Incidents of rape have increased 20 percent in last two years as current law fails to criminalise domestic sex attacks.
More than 100 people have been arrested during protests against the gang-rape and murder of a 17-year-old schoolgirl, in the biggest public demonstration recorded in Sri Lanka’s north.
Police fired tear gas and shops, banks and schools were closed on Wednesday as the protests brought Jaffna, the capital of Northern Province, to a standstill.
The protesters demanded that authorities hand over nine men who were arrested and about to face court over the incident.
The victim left for school on Wednesday last week but never arrived.
Her parents filed a missing person’s report and a search was launched. The next day the girl’s body was found in Punguditivu.
According to reports, her hands and legs had been tied and a rag had been stuffed into her mouth before she died.
Residents have reacted angrily to the attack since the teenager’s body was found.
“The brutal way this schoolgirl has been attacked is shocking and that’s why we are so angry,” a lecturer at the University of Jaffna told Al Jazeera.
S Sudharshan, who was also among protesters wielding black flags and banners, said: “We want justice for Vidya and demand that her killers are brought to book swiftly.”
School children joined the protests and groups of young people carried banners with the dead girl’s picture.
Protests turn violent
What began as a largely peaceful protest turned violent as the suspects were brought before the Jaffna magistrate.
Police fired tear gas as a mob demanded they hand over the men for punishment.
Protesters stoned the courthouse and attacked vehicles in the area before the situation was brought under control.
The deputy inspector-general of police in Jaffna, GK Perera, told Al Jazeera that “there was an outbreak of violence within a very short period – we are investigating the cause of this”.
The protesters arrested were charged for unlawful protests and damaging public property.
It was the first time a public demonstration of anger on this scale had been seen in Sri Lanka’s north in recent years.
Analysts say this is an indication of a more tolerant approach by the new government in Colombo, which has allowed space for expression.
The case resumes in court on Thursday.