Abortion / AIDS (France Sri Lanka Cultural Exchanges - Suriyakantha)

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July 2004 [Sri Lanka]

    Sociological and scientific view of abortion
    "Gabsava Samajeeya ha Vidyathmaka Drushti Konayen"
    H. D. Indira Vijayanthi
    Vijayanthi Publishers
    Tel. 0777-492648, 037-2278676

    By the end of 2003, there were more than 3,000 abortion clinics in Sri Lanka. of these in same major clinics 2-3 to 200-300 abortions took place per day ... In a survey which included 350 women, 48 women were found to have undergone abortions.

This amounts to 37 abortions per thousand women. If these statistics are correct it reveals that the proportion of abortions in the country surpasses those of all the other countries in the world." The facts are from Gabsava (Abortion) from a sociological and scientific perspective by H. D. Indira Vijayanthi, a graduate specialized in social science from Ruhunu University.

A sensational theme. An issue a few would dare to probe, either because of the notion among the majority in society that abortion is somewhat a 'vulgar' subject to have an open dialogue or may be it is considered a non - issue in a society which is largely based on 'macho' values and ideologies. Nonetheless, this writer very courageously gets into the subject. She does a serious study on abortion, a painstaking task at that; a lot of research, reading, meeting people of various walks of life, and professionals in medical science, law and sociology.

The writer takes out into the open a problem which the majority in society who are bound by rigid religious, legal and moral codes like to hush up and invites the readers to have a complete view of it, with their mind's eye fully open. In her research, she explores a world which is exclusively of women; a world which is ugly and gory; pathetic and depressing, a world which exudes the smell of blood, the sound of desperate sighs and heart-rending cries of women of every age; daughters, sisters and mothers, an atmosphere breathing anger, and helplessness. The writer has met and interviewed many women who have had their unborn babies killed in their wombs, women who found gruesome ways to destroy their 'unwanted' babies, and thereby inflicted upon themselves fatal injuries, or sometimes death. And, there were women who have never heard of family planning! In her search for facts, she has gone and witnessed for herself the inhuman and uncivilized treatments women were subjected to, in order that they be rid of their burdens. The merit of Indira's work lies in the fact that the disciplined or rather restrained way the research findings are put into shape, to present scholastic work.

Why is abortion a social issue and yet, why is it not in dialogue at least among the parties that show concern so that the answers for problems arising from it could be found? This aspect is discussed in this book extensively. Criminal abortion is only an iota of the contemporary criminalized society. The process takes place in many ways. The process of individualization, postponement of marriages, unlimited wants (not needs) and desires of people and dehumanization, are some of the causes that the writer brings out as agents that pave the way for induced abortions. Each of these facts are elaborated on producing case studies as examples. For example, dehumanization in society; with the help of her research findings, she shows that the root cause for 80% of abortions is the merciless and inhuman thinking of the persons who get involved in an induced abortion. They see the pregnancy in question as a great barrier in their lives, and it is nothing but right getting rid of it. They do not consider that they kill a living being by getting involved in an abortion.

The nature and methods of implementation of abortion laws in many countries are detailed out with the most essential data to get an idea of the global situation of abortion today. Where does Sri Lanka stand against this backdrop? Our abortion law dates back to the 19th century. According to Chapter 343 of the Criminal Law of 1833 an abortion becomes legal only when the pregnancy is a danger to the mother's life. An abortion done outside this condition becomes a criminal offence. Reasons why is it important to ease the abortion law in Sri Lanka are followed by a detailed account of the existing law. Some 2000-3000 illegal abortions take place a day in the country; tightening, or bringing a total ban on abortion will cause more harm than good to society. Here, the writer raises a point worthy of consideration by those who oppose easing the existing law. Some decades ago, child births took place at home. Some mothers and babies from impoverished and illiterate families or of remote rural areas died due to the use of unhygienic, blunt weapons to sever the umbilical code or, uncleanliness of the people or place involved in the post-natal stage. Many places that operate as 'clinics' for these clandestine surgeries are dirty, dark places without proper ventilation. So, what these women who visit these places undergo may be not much different from what those women who had had babies at home in the past. What are the writer's suggestions to reduce the number of illegal abortions; sex and reproductive education, knowledge on family planning and more importantly, help building a more civilized society where true human values are upheld.

She concludes stating that the existing abortion laws in the country should be changed; when doing so, the ministries concerned, leaders of all the religious sectors in the country and women's organizations inclusive of the Women's Ministry and family planning organizations should get together. Indira Vijayanthi has touched on a subject that is considered a taboo, by the Sri Lankan Society. And she lays bare many aspects of legal and medical fields and in society and asks for justice on behalf of all the women in the country. This is a good reference book for any registered medical practitioner, nurse, family health worker, or even a police officer or a lawyer. I consider it a must in the reading list for any female student pursuing higher studies.

