Contemporary Forms of Slavery Exist in Sri Lanka According to UN Special Rapporteur

Contemporary Forms of Slavery Exist in Sri Lanka According to UN Special Rapporteur
A female plantation worker in Sri Lanka. Photo: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera, 2016.


Judit Kolbe 

Sri Lanka and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence 

From the 26th of November to the 3rd of December 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, undertook his first country visit to Sri Lanka at the invitation of the government (UN OHCHR, 2021). The mission of the Special Rapporteur comprises examining the labour conditions across different economic sectors, including domestic work, tea plantations and the garment industry, as well as assessing the implementation of laws and policies concerning labour (UN OHCHR, 2021). In his End of Mission Statement, Obokata concluded that contemporary forms of slavery still exist in Sri Lanka and vulnerable groups, such as women, children, ethnic minorities and elderly people are disproportionately affected (UN OHCHR, 2021; Francis, K., 2021; TRT World, 2021). Notably, the issue of child labour is particularly severe in rural areas of Sri Lanka, populated predominantly by the minority Tamil community, where children are forced to leave school and support their families (UN OHCHR, 2021). Furthermore, he identified that children mainly work in the domestic sector or are sexually exploited in the tourism sector (UN OHCHR, 2021). The other vulnerable group highlighted in the Special Rapporteurs’ statement are women, who mainly work filling jobs in demanding sectors, such as the garment industry or tea plantations. Obokata reported that women and girls are disproportionately affected by contemporary forms of slavery in Sri Lanka, due to its interlinkage with ‘significant levels of gender inequality, patriarchial attitudes and intersecting forms of discrimination’ (UN OHCHR, 2021). Additionally, the Special Rapporteur expressed that he had  ‘witnessed that in Sri Lanka, contemporary forms of slavery have an ethnic dimension’ (UN OHCHR, 2021). Multiple forms of discrimination have led to cases of servitude and other forms of exploitation and abuse, in particular for Malayaha Tamils, according to Obokata (UN OHCHR, 2021). Sri Lankan government officials have not yet commented on this Statement (Francis, K., 2021). 

Sources and further reading: 

Francis, K. (2021, December 03). UN expert: Contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka. The Associated Press. 

TRT World (2021, December 04). UN says contemporary forms of slavery exist in Sri Lanka. TRT World. 

United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) (2021, December 03). End of Mission Statement by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences on his country visit to Sri Lanka, 26 November - 3 December 2021. UN OHCHR.