The Necessity for an Animal Welfare Act in Sri Lanka
Posted on July 3rd, 2011

Senaka Weeraratna  Attorney “”…”at -Law, Dharmavijaya Foundation

Mahatma Gandhi said: The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated “

In Sri Lanka an Animal friendly cultural heritage developed beginning from the time of the very first encounter between Arahant Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale about 2300 years ago, where Arahant Mahinda declared:

” Oh! Great King, the birds of the air and the beasts have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou. The land belongs to the peoples and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it “

Historical sources reveal that the ethic of Ahimsa (non “”…” violence towards other sentient beings) a cardinal tenet in Buddhism and Hinduism, was a cornerstone in society’s attitudes towards animals.

The Trusteeship power of the State was extended to protect animals, birds, and other living creatures of the land. Sri Lanka was perhaps the first country in the world to have wildlife sanctuaries. Our culture then did not support imprisoning animals in what are now called “ƒ”¹…”Zoos’. This is essentially a western practice imposed on us which we cannot now let go.

In the pre-colonial era an animal had a lot more respect from both the state and society. The Buddhist view best illustrated in the Karaniya Metta Sutta that compassion should be extended to all including other living beings in a manner similar to the way  “ƒ”¹…”a mother loves her only child’ had a ripple effect throughout the length and breadth of this country including the halls of governance and temples of justice.

A close examination of Sri Lanka’s historical rock inscriptions and perusal of the “ƒ”¹…”Mahavamsa’ would show that animals had occupied a high place in the country’s moral agenda. The people, influenced by the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ generally kept away from occupations that required the killing of animals to earn a living- e.g. hunting, fishing and the slaughter of animals for food. 

With the entry and occupation of the land by the Portuguese there was a paradigm shift in the manner we looked at animals. During the colonial era the relationship of man to the other animals was seen as one of unremitting exploitation. Animals were there for us. It was all pre-ordained. Even the taboo of beef eating was removed under European influence. The colonial type of education which we have inherited which survives to this day in Sri Lanka tends to instill in the students a sense of superiority over animals with no corresponding moral obligation towards them. 

Nevertheless, the colonial administration left us with a series of legislation relating to animals which await a substantial overhaul. One such statute is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907.  Our failure to repeal this antiquated statute has tended to create a public impression of the State lacking the political will to bring about legislative improvement of the laws governing the welfare and well being of animals.


Despite substantial moral support from the two main religions in Sri Lanka i.e. Buddhism and Hinduism for humane treatment of animals based on Ahimsa, we as a nation have lagged behind much of the rest of the world on issues concerning animal welfare. Sri Lanka needs a new Animal Welfare Act. It will give flesh to the Buddhist civilization ethic that the Buddha Sasana protects all living beings.


Internationally, the Animal Rights movement is destined to usher in the next great social revolution in the world. It is no longer a fringe movement. There is a gradual progression throughout history towards recognizing the rights of others. It started with the emancipation of slaves, women, children in that order. It is an unstoppable march.   


International Trends


In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to recognize animals as beings and not things. In 1999 however the Swiss constitution was completely rewritten. A decade later, Germany guaranteed rights to animals in a 2002 amendment to its constitution, becoming the first European Union member to do so. The German Civil Code was likewise amended.  

The most significant success of the animal liberation movement has been the granting of basic rights to five great ape species in New Zealand in 1999. Their use is now forbidden in research, testing or teaching.


Though much progress has been made with some inspiring new European legislation in recent decades, the road ahead is still a very long one.  Further international recognition of the moral status of animals is long overdue.


Note: Some significant developments in pre- war Germany

On February 23, 1934, a decree had been enacted by the Prussian Ministry of Commerce and Employment which introduced education on animal protection laws at primary, secondary and college levels.  In 1938, animal protection had been accepted as a subject to be taught in public schools and universities in Germany (Source: Wikipedia).

Legal studies

Animal Protection is now quite a common subject of study in philosophy departments in Europe and North America. Animal law courses are taught in 92 out of 180 law schools in the U.S. Chapters of animal rights law have been created in several state bar associations, and resolutions related to animal rights are regularly proposed within the American Bar Association.