Malini Govinnage (Daily News, 14th July 2004)

The Island 14 October 2001 [Sri Lanka]

    The day may soon come, when women all around the world will have the legal right to decide for themselves when and whether to have children, and the means to exercise that right safely.

    Children will have the fundamental right to be wanted, to grow up safe, happy and healthy.

About 46 million abortions are performed every year. 20 million of them are illegal, said Dr. Sriani Basnayake, Medical Director Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, at a workshop held at the Family Planning Association recently.

In Sri Lanka, abortion is not allowed on any grounds, except for if the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman's life.

Therefore, illegal abortions are performed in Sri Lanka putting the women in the worse kinds of physical torture and the number of maternal deaths have increased due to unsafe abortion.

    Around 750-1000 abortions are conducted per day in Sri Lanka.

    An important message that we can learn from the Netherlands and other European countries is that the most comprehensive family planning programs and widespread contraceptive use, will never completely eliminate the need for abortion.

    Abortion is a critical backstop to contraception, which is not 100% effective.

    People do make mistakes - they sometimes forget to use their contraception, or they use it wrong.

    Motherhood should never be a punishment for human error.

Th high rates of death and serious injury associated with unsafe and illegal abortions has proved that governments and certain religious groups are blind and indifferent to the realities of women's lives. People continue to believe that laws against abortion will stop abortions, in spite of obvious contrary evidence.

The only thing that laws against abortion do, is to make abortions dangerous, turn women into criminals, produce thousands of disadvantaged children and create wide disrespect for the law. We see thousands of women willingly risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy, the hypocrisy of those in power is nothing less than criminal.

    We probably won't be able to change the laws against abortion without some kind of universal consensus, and I believe that we are getting closer to that universal consensus.

- Dr. Sriani Basnayake.


SRI LANKA / February 2002

Abortions to be legalised on selective basis?

The Women's Affairs Ministry plans to explore the possibility of legalising abortions on a selective basis, a senior ministry official said yesterday while expressing the belief that they would be able to convince the opposition and religious groups of the necessity.

"The experts were supportive of the proposal."

Two of the seven-nation SAARC had legalised abortions. India and Bangladesh have legalised abortions and there was nothing wrong in Sri Lanka permitting abortions on a selective basis, the official said.

The spokesperson explained that their proposal would be very much similar to the one proposed by the previous government in 1995.

"We are hoping to introduce amendments to the Penal Code
to permit abortions on a selective basis."

The Women's Affairs Ministry was having discussions with a view to reviving the previous government's plan to introduce amendments to the Penal Code.

Women's Affairs Ministry sources said that the UN too has expressed concern over Sri Lanka's failure to legalise abortions.

From Shamindra Ferdinando
The Island


Newly published (in French)

NAISSANCE D'UNE LIBERTÉ (Birth of a Liberty)

Contraception, Abortion :
The Great Battle of the 20th Century's Women
Xavière Gauthier
Ed. Robert Laffont, 440 p., 22,70 €.


Last year there were 4,800 reported cases of HIV/AIDS on our little Island alone. Yet this figure fails to consider those who still hide in the shadows. For years here, it has been denied that HIV/AIDS is a problem world wide. Sri Lanka has not been spared from this epidemic because whether we like it or not, people are having sex, and AIDS does not discriminate.


However, the real culprit has been prejudice towards those with HIV/AIDS. Minister of Health and Nutrition, P. Dayaratne, said that "fear of discrimination prevents people from admitting and seeking help, afraid that families will reject them, they'll be evicted from their home. Because of this, children have become orphans, abandoned. We need to change our attitude and remove the stigma attached to those effected."

In the past year, governments and NGOs around the world have been discussing the future availability of drugs that could buy time for those with HIV/AIDS, but Chairman of Lanka Plus, Nigel de Silva said that for many of those who still live in fear, it might be too late. It's harsh judgements that have made people too afraid to seek help that could remedy and slow down the effects of the virus.

Despite years of denial, Sri Lanka's youth are becoming increasingly liberal and much more sexually active. Nigel de Silva said, "Many adults have sex outside marriage, and young people are especially vulnerable because they have multiple partners." With this in mind, setting aside moral and ethical connotations, people need to be equipped with the knowledge and education of HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as the support for those who carry it. The ignorance of AIDS as a threat among Sri Lankan people themselves, and the stigma attached to this disease has made people hide their condition from the public, enabling it to spread further because people fear violence, abandonment, and discrimination from their friends and families. Head of the AIDS Coalition, D. Kamalika Abeyaratne, who has dedicated herself to the struggle of protecting the rights of people with HIV/AIDS, said : "AIDS does not discriminate, so nor should you."

Hanna Jackiewicz / Daily News (December 6 2003)

- 40 000 000 carry the HIV (last year it was 36 100 000).
- 3 000 000 died in 2001.
- 90% of the dead are from the Third-World countries.
- 5 000 000 newly infected in 2001.

