The Lanka Academic

VOL. 2, NO. 176

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Pre-marital sexual activity in Sri Lanka worries demographer
Roy Mendis in Colombo, 11.25 PM SLT Saturday September 29,2001. A leading demographer has drawn attention to the fairly alarming degree of pre-marital sexual activity in Sri Lanka."Sexual activity among the un-married is getting extremely dangerous," says Colombo University demographer,Prof.W.Indralal de Silva.

The demographic,social and economic profile of Sri Lanka is conducive to the practice of pre-marital sex, he says.A rise in unbridled sex,much of it presumably pre-marital,is reflected in the fact that Sri Lanka has the highest illegal abortion rate in the world.According to Dr.Jayanthi Abeywickrema,Director of Health in charge of AIDS and STD programme in the Ministry of Health,750 to 1000 illegal abortions take place daily.

Pre-marital sex is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka.The Demography and Health Survey of 1987 showed that one in six married women in the 20-24 age group had conceived their first child before marriage.According to Silva this is a "significant minority."

The main reason for the a high incidence of pre-marital sex is the rise in the age of marriage and the fall in the age of puberty,according to Silva.While the age of puberty has gone down from 14 to 12, the age of marriage has risen to 26.The result - females have a longer time span for pre-marital sexual activity than before.

Puberty comes earlier than before because of an improvement in the quality of food eaten,better health care and the expansion of the mental horizon due to exposure to the mass media.

As for the rising age of marriage,the causes are many.In demographers' view,a major factor inhibiting early wedlock is the imbalance between males and females - there are more females than males.The second is the inability of males to secure steady jobs or a steady source of income because of the country's economic slide.The decline has made it difficult for females to rustle up enough dowry.These are important factors in the Sri Lankan context because Sinhala society insists that a married couple move out of their parental homes and set up their own household.The third factor is the empowerment of females brought about by growing opportunities for female employment both within the country and abroad.Female empowerment has resulted in their being more demanding and less inclined to marry for the sake of marrying.Fourthly marriages are postponed because of delays in completing university education due to the Sri Lankan universities' inability to work according to schedule.

The demographic imbalance between male and female has been a steady feature in Sri Lanka.According to the 2001 census,there are only 97.9 males for every 100 Silva uses the Sri Lanka Demography and Health Survey of 1987 to illustrate the point that the imbalance is telling in the marriageable groups.Let us assume that males in the age group 25 to 29 look for brides in the age group 20 to 24.In this set,the imbalance is acute with only 73.6 males for every 100 females.In the other marriageable age group, male 30 to 34 and female 25 to 29, there are only 68.9 males per 100 females.

Genetic factors lead to more females than males surviving the challenges thrown up in early childhood. In later life too males are subjected to greater attrition because of the continuing war.Terrorism in the south in the late eighties had led to 60,000,mostly young men,being killed and thousands,again mostly young men,disappearing or leaving the country.

As for the employment and economic situation,80% of the unemployed are in the marriageable age group 15 to 29,says Silva.About 150,000 young persons enter the job market every year,but the institutions can abosob only 40,000 per year, he points out.

A study of four villages in Humbantota district by Prof.S.T.Hettige of the Colombo University Department of Sociology found that economic considerations were key to marriage.A preponderance of females over males did not lead to all males being able to marry or even wanting to marry.Dowry,job status,and even a yearning for independence were serious considerations.Often these tended to delay marriage irrespective of the numerical availability of brides or grooms.

But delayed marriage has not been a bar to sexual activity,points out Prof. de Silva.Even Prof.Hettige found that society was more accommodative of deviant sexual behaviour though those who brazenly flouted traditional norms were a small minority.But casual sex could lead to illegal and therefore dangerous abortions and also STD and AIDS if left unchecked.Sri Lanka does not allow abortions except to save the life of the mother.

Prof. de Silva strongly urges Sri Lanka's Family Planning Programme to address the problems thrown up by an increasing tendency to indulge in casual sex.
Published: Sat Sep 29 13:23:18 EDT 2001

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Lankan war taking its toll on children
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