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Prioritising the hard to reach

Prioritising the hard to reach
06/10/2015 Natasha Stein

Find out how we are reaching the most marginalised and vulnerable people in post-conflict eastern Sri Lanka.  

At first glance the Sri Lankan economy presents no cause for worry. The country has prospered economically in the 6 years that have passed since its 26 year long war. Yet the economic growth experienced by Sri Lanka as a whole has failed to reach the most marginalised groups in the country’s Eastern Province.

Sri Lanka children benefiting from our Life After War project

Increasing awareness of child rights and child protection is essential in communities.

When Asanka’s father was killed in the war, Asanka became the sole breadwinner for himself, his mother and his two young sisters. Asanka earned his living by collecting firewood and selling it to buyers on the streets of Chalampankerney village. He worked in dangerous conditions in order to survive, at all hours, in all weathers and with no guaranteed income. At just 12 years old, Asanka should have been in school.

Hazardous employment remains a way of life for thousands of school-age children and young people in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Instead of going to school, children spend their days farming, cutting sugar cane, breaking stones for construction, climbing trees to pluck coconuts, processing fish, herding goats or sheep – the list goes on.

Children who are not already engaged in hazardous work are at high risk of future exploitation. Often, parents or carers have their lost livelihoods and assets because of the conflict and rely on the younger generation to support the household income.

APT is working to change the culture of hazardous employment for children and young people in Sri Lanka. Since the beginning of the programme, APT has engaged with 1,600 children and youth doing hazardous work, as well as over 2,000 children and youth at risk of being drawn into hazardous work. More than 250 children have been supported in the transition out of such work and nearly 3,000 parents and carers have been reached through workshops and individual business counselling. This in turn has led to the establishment of 800 new businesses and the upgrading of over 3000 existing ones.

Asanka’s prospects have been transformed by the increased awareness of children’s rights and child protection in his community as a result of the programme. It is now 70% more likely than in 2012 that child abuse and exploitation will be reported by members of the community to the disciplinary authority. This greater awareness of rights coupled with a renewed courage for business has led to an increase in children attending school. Now Asanka’s mother earns a living for her family whilst Asanka works hard in the classroom.

Nayana was forced to leave school when the verbal abuse and physical attacks became too much to bear. She lived with an intellectual disability and showed no external signs of being different. Nayana received no sympathy from her classmates, only misunderstanding. Why did she act so differently when she looked the same as them?

Disabled people form the most marginalised group in Sri Lankan society. People with both mental and physical disabilities are afraid to leave home. Some are not allowed out by their families for fear of the shame that they might bring upon the household. Employers do not even consider them for jobs, so many disabled people resort to begging.

Workshop in Sri Lanka on disability

Changing attitudes of parents and communities towards disabled people is an important first step to their self-reliance

APT has been working to sensitize communities in Sri Lanka to their disabled peers. By the end of the programme, public campaigns to increase awareness of the rights, needs and concerns of disabled people will have reached over 6,000 people. Significantly, APT is liaising with employers to get disabled people into work. Disabled people who had never left their homes are becoming financially independent and are able to contribute to their household income. Families are proud of the growing confidence and success of their disabled relatives. Several large scale employers, impressed with their first cohort of disabled workers, have shown a willingness to take on more.

Nayana received preparatory training in ginger production from APT’s partner in the Eastern Province. She is now able to compete on the job market with her former classmates who are not intellectually impaired.

Nayana, Asanka and others like them have proved that they capable of sharing in Sri Lanka’s economic growth once they are reached from the margins and included in society.

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