The Daily Mirror 4 December 2001 [Sri Lanka]
Manjari Peiris

Out of the 22 million HIV patients affected in the world this year, 75% are living in developing nations.

Sri Lanka is on the gateway to the AIDS epidemic and precautionary methods are needed to avert a major problem.
Although the AIDS plague is yet to affect Sri Lanka in the proportion it has affected other countries in the region, timely action is urgently required.

United Nations Population Fund,
UNFPA Acting UN Resident Coordinator Som P. Pudasaini

In Sri Lanka sexual transmission is the predominant mode of HIV transmission which accounts for 82% of the reported AIDS cases and 77% of reported HIV infections.


The vulnerable and risk groups are sex workers, clients of sex workers, STD clinic attendees, youth, overseas workers especially young migrant women, injecting drug users, homosexual and bisexual men, displaced persons and the military.

Forty percent of Sri Lanka's population is under the age of 30 and these young persons are at high risk of acquiring HIV infections. There are many social reasons such as the increasing age of marriage and changes in social norms, which contribute to risky sexual behaviour.

In Sri Lanka, homosexuality is not much talked about, as it is illegal. However, it is neither accepted nor rejected by society and 20 per cent of the reported AIDS cases and 11 per cent of the reported HIV infections were due to homosexual transmission. Approximately 1.2 million people who are employed in the Middle East too are at risk.


It is estimated that approximately 7,500 adults and children with HIV/AIDS were living in Sri Lanka since the latter part of 1999.

However, since 1996, only a total of 314 HIV positives have been reported to the National Studs and AIDS Campaign Program (NSACP).


In Sri Lanka, promotion of condoms particularly through the mass media, was generally regarded as a 'taboo' until very recently. Condoms are distributed mainly through pharmacies, health clinics and hospitals. Health workers distribute condoms to married couples and hesitate to provide these to the unmarried. Thus, youth find it difficult to access these items from the health services.

There is still a general reluctance for open discussion on condoms in most communities and even for family planning purposes, its use is very low in Sri Lanka. Hardly is recognition given to the importance of youth friendly services. This is due to traditional norms, which are against premarital sex even if the age of marriage in Sri Lanka is increasing.


There are many constraints to education through schools as many of older teachers are trained in reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention are not comfortable to talk to students due to their in-built inhibitions and prejudices.

Generally children should be given sex education when they are between 8-9 years.


Sri Lanka has experienced several examples of political advocacy and social mobilization efforts related to many issues impacting on health and social development. In the latter quarter of 2000, the Ministry of Health launched a multi media campaign on HIV/AIDS in collaboration with UNICEF using the media along with the involvement of key media journalists, leading NGOs and the Minister of Health.

Political advocacy on substance abuse has been initiated at presidential level as a task force on tobacco, alcohol and drugs has been set up.

To prevent HIV, we should establish and strengthen awareness of it and implement workplace prevention and care programs in productive and service sectors and promote specific strategies to address workers in the informal sector.

M E N T A L  H E A L T H

    "Illicit Alcohol"
    Dr Ranil Abeysinghe.

    Vijitha Yapa Publications (Colombo)

    The illicit drinking scene in Sri Lanka, where Kasippu drinkers outnumber licit drinkers 20 to 1, is the focus of a new book by the well known psychiatrist Dr. Ranil Abeysinghe, Head of the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya.

Dr. Abeysinghe writes with specific examples of individuals and concentrates mainly on the deprived inner city area of Colombo such as Grandpass, where the study was conducted.
Published by Vijitha Yapa Publications "Illicit Alcohol" is launched on May 3 at 5 pm at the Galle Face Hotel. Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala, Dean of the Faculty of Sociology, University of Sri Jayawardenepura is the Chief Guest.


International conference on mental health & psychiatry
"Community Care : Issues and Challenges"

4 - 7 April 2002, Taj Samudra

An international conference with the participation of several distinguished local and international psychiatrists, has been the major event of the Sahanaya 20th anniversary celebrations.

The launching of the Mental Health Resource Centre at Gorakana, and an Art Exhibition were the other major events marking the anniversary.

The conference brought into focus the major issues confronting mental health in Sri Lanka.

Plenary lecture topics included "Work place stress and mental health" "Improvement of quality of life of mentally ill," and the "Differences between physical and mental illness."

Topics selected for panel discussion included "Culture and mental health" "Community care, child mental health", "Elderly mental health", "Suicide and trauma."

Workshops were conducted on special topics including "Post conflict stress" "Role of the family in the care of mentally ill", "Cognitive behaviour therapy", "Training of general practitioners and primary care workers in mental health."

Dr. C. P. Wijesinghe, founder Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colombo was the guest speaker at the inauguration.

Further information about the conference
or any other activity conducted at Sahanaya :
Conference Secretariat, Sahanaya, Kitulwatta Road, Colombo 8.
Tel. 685960, Tel/Fax 075350819.


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