conjured up when you talk about Sri Lanka. The island also proudly boasts of being home to the Sri Maha Bodhi (the oldest known historical tree in the world), and the Sacred Tooth Relic.
There are over 37,000 registered Buddhist monks in the country: but there's also a problem of them leaving the folds of the clergy. The Asgiriya Chapter confirmed claims that there are approximately 8 to 10 monks who disrobe on a daily basis, as did the Speaker of the House. That's quite a large number. Most of the monks who leave the folds are around 18 – 20; they basically de-robe soon after becoming legal.
Until then though, all their wants and needs (food, accomodation, education) are taken care of by the State and the general public, right through adult-hood. They're entitiled to exclusive privileges (like undisputed seats in public transport, for a minor example) and lead pretty comfortable lives. A couple of years ago a monk from the J'pura University Bhikku Union told me that approx 60% of the monks who go through universities de-robe soon after graduating.
Meanwhile, ordaining young children as monks is considered a "solution to the severe shortage of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka." However, this has been criticized by child-right activists and pediatricians, for obvious reasons.
Child Marriage in the MMDA
The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) doesn't specify a minimum age for marriage, so even though we have a relatively low child marriage percentage, the MMDA accounts for most of the underage marriages which does occur in Sri Lanka. Ergo, a child of as low an age as 12 can be married off, but a Quazi can "authorize the registration of the marriage" of a girl who's under twelve if he thinks it's 'necessary'.
Though this isn't widely practiced, it's still messed up that the law even exists and hasn't been amended.
"Marriage of girl who has not attained the age of twelve not to be registered without Quazi's permission. Notwithstanding anything in section 17, a marriage contracted by a Muslim girl who has not attained the age of twelve years shall not be registered under this Act unless the Quazi for the area in which the girl resides has,after such inquiry as he may deem necessary, authorized the registration of the marriage."
Bad Passport Ranking
Have a Sri Lankan passport? Good luck with getting easy-peasy visas and satiating that wanderlust: cos Sri Lankan passports are one of the least welcomed passports in the world. On the bright side, we're welcomed with open arms to 39 other countries, as opposed to only being welcomed to 38 countries back in 2013. That leaves us with over a 100 other countries who basically doesn't like us. It's like we leave a bad taste in their mouth…
Germany and Sweden on the other hand, have the most powerful passports in the world and can waltz (or fly) off to any of 158 countries of their choice.
Despite people going up in arms to defend the BIA as an amazing place, this isn't really the case. It continues to confund us as to why some of our people get nationalistic and aggro when someone criticizes the airport. Consisting of consistently unfriendly and racist staff (looking at the immigration officers here), porters who border on coercing you to employ their services and the Duty-Free ayyas who keep hissing at you if you're female, the Bandaranaike Int. Airport is among Asia's Top Ten Terrible Airports.
And then we have the Mattala International Airport which has cheerily been dubbed as the World's 'Emptiest International Airport' by Forbes. With even Sri Lankan Airlines — the country's national carrier — liquidating its hub in Mattala, the airport's been built almost in the middle of nowhere. They had to invest in electric fences to put an end to your friendly-but-unwelcome elephants lumbering in, and pilots had to keep a keen eye out for peacocks and other birds as they took off. Collisions in midair between the birds and the planes were not uncommon as flights cannoned into fluffy and feathery (also clawed and beaked) avifauna. Mass-scale culling of the peacocks were also considered.
So yeah. We do have great things but we're also slightly unbalanced as a whole. Like a very nutty cake, which can be quite dangerous if you have allergies. The point of this article? To point out that if you're genuinely invested in Sri Lanka, it's time we made some changes for the positive.