Animal Advocacy Political Parties

In recent years, several political parties have been founded that have as their main goal the improvement of animal welfare and the recognition of animal rights:

     Source: Wikipedia

The Party for the Animals (Netherlands) (“PvdD”)

In the Netherlands, the Party for the Animals is the fastest growing political party. The Party believes that animal interests should no longer continually be subordinated to economic interests. In its manifesto for achieving a better society, Compassion plays a dominant role. They have influenced several other political parties to include animal welfare as an increasingly important issue for the electorate. They intend to make animal rights a part of the Dutch Constitution, to have a debate on factory farming, call for a ban on mink farming, and the Dutch Queen has promised not to serve foie gras anymore, and so on.Ӭ

The “PvdD” is the first political party in the world to gain parliamentary seats with an agenda focused primarily on animal rights. One of the results that the PvdD claims to have achieved during her first four year parliamentary period is the fact that the Dutch Government has declared that reduction of national meat consumption further on as one of its priorities.

Indian Government spearheads drive for enacting a new Animal Welfare Act, 2011

The good news from India is that the Indian Government is spearheading the
drive for enacting a new Animal Welfare Act, 2011. The new Animal Welfare Act “”…” 2011, being proposed by India’s Ministry of the Environment and Forests, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, is poised to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act – 1960.

In 1960, India was among the first countries in the world to enact national legislation for the protection of animals. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act – 1960, however, had drawbacks e.g. lacked strong and effective penalties. These shortcomings are remedied in the new act being put forward, which will much more easily lend itself to enforcement and will more readily ensure the protection of animals from suffering and ill-treatment.


Sri Lanka

1)   Current Legislation

  • The governing legislation is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No.13 of 1907. It is an antiquated statute. The form and scope of this legislation is substantially inadequate.
  • Its limitations are apparent when it is compared to animal welfare                                                                                                                         legislation of neighbouring countries such as India or western countries such as England or Australia      

2) Recent Legislative Developments in Sri Lanka

There have been four significant legislative developments since                                              February 2008 directed towards animal protection:

i) Animal Welfare Bill “”…” Introduced in Parliament by Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera, M.P. on Feb. 19, 2009. It has now lapsed with the dissolution of the previous Parliament.

ii) Amendments to the Animals Act, No. 29 of 1958

         Amended by the Animals (Amendment) Act, No. 10, 2009. Introduced by the Ministry of Livestock Development

iii) Amendments to the Butchers Ordinance, No. 9 of 1893 

 Amended by the Butchers (Amendment) Act, No. 13 of 2008 imposing a total ban on the slaughter of pregnant or lactating cows notwithstanding the possession of a permit to slaughter. Punishment: Rs. 50,000 and imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.

iv) Regulations made under the Animals Act, No. 29 of 1958

Introduced by the Ministry of Livestock Development. Published in the Govt. Gazette Extraordinary No. 1629 / 17, dated November 26, 2009

3) The Animal Welfare Bill

It is a comprehensive document. It was prepared by the Law Commission of Sri Lanka after extensive consultations with the public and examination of laws of other jurisdictions. The Bill introduced in Parliament in Feb. 2009 carried a couple of changes to the Law Commission draft.

This Bill has now lapsed with the dissolution of the previous Parliament.

4) Objectives of the Animal Welfare Bill

i) recognises a duty of care on part of persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely

ii) to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals

iii) to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and to provide for Regulations and Codes of Practice

iv) to raise community awareness on animal welfare and foster kindness, compassion, and responsible behaviour towards animals

