“Sometimes, the teachers themselves will tell children they are on leave the next day, and tell them not to come to class. When they stay home for a few days, many of them don’t come back,” a representative from CODESEP said.
Sister Genova, who works with the Women and Children's Bureau in Deniyaya, says she has seen children as young as twelve years old going to the estates to pluck tea. This is partly due to the immense pressure many of the families have to make ends meet, she says. “Some of the estate community don’t have anything to eat, if they don’t work. They receive between Rs. 500 and Rs. 700 a day – and often don’t have any left over to save,” she explained. “The women work hard to educate their children and financially support their families. However, the community also battles with vices, such as drugs and alcoholism especially among the men" Sister Genova says.
Estate communities across the island seem to believe that Colombo is a corrupting influence on the local youth. “They come back with smartphones and dyed hair, and think that is what life is about,” Sister Genova says. Yet, many young people continue to make the trip in the hopes of making a living. Those who decide not to leave the area often switch to smallholder estates, since the hours are more flexible and the renumeration better – as much as Rs. 200 more than the usual minimum wage of Rs. 820, according to CODESEP fieldworkers.