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Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Sri Lanka


Population: 14,848,364 (according to 1981 census); 16,639,695 (estimated 1988). Average annual growth rate 1.37 percent; average life expectancy 67.5 years (males 66 years, females 69 years); gender ratio 103.7 males to 100 females.

Ethnic Groups: Sinhalese 74 percent; Tamil 18 percent; Moor (Muslims) 7 percent; others (Burghers, Eurasians, Malay, Veddha) 1 percent. Largest ethnic group divided into low-country Sinhalese (subjected in coastal areas to greater colonial acculturation) and Kandyan Sinhalese (more traditional upland dwellers, named after Kingdom of Kandy, which resisted European encroachments until 1815-18). Tamils divided into Sri Lankan Tamils (on island since early historic times) and Indian Tamils (brought in as plantation labor in the nineteenth century).

Languages: Sinhalese speak Sinhala (official language); Tamils speak Tamil (equal with Sinhala as official language since July 29, 1987); English spoken in government and educated circles by about 10 percent of population.

Education and Literacy: Schooling organized in four levels: primary (six years), junior secondary (five years), senior secondary (two years), and tertiary (at least two years). Education compulsory to age thirteen, free in government schools, and fee paid in private institutions. Number of students enrolled (1986) about 3.75 million (government) and 101,000 (private). Government expenditure on education (1986) about 3.6 million rupees (see Glossary). Overall literacy (over age 10) about 87 percent.

Religion: Theravada Buddhist, 69 percent; Hindu, 15 percent; Christian, 8 percent; Muslim, 8 percent. Sinhalese generally Buddhist; Tamils Hindu; Burghers, Eurasians, and minority of Sinhalese and Tamils profess Christianity; Moors adherents of Islam.

Health and Welfare: Nationwide health care system, including maternity services provided by government, but facilities and personnel overtaxed, supplies and equipment lacking; medical infrastructure consists of more than 3,000 Western-trained physicians, 8,600 nurses, 338 central dispensaries, and 490 hospitals of all types. Smallpox eradicated; incidence of malaria declining; unsanitary conditions and lack of clean water major cause of gastroenteritis among adults and infants. Death rate declined from 6.6 to 6.1 per 1,000 in decade from mid-1970s to mid-1980s; infant mortality declined from 50 to 34 deaths per 1,000 in decade from early 1970s to early 1980s. Traditional medicine (ayurveda), supported by government, enjoys great credibility.

Data as of October 1988