5) The proposed legislation seeks to:

i) Replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907

ii) Bring the law governing animal welfare in Sri Lanka in line with modern legislation by providing for natural justice and basic freedoms to be extended to animals, and

iii) Safeguard and enhance Sri Lanka’s historical reputation for animal welfare

6) Key Features of the Animal Welfare Bill

i)  The Bill is divided into 14 Parts. Part 10  ( Clause 42 ) deals with “ƒ”¹…” Use of Live Animals for Scientific Purposes’

ii) Applies to all animals

iii) “ƒ”¹…”Animal’ means any living being other than a human being and includes a domestic animal, a farm animal, an animal in captivity, a wild animal, a companion animal, a stray animal, and food animal as hereinafter defined

 iv)  Adopts a proactive approach to Animal Welfare

  v) Recognition of a Duty of Care “”…” A person who is in charge of an animal owes  the animal a duty of care i.e. a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the well being of the animal, to prevent infliction of unnecessary fear or pain and to provide the animal with basic needs. All other obligations and prohibitions in respect of animals emanate from this basic duty

  vi) One of the main purposes of the Animal Welfare Bill is the establishment of a new institution i.e. the National Animal Welfare Authority, that will administer the legislation, develop policies, and strengthen and expand the existing enforcement machinery.

  vii) The 16 member Authority comprises ten appointed members and six ex “”…” officio members. The latter will be drawn from Govt. Depts. engaged in functions relating to animal welfare.

 viii) The 10 appointed members will comprise six members nominated by animal welfare societies, two members with qualifications in Veterinary Science nominated by the Veterinary Council of Sri Lanka, one Ayurvedic physician with experience in treating animals nominated by the Ayurvedic Medical Council, and one person who is a Professor or Senior Lecturer in clinical Veterinary Science of a recognized University nominated by the University Grants Commission

7) Offences of Cruelty and Prohibited Conduct

i) Several acts which amount to cruelty are treated as offences in the Bill. These are acts which are unacceptable by any standard and which cause suffering to animals.

   ii)   Certain other acts are prohibited as are certain sporting events that expose animals to cruelty and inhumane treatment.

    iii) Although killing an animal is not prohibited e.g. food animal, killing an animal in an unnecessary cruel manner is prohibited. There is a total prohibition on the killing of a pregnant animal except in circumstances of such an animal becoming a grave danger to the public. Note: The new amendment to the Butchers Ordinance prohibits totally the killing of a pregnant or lactating cow, irrespective of whether there is a permit or not.

8) Slaughter of Animals

i) The slaughter of Cows and Cow calves is prohibited, subject to certain qualifications as found in the Animals Act, No. 29 of 1958


 ii) The slaughter of a quadruped in a private dwelling house in a residential area, in a place of business or a public place is prohibited.


Note: In the Indian draft Animal Welfare Act, draft Section 20 is more specific and reads as follows:  


Slaughter in authorized slaughter houses: No animal shall be slaughtered except

in a slaughter house authorized in this behalf( Section 20)

iii) The slaughter of a quadruped for sale or for distribution of flesh, requires a certificate of competence from the Authority.

9) Transport of Animals

Detailed provisions have been introduced. The basic premise is that an animal should not be transported in such a manner as to subject it to unnecessary pain. Specific standards that must be observed in transporting animals are set out.  These standards have now been incorporated into the new Regulations issued under the Animals Act, and gazetted on Nov. 26, 2009


10) Appointment of Animal Welfare Inspectors. 

They will be appointed by the Authority. They will have powers to investigate offences of cruelty, seize animals, direct persons to undertake measures to alleviate suffering, recommend the forfeiture of animals and conduct prosecutions on behalf of the Authority. Animal Welfare Inspectors will have powers of investigation alongside Police and powers to issue Animal Welfare Directions.

11) Penalties  

Increase in monetary penalties and terms of imprisonment for offences against animals e.g.  Causing cruelty to an animal. Fine not exceeding Rs. 50, 000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years or both fine and imprisonment. ( Clause 24 (1) )

12) Use of Live Animals for Scientific Purposes

i) Clause 42 (1) in Part 10 of the Bill requires any person using live animals for teaching, research or experimentation to obtain a permit for such purpose from the Authority

ii) Clause 42 (2) stipulates that the Authority shall have regard to alternative methods and devices that do not involve experimentation on live animals such as computer stimulations and other audio “”…” visual methods, synthetically produced models, ethically sourced cadavars and clinical experiences, when issuing such permits

iii) Clause 42 (3) states that the Authority may refuse to issue a permit upon being satisfied that such research can be carried out or such teaching or experiment can be performed using such alternatives

13) Conclusion

The Animal Welfare Bill awaits enactment in Parliament. Upon enactment it will set the standard for other countries particularly in Asia to follow suit. Its enactment is long overdue given the obsolescence of the existing legislation. Further, it will remove the shame and embarrassment that confront Sri Lanka today by keeping an obsolete statute enacted in 1907 as the main governing legislation on prevention of cruelty to animals. It is also a test of our national commitment and compassion to other sentient beings.

