UN finds some women in Sri Lanka forced into sex to pay debt

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The United Nations has found that some women in Sri Lanka are pressured by debt collectors to exchange sexual favours for installments.

Speaking to reporters in Colombo today following the end of an official visit, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky said that women are at times exposed to psychological and physical violence by these collectors.

“I have learned of cases of borrowers who tried to sell their kidneys to repay the loans. Some leave their villages, suffer domestic violence as a punishment for the “contract breach,” or have to work much harder and more hours to earn sufficient money to repay the debts. Suicides committed by borrowers have been associated to this abusive microcredit dynamic,” he said.

Pablo Bohoslavsky said that microcredit has actually helped lift many people out of poverty by enabling borrowers their livelihoods.

However, he says the number, frequency and seriousness of the lenders’ abuses he has have found in the country call for an urgent State action.

“I learned that while the universe of borrowers is broad, women in poor and war affected areas are specially targeted by microfinance financial institutions, which charge their loans with up to 220 per cent interest rate and apply compound interest,” he said.

He noted that because these lenders do not follow any particular guideline to assess the credit risks of these loans, combined with usurious terms, a very high number of women in the country default on their debts and get trapped in an exploitative financial system.

Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky also said that there were concerns there was no human right impact assessment of the major infrastructure projects carried out in Sri Lanka.

Bohoslavsky noted that after the end of war in 2009, large-scale infrastructure projects have flourished over the country.

As of today, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Japan, Korea, India and China’s project loans alone account for a total USD 19.3 billion or 48 percent of the total loans taken by the State.

During his visit, he says, a number of concerns were expressed pertaining to whether and how the positive slipovers of these -and other- projects are capitalized by the country to boost inclusive development and address inequalities as well as to prevent their adverse consequences for human rights.

He said that all international lenders and donors he met in Colombo expressed concerns for the environmental and human rights implications of the projects they finance.

“However, none of them have in place a human rights impact assessment framework. Some mentioned “social” and “gender” impact evaluations conducted before taking the final decision on the projects but the legal standards against which the projects are assessed were not clear, and the result of these evaluations are not publicly available,” he said.

Therefore, he says he advised international financial partners to establish more robust frameworks to assess the human rights implications of the projects, covering both substantive and procedural rights. (Colombo Gazette)

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