Sharp increase in rape of underaged girls

The number of Under-16 girls who were raped rose by 18 percent last year when compared with 2019, according to the latest performance report of the Sri Lanka Police. The statistic pertains to rape “without consent”.

Meanwhile, the rape of girls under the age of 16 “with the consent of the victim” rose by 9 percent during the same period. There was also an increase of four percent in the rape of women over 16. The country was in full or partial lockdown for extended periods last year.

The Penal Code defines rape as forced sexual intercourse or penetration by a man of a woman without her consent. The issue of consent is immaterial in circumstances where the woman is under 16; is of unsound mind or in a state of intoxication caused by drugs or alcohol given to her by the perpetrator or some other person; where the woman believes the perpetrator to be her husband; or where her consent is obtained through force, threats, intimidation, the fear of injury and/or death; or while she was in unlawful detention.

Rape “with consent” pertains to adolescents entering into consensual relationships at an early age, sometimes with parental approval and could also be living together. Under Sri Lankan common law, a girl can consent to sex after 16 but can only marry at 18. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, however, sets the minimum marriage age at 12.

The performance report only reflects cases where complaints were lodged. Globally, rape and sexual abuse are significantly underreported. In 2019, there were 289 cases of rape of women older than 16. This grew to 300 last year–an average of 5.7 sexual assaults a week.

There were 305 incidents of rape of girls under 16 (without consent) in 2019. Last year, this shot up to 361–nearly seven a week. Rape “with consent”, however, was the highest reported type of crime, the police said, with 1,185 crimes reported in 2019 and 1,292 last year–around 24 a week.

“When analyzing data, it becomes evident that the total crimes that come under the above three categories in 2020 have increased compared to those in 2017,” the Police Department states.

The report also points to “a considerable growth in crimes related to narcotics” last year when compared with 2019.

Among the reported offences that declined by various degrees last year are abduction, kidnapping, burglaries, homicide (marginally), robbery, grave sexual crimes (again, marginally), criminal breach of trust and misuse of amounts exceeding Rs 300,000 and theft of property worth more than Rs 25,000.


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