5 Responses to “The Necessity for an Animal Welfare Act in Sri Lanka”

  1. Kit Athul Says:

    My question to the author is: Why is JHU silent about this bill? Some time ago Rathana Thero, raided a unauthorised slaughter hous in Moratuwa with the police, what happend to the arrested people? Why is he silent about this bill. Why can’t Sri Lanka ban cattle slaghter and IMPORT all the beef from INDIA and PAKISTAN? In 2008 India exported billion dollars worth of beef to Sriya. Senaka thank you for publishing your article in Lankaweb so that people living out side of Sri Lanka can air their views.

  2. AnuD Says:

    Here in the West, even though the businesses kill animals in thousands and in millions for food, people have understood the health repercussions such as tendency to give cancer and obesity by red meats. So, they don’t eat. Even those who obey to buddhist practices, they obey very strict.

    Sri Lanka, two 2000 or more yera ago, had freedom evenfor the bird who was flying.

    Now, politicians don’t have any standards, directions, values or anything. So, in Sri Lanka, PEsticides, pochaers, food and every thing else destroy animals. they don’t want to understand that life is life whether it is animal, human, large or small.

    When we don’t have shame and fear we do anything.

  3. jimmy Says:

    nice article

  4. Sri Rohana Says:

    Senaka! Very informative article. As a Buddhist country we should not kill animals for consumption or pleasure or vouch. We know after Europeans invasion people in Sri Lanka started to kill animals for their consumption. In Sinhala era it was prohibited to kill animals. Animal killers expelled from the society.
    In Buddhist philosophy killing animals are totally prohibited. But in other religions killing an animal is not a prohibited thing. In a multi religious country this become a conflict in believes.
    We have to accept the fact that now scientists proved that vegetarian diet is the healthiest for human and encourage people to eat more fruits and veggies. This message directly says that animal flesh is not healthy at all.
    Though westerners preach of animal welfare. Please ask from western farmers where they send newborn calves. They straightaway send to slaughterhouses to kill for make beef burgers. The worst scenario is those calves don’t allow even to drink at least a drop of milk from his mother. It is a matter of profit.
    The other western commercial farming cruelty I heard was several thousand of newborn chicks straightaway send to an industrial blender to crush.
    On the other hand they preach animal welfare but killing Asians, Arabs and Africans there aren’t any restrictions. Killing millions of Asians are not covered by welfare acts. Western animal welfare is something but real is something else.

  5. shirantha Says:

    It’s a timely article. I know there are several animal welfare organizations in Srilanka, but why is it that there is always cruelty to animals everywhere. Why can’t we humans understand the pain and the sufferings of an animal. What has become of us. Or is it ignorance. We have entangled ourselves in a busy and complicated lifestyle. Most of these animals, mammals like ourselves have souls too. They have all the feelings we have. They feel pain. Its just that their biological makeup is limiting its abilitity to show these feeling the way we want to. We are not ready to understand from their perspective. No animal is cruel to a human.

    Recently while searching the net, I came across the most brutal torture humans or (in)humans put animals through. And it is happening to millions of animals each year. These are dogs and cats (our beloved pets), sheep, raccon dogs, foxes and many others. Skinning ALIVE. Torturing. For what, for the fur industry, for the leather industry, for the wool industry. These are happening in many places in the world. China, Australia, Canada and yes in our country too.

    Please take some time to look at these videos. It is most grusome. But please you must watch them atleast once. Its only then we can feel their pain, only then we will remember. IT IS SO EASY TO IGNORE. Dont chosethe easy path, chose the right path.

    Our own cattle, goats, pigs, chickens and dogs are also suffering. Suffering for the human need.

    I really believe we need to get together and do more about these. Most people are not aware of the suffering animals go through. Lets make every effort to build a beautiful society for our children.

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