“Sri Lanka is the only country of South Asia where the mean age of marriage is decreasing. Teenage pregnancies are also on the rise there,” United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sri Lanka Representative Alain Sibenaler raised this issue opening a dialogue on fertility and nuptiality in the Generation to Generation Dialogue organized by UNFPA held on 9th December 2016 in Colombo.
Prof. Indralal de Silva authored Fertility and Nuptiality, the Thematic Report Based on Census of Population and Housing 2012. is a Senior Professor of Demography and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo who has has published a number of books, monographs, presented over 40 research papers in many international conferences and has published over 60 research articles in reputed international journals.
Speaking on why fertility and nuptiality are important, Prof. de Silva pointed out the following facts in the dialogue:
“Sri Lanka’s mean age of marriage was 26 years for female in mid-1990s. But according to the 2012 population census, this has decreased to 23.4 years.
“In 1950s and 1960s, an average Sri Lankan woman tended to produce an average of 5.3 children. But in the latter part of the past century, it declined to something like 1.9. It was a below replacement level. Replacement level is 2.1 and Sri Lanka achieved that level before all the other countries of South Asia.
“But again the fertility started to increase. According to 2012 population census, Sri Lanka’s fertility rate is now about 2.4. Today, even Bangladesh has a low Total Fertility Rate compared to Sri Lanka. This is very uncommon in Sri Lanka compared to the other countries in the world.
“Now, only Colombo and Jaffna reports the below replacement level fertility. The reasons are education, labour force participation and perhaps the social status.
“The studies showed that most of the economically inactive women have married at the age of around 21. They have produced more children compared to the employed women. This economically inactive group is the largest category among women. Sri Lankan women’s labour force participation is declining.
“With the increase of the Total Fertility Rate, a large child population is also emerging. Around 700,000 students appeared for OL this year. It is the highest ever.
“We earlier predicted Sri Lankan population will peak at 22 million, when the Total Fertility Rate was below or around replacement level. But with the increase of the Total Fertility Rate, now we anticipate Sri Lanka’s population will peak at 25 million in 2040s.
“That means another five million people are to be added to population and they will create significant environmental problems, natural disasters, scarcity of resources like land.”
Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan who hails from Point Pedro is a Development Economist by profession and he is the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka, which was established in 2004. He sees cultural issues behind the trends in the fertility and nuptiality too . Joining the discussion, Muttukrishna said, “Sexual and Reproductive Health education is very poor in Sri Lanka. That is one reason for the situation and the policy makers must take this to account. Abortion is illegal in Sri Lanka but it takes place informally causing serious dangers to women. The contraceptive use is also very low in this country.
“Although this can be a sensitive issue, I must say that the highest fertility rate is among the Muslim community. It was a matter of fact in 1981 and 2012 population statistics. Raising the level of education among Muslim women is very important.
“The Muslim marriage law permits underage marriage of women. Even in Pakistan, Muslim women can marry under either general law or Muslim personal law. But in Sri Lanka, all the marriages of Muslims are governed by the Muslim marriage law.”
Nalaka Umagiliya, Vice President of John Keells Holdings PLC said, “In my work environment, we provide facilities for maternity, We have seen many women quit jobs after they give birth to the first child. It is proved through data. Industries lose expertise because of this.