Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, fell into an unprecedented economic and political crisis in the last year after independence. The resignation of former President Gotabaya led to the exodus, mass protests across the country and the shortage of essential commodities including fuel, food, and finally the closure of children’s schools due to lack of funds. The country has not been able to handle the crisis yet.
According to a BBC report, Sri Lankan parents are unable to send more than one of their children to school. If someone has three children, parents can afford to educate only one.
Although political stability returned to the country six months ago, the economic crisis still remains. The full impact of the South Asian island nation’s mass unemployment and dramatic price hikes is now visible in many households.
Ten-year-old Malki, her mother Priyanti tries to educate her with the money earned from selling firecrackers. But this income is not able to meet the overall expenses of the family. So Priyanti is forcing her children to work instead of studying just to earn more.
Food prices in Sri Lanka are currently at record highs and inflation is at an all-time high of 95 percent. In such a situation, no one in Malki’s family has had food in their stomach for quite some time.
Although education is free in the country’s schools, free meals are not provided. As well as adding the cost of uniform and transport, education is a luxury that cannot be afforded by a family like Priyanthika’s. According to him, about Rs 400 per head per day is needed to send children to school. But before the crisis, every child went to school.
The government said it has distributed rice to schools. But several schools contacted by the BBC said they had received no help. Teachers say attendance at schools has dropped by nearly 40 percent.
Joseph Stalin Ceylon, general secretary of the teachers’ union, said the government was willfully unaware of the growing number of families dropping out of education because of the cost. Our teachers bring empty lunch boxes. The real victims of this economic crisis are children. The government is not looking for an answer to this issue. It was seen and identified by UNICEF and others rather than the Sri Lankan government.’
Sri Lankans will struggle to feed themselves in the coming months, UNICEF said. Inflation of basic commodities like rice is increasingly crippling ordinary households. In such a situation, we can expect more and more children to stop coming to school in the future.
With the government seemingly unable to manage the situation, charities had to step in. Samata Sarna, a Christian charity, has been helping Colombo’s poorest for three decades. They say that various schools in the capital are full of hungry students.
Although the charity can help around 200 children every day, the situation they are struggling to cope with is very clear.
Talking about the struggle to survive in the present, Priyanti said, ‘If we can get food for today, then we worry about how to get food for tomorrow. This is our life now.’