This is the third post in our three part series on the rights of Hill or Plantation Tamils.The first is available here. All three of these posts take material from a report by Home for Human Rights.
“Without access to continued education, people on the estates miss out on opportunities for new careers, economic advancement, and intellectual development. Likewise, estate workers and their families also lack critical information about their rights, bodies, and health care choices” – Home for Human Rights
Sri Lanka’s literacy rate has always been high for the region, and it has continued to soar – currently hovering in the 90%s. This is not the case for the Central Hill region however. Despite various UN conventions: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the ICCPR and the ICESCR, instructing that all children must have the right to education regardless of their ethnicity, data collected by Home for Human Rights holds that children from within the tea estates in the Central Hill region are without the same educational opportunities as children from other backgrounds and geographical areas.
It has been found by Home for Human Rights that those living on tea estates showed a pattern of stopping their formal education well before the national average. 17% of respondents had completely ceased formal education during primary school and over a third stopped school after the 5th grade with only a worrying 0.6% completing their A Levels. Such low levels of education undoubtedly lead to marginalisation, and to communication concerns: in that administrative and medical staff within the plantation sector do not speak Tamil, and only a small minority of workers can understand Sinhala or English. Furthermore, the lack of readily available secondary education (as obligated by international law) obstructs women and children from making informed choices regarding health, namely that of sterilization as discussed previously. This is reinforced by Sri Lanka’s National Demographic Survey which links lower levels of education to inadequate information about family planning and moreover to “limited and harmful choices.” (HHR Report p.40).
A decent education is the key to emancipation from discrimination, poor health and lifestyle choices for men, women and children alike. One commentator holds:
“education was not part of the plantation culture; it was neither technically necessary nor did it have any survival value. For labourers’ children, education is a means of emancipation, but to the planter it is a potential threat to the labour supply.”(HHR Report p.39)
It is time the Government of Sri Lanka took responsibility in making this a reality rather than stifling the educational and intellectual rights held by the Central Hill Tamils for its own benefit.