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Sri Lanka street drama takes on child labor

2013 June 12

By Julia Boccagno

Honoring World Day against Child Labour

Young actor performing during the street drama.

Young actor performing during the street drama.

“We want our childhood; we want our right to be educated in schools,” an 11 year-old actress cries out on stage, as tears stream down her cheeks.

Every time these novice street actors and actresses step on stage in Sri Lanka, there isn’t a dry eye among the hundreds of spectators.

The tears well up out of memories—of physical pain and emotional hardship— to those robbed of an education as child laborers in Sri Lanka’s plantation sector.

From an early age, children learn that money is more valuable than an education. Because of the extreme poverty in the plantation sector, parents rely on their children for additional income. They simply cannot afford an education, even though it is free, because schooling doesn’t provide immediate economic security for the rest of the family.

This widely held attitude forces children to drop out of school and work in difficult conditions—as domestic servants in wealthy households, factory workers, or agricultural laborers.

To address child labor, Search established “Promoting Active Civic Participation in the Hill Country”  to raise awareness among the local community about the importance and benefits of receiving an education.  In order to create an interactive, engaging environment, Search communicates its themed messages to audience members through radio channels, talk shows, and participatory theater performances.

The program also strives to strengthen the skills of young leaders to engage their communities and with decision makers. By engaging the youth in participatory theater programs, they learn how to serve as catalysts of socioeconomic change, claim their legal rights, and access government services.

Young actress performing during the street drama.

Young actress performing during the street drama

Because the problems explored throughout the theater performances are a reality for many, both the child “actors” and audience members are emotionally moved and inspired to break the cycle of exploitation. The impact of the program is best understood through the powerful words of an 11-year-old student,

“I worked in a grocery shop after being dropped out of school. I never knew how important it is to study until I joined this street drama group. Now, I am determined to go back to school.”

Although labor laws are being addressed in Sri Lanka, millions of other children worldwide experience the worst forms of child labor, such as slavery and engagement in armed conflict.

Raise Awareness.  Support World Day against Child Labour!

Learn more about our work with children all over the globe, click here.


As a rising American University junior, Julia Boccagno majors in Broadcast Journalism and double-minors in International Studies and Italian with the hopes of becoming a future foreign correspondent. She firmly believes that objective news reporting is a vital tool within the peace and conflict resolution conversation. Always eager for adventure, Julia has a passion for traveling and views it as an avenue to achieve cultural understanding. She is currently the New Media Intern at Search for Common Ground. 

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