06/15/2021, 17.04
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Sri Lankan children exploited in tea plantations and sex tourism

by Melani Manel Perera

Children drop out of school in search of easy money in the country’s most profitable economic sectors. Although the  government has raised the minimum working age to 16, more investment in education is needed. Another nine million children are at risk worldwide due to the pandemic.


Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka's two main industries, tea and tourism, continue to employ minors.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), some 103,704 children were working in Sri Lanka in 2016; just a decade earlier, the figure was about half a million. Today, 39,007 children are still caught up in dangerous forms of exploitation.

Despite the drop of recent years, young Sri Lankans continue to drop out of school because of poverty, and turn to the country’s most profitable economic sectors to earn a living.

This is what happens, for example, to children in fishing communities. Young people are involved in family activities from an early age due to poor educational prospects, especially for girls, this according to Herman Kumara, coordinator of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

Anthony Jesudasan, president of the Voice of Plantation organization, told AsiaNews that many children also end up working on tea plantations (like in Matara and Galle) while some are brought to “homes and stores in Colombo, Mount Lavinia and Beruwela, where they are exploited as domestic workers and labourers for a very low salary.”

Sex tourism is even worse. Foreign tourists visit the country in search of paid sex. Many children are recruited during local festivals (like Kataragama) and at major places of worship and pilgrimages like in Anuradhapura,.

Last year Sri Lankan authorities raised the minimum working age from 14 to 16.

Last Saturday, World Day against Child Labour, ILO director-general, Guy Ryder, stressed the need to continue investing in rural development and decent working conditions.

Pope Francis also mentioned the scourge of child labour in his reflection before the Angelus prayer last Sunday.

According to an ILO report, the number of children trapped in labour exploitation now stands at 160 million, up by 8.4 million in the last four years, especially in the 5-11 age group.

This reverses the downward trend of the previous years, which saw the number of child labourers decrease by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

The report points out that another nine million children worldwide are at risk of ending up under the yoke of exploitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to other estimates, this number could rise to 46 million in the absence of adequate access to the social welfare systems.

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