03/28/2008, 00.00
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Workers without rights on the plantations of Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
The women and men employed on the tea plantations of Sri Lanka live in unsuitable conditions. Their existence depends on the plantation owners, who do not provide for their essential needs and do not guarantee their rights.

Nuwara Eliya (AsiaNews) - The workers on the plantations of Sri Lanka are deprived of their rights, and are struggling to survive.

They belong to the Tamil ethnic group, brought to the island from India in the 19th century by the English.  Their lives depend to a great extent on the owners of the tea plantations, who do not seem to be providing for their essentials needs.  They live in horrible conditions that cause disease and psychological stress.  Furthermore, lack of education and language difficulties are an insurmountable social barrier.

Since 2006, the Christian Children's Fund (CCF) has been investing funds in projects to improve the standard of living for people who live in some of the areas used for plantations.  The CCF workers have highlighted a series of problems connected to the lack of drinking water, to sanitation and unemployment, in addition to the lack of birth certificates and of an education system.  The children are very intelligent and nurture great dreams that the foundation is helping to realise.  Many of them want to become doctors and help the sick who are unable to go to the hospital.

Nalla Praven is 47 years old and the mother of four children.  Employed as a tea harvester for 14 years, she tells AsiaNews in an interview that polluted water is the cause of many problems, and the children are the first to pay the price for this.  "Our homes", Nalla added, "are like little cages where animals are living. In the rainy days it is so difficult to manage. Water comes into the little sheds. The politicians seem to pay attention to our situation only during the election campaigns, but after they win with our votes, they forget everything. It is very sad".

The CCF also provides funds for the construction of homes, and to guarantee an adequate level of sanitation.  It is also providing nutrition for pregnant women, with the aim of reducing the rate of infant mortality and malnutrition.

37-year-old K. Ragini, with four children and a paralyzed husband, says that she greatly appreciates what the foundation is doing for them.  "It is very difficult to live with this small wage of 200 rupees per day (1.25 euro). To get this amount, we have to pick 20 kilos of tea leaves. But we can pick only about 18 to 19 kilos. So, considering the prices of rice, flour, powdered milk, oil and other essential items - how can we buy food?", asks Ragni, revealing the hardships of daily life.

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