In the midst
of the bustle
in the fast lane?
How long is this life in limbo? Most people don't care,
to the 'Census of Street People in the Colombo Municipal Council
Area' - 1998, a total of 1524 street people were counted on
August 6, 1998.
this number, 381 (25%) were street children below 15 years,
260 (17%) belonged to the elderly population aged over 60
years and the balance 883 (58%) consisted of people between
the ages of 16-59.
past four years this number could have doubled or tripled.
What exactly are we waiting for?
need to be housed and looked after, the children need to be
educated and housed, while the in-between category need to
be employed and housed. Such a pressing issue and nobody sees
it as a problem.
little unwashed and those who do nothing about them
By Marisa de Silva
She's ten, she has brothers and sisters and a place
to stay in (quite a big place at that)... so why is she crying?
Well for starters, she doesn't know who her parents are, she has
siblings but they're no better off than she. As for her lodging,
it's big alright. It's the street and it's all hers. She is unwashed,
teeth-unbrushed, and does she have a future?
Over the years
the media have highlighted this problem many times. As elections
close in, some politicians or the rare individual or NGO may voice
their concern... but to no avail. Very little, or nothing at all
has been done upto date.
Secretary, Friends of Needy Children Association (FONCA), who has
shown a keen interest in this matter since 1995, revealed just how
lethargic and selfish our system really is. How nothing is ever
done unless there is some personal gain.
Back in 1995,
Mrs. Perera had met with the then Minister of Health, Highways and
Social Services, Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, regarding the problems
of street children and beggars. In response to her plea for action,
the then Additional Secretary, Mrs. V. Jegarasasingam, invited her
to attend the first of a series of brainstorming meetings for all
those concerned, to help find a solution.
which began in January 1996 continued on a regular basis. As the
meetings progressed, a workshop, (Reviewing Children's Rights and
Development with the main objective of assessing the performance
of the programmes and activites carried out so far in terms of the
recommendations of the CRC Monitoring Committee and to develop strategies
and a game plan to fully realise the Monitoring Committee recommendations)
and a discussion with the parents of the street children of Pettah
were held to identify their problems.
of talk, talk and more talk, in 1997, Mrs. Perera wrote another
letter to the then Minister, summarising what had occurred in the
past year. She had mentioned how the decision to form two committees
(one to look into Street Children -later deemed Unprotected Children-
and the other to look into beggars) was gradually sidelined and
then left out of the discussions altogether. She had also mentioned
that although some NGOs and other social workers were involved in
various projects concerning street children, there was nothing done
on a national level by the Government.
She next met
with the then Mayor of Colombo, Mr. K. Ganeshalingam, with whom
she discussed various means of resolving the beggar problem. Amongst
her suggestions were; creating a data base with available statistics
on all the beggars, listing names, ages, disabilities, location
etc. within the Municipal limits of Colombo. A similar data base
listing voluntary agencies and individuals, either already working
in this field or those interested in helping out, could be recorded,
she said. But nothing happened.
She next appealed
to former mayor Mr. Karu Jayasuriya, and quite a bit happened. A
Census of Street People in the Colombo Municipal Council Area, was
conducted in 1998 by the Department of Demography, University of
Colombo, headed by Prof. K.A.P. Siddhisena and Dr. Lakshman Dissananyake.
provided a detailed report on the beggar population. The number
of adults, children, male, female, what kinds of occupation (if
at all) they are in, where exactly they were located etc.
even after Rs. 60,000 was spent by the CMC on this project, no follow-up
action was taken thereafter.
Ms Perera wrote to the then Mayor Omar Kamil, questioning why the
issue of beggars and street children had not even been mentioned
in the '100 days Programme' compiled for the Colombo Municipality.
She also updated him on what had taken place upto date. She mentioned
that a sub-committee had been appointed in 1997. After the Census
was conducted, the meetings of this sub committee too had died a
natural death and that was the end of the 'beggar issue'. Mr. Kamil
had promised to get the convenors to revive the process but nothing
The final two
appeals went to the then Opposition leader, Mr Ranil Wickramasinghe
and the Minister of Social Welfare, Ravi Samaraweera, in 1999 and
2001, respectively. These appeals too fell on deaf ears.
Prasanna Gunawardena seems optimistic that something could be done.
Meanwhile a news report dated October 28, this year outlined the
Interiors Minister, John Amaratunga's plan to 'clean up' the streets
of Colombo and make them beautiful. With the help of the DIG of
Colombo, Bodhi Liyanage, all beggars were to be relocated at Ridigama
Rehabilitation Village for Beggars.
to DIG Liyanage, this is not practical as the Rehabilitation Village
cannot accomodate such a large number of people. He suggests that
the society should take some action to resolve this problem.
We have seen
how effective that can be; Society in turn points a finger at the
It has to be
a mutual effort by both the community and the relevant authorities
to get something done. It's time we realised that it's not someone
else's problem, it never was. If it affects the people and the children
of our community, it affects us, like it or not. All we've been
doing so far is ignoring it.