Child Malnutrition in Sri Lanka Increased in 2022 Amidst Economic Crisis

Child Malnutrition in Sri Lanka Increased in 2022 Amidst Economic Crisis
Image legend: “Malnutrition” | EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr, 2012


Héloïse Regnault de Montgon

East & South Asia Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

A report by the Sri Lankan health ministry’s Family Health Bureau showed that all forms of malnutrition in children increased in 2022 after a steady drop since 2016. According to the Bureau, more than 43.4 percent of children under 5 are suffering from nutrition problems (Reuters). The economic crisis in Sri Lanka, its worst since 1948, is causing food prices to soar. As a result, families are struggling to afford the cost of food and feed their children adequately (UNICEF).

The report indicates that in 2022, 15.3 percent of Si Lankan children were found to be underweight (compared to 12.2 percent in 2021). The report also added that “in 2022, percentages of children under 5 years with any form of undernutrition (growth faltering, underweight, wasting and stunting) has increased compared to 2021”. It also added that this trend can be observed in all children below 5 years of age, and across all sectors (both rural and urban) (Reuters). 

According to a 2022 UNICEF report, 2.3 million of Sri Lankan children require humanitarian assistance (in a country of 22 millions). The report states that malnutrition can have far-reaching consequences for the children affected by malnutrition. These include stunted growth and chronic health problems, school absenteeism and even institutionalisation. UNICEF estimates that US$25.3 million would be necessary to “to meet critical needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised children and their families” (UNICEF).

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and its consequences on the malnutrition of children constitutes a violation of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which it ratified in 1991 (United Nations, n.d.). Article 6(2) of the CRC states “States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.” Furthermore, Article 24 says “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. [...] States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures: [...] (c) To combat disease and malnutrition” (UN Human Rights, 1989). 

Because Sri Lanka ratified the CRC, it is obligated to abide by these rules. The severe malnutrition in children reported in Sri Lanka constitutes a violation of the country’s obligations. Current negotiations around Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring may change the country’s situation in 2023.


EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid. (2012). Malnutrition[Photograph]. Flickr.

Reuters. (2023, January 19). Child nutrition drops in Sri Lanka amid economic crisis. Euronews.

UNICEF. (2022) Humanitarian Action for Children - Sri Lanka. UNICEF.

United Nations. (n.d) Ratification Status for CRC - Convention on the Rights of the Child. UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies.

United Nations. (1989, November 20). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UN Human Rights.