Vulnerable communities identified in Colombo city:
Slum dwellers yearn to be free from suffering
Niluka and her children
Taking her seven-month-old malnourished baby in one hand and
balancing the weight of nearly six month pregnant body she walks through
the busy Bambalapitiya junction near Majestic City along with her
husband. Her five and half feet tall, thin, dark and skeleton like
figure reminds of an alien to the people who looks at her when she pass
The officials attached to the Thimbirigasyaya Divisional Secretariat,
under the Regional Child Operation Committee of the Probation and
Childcare Department were following her to her hideout. Giving the
flimsy excuse that she is getting late to prepare lunch for her children
who have gone to school, she evades the officers.
Though the Women Police officers were ready to catch her with her
child the civil officials were sympathising with Fareeda and allow her
Fareeda, along with her husband and the baby have already vanished
into the slums in the narrow strip of land with a width of nearly ten
yards hemmed between the sea side walls of the Bambalapitiya railway
station and the roaring sea as the officials try to reach them.
"How can we take her when she says that she had to prepare the lunch
for her children", a female officials queried when they realise that it
was an excuse Fareeda has given to escape from them.
Though they reach where Fareeda was living she was no longer there.
She has already escaped with her husband. But there was no clue to say
how she was living with the children even without a shelter over their
heads. Therefore, the way she was spending money for alcohol is a big
Despite Fareeda's absence, there were a lot of men, women, children
and women looking like men with same body structure like Fareeda either
due to malnourished or decayed due to the excessive intoxication of
heroin or canabis appears from their slums as we pass them.
People daily passing the Bambalapitiya railway station may not be
aware that this tiny plot of land creates a habitat for 21 families who
leads the most underprivileged, uneducated and crime-prone communities
in the Colombo city with least facilities.
Police officers and the officers engaged in the survey
But the most alarming issue is that women like Fareeda addicted to
alcohol and drugs are giving birth to children. Now living with her
second husband she is already a mother of six children and she is heavy
with the seventh child while having a seven month old babe in her hand
whilst leading her life in the streets.
"These people do not know what family planning is and proper health
care about their children. What they need to have is drugs. What we are
planning is to take the details of these families and to channel them
for appropriate programs", Thushara Wickremasinghe, Child Rights
Promoting Officer attached to the Thimbirigasyaya Divisional Secretariat
who is also the Secretary of the Divisional Child Rights Monitoring
The Women Development Officer P.A.C. Shiromi, Zonal Samurdhi
Development Manager Kusum Perera, Kumari Agalawatta attached to the
Dangerous Drug Control Board, Officer in Charge of the Womens and
Children Bureau of the Colombo South Division, IP Inoka Muhandiram and
seven WPCs attached to Women's Bureau of Bambalapitiya, Wellawatta,
Kirulapona, Narahenpita, Borella, Cinamon Garden and Kollupitiya Police
stations were also participated in this survey to get details of these
people under the guidance of Thimbirigasyaya Divisional Secretary
A layer of wooden planks and some polythene sheets creates the houses
of 21 families living behind the Bambalapitiya railway station.
The tiny houses only provide a cover for them from the sea breeze and
to cover their privacy from the visitors but not provide the required
basic facility of a house. But each of them have a similar story to
One common story of each child living there is either their mother or
father is under Police custody for selling drugs or for consuming drugs.
When their parents are under Police custody the education of the
children gets affected automatically and they are prone to various
malpractices in the society.
Eight year old Danushka and the 16 year old Rumesha Thathsaranee have
faced the same fate and have not attended school. The mother of
Dhanushka has been taken into Police custody as a packet of heroin has
been found inside Dhanushka's shirt which she put in the sunlight for
drying up while Rumesha's mother has been caught when she was taking
These incidents have become normal for the people and their
grandmothers have to look after the children when their parents are
taken into custody by the Police.
This situation has pushed them to the depths of poverty day by day as
they lose whatever the belongings in their houses once they come back
from Police cell or remand prison. Children also lose their school
books, clothes compelling them to be absent from schools for weeks once
their parents get their stuff.
Absolute poverty and drug addiction of Mohamed Farook also has put
the future of his four children in darkness. Niluka Nilmini the mother
takes care of the four children. Thirteen year old Arunda, eight year
old Kalpa, six year old Sachini are in the schooling age but there is no
way of them to attend school as they do not have books and other
material. Two and half year old Pavan in his mother's hand is also
awaiting his turn of schooling. The future of these children are
uncertain as education is the key factor for a bright future and good
"I went to school upto grade three. But I have to stop my education
as my mother and father do not have money to send me to school. I stay
with my mother at home now", 13 year old Arunda said.
Sixteen year old Sachini is at a vulnerable age to live in an
environment like this. But she has adapted to the environment and looks
forward to sit for the O/L examination. Her mother has already left them
and is living with another man. Police has arrested them when they were
taking drugs. Her father also has been taken to the Police station for
"How can I go to school when both of my mother and father are in
Police", Sachini queries. However 68 year old K. Chandra, grandmother of
Sachini is taking care of her at home from the money she earns from
working at a residence in Bambalapitiya flats.
Kusuma Fernando, is yet another grandmother who looks after a one and
half year child as the father of this child has been arrested by the
Police. The mother has escaped from the Police and gone somewhere
leaving the child with Kusuma. The five children there also suffer due
to the acts of their parents.
Not only at Bambalapitiya railway station, but there are many other
places along the beach front of Colombo city where underprivileged
communities are living.
Nirosha Perera is yet another mother who is severely addicted to
drugs, living in the slums near Beach Vadiya, Wellawatta. Like Fareeda,
Nirosha also tried to escape when she saw the Police officers, but
agreed to talk with officers since it was not meant for legal purposes.
Only five days have passed from the day she had delivered her new
born child. She looks after that yet unnamed baby keeping him in a cot
made out of a piece of cloth. But she demands a packet of heroin from
her husband to look after the child. "He is a three wheel driver and he
agrees to give me a packet of heroin spending Rs.500 when I say that I
won't look after the child", she says.
Her former husband and her 19 year old daughter has left her due to
her bad habit. Even her present husband is also not a drug addict. "To
feed my child I need a packet of heroin. Only after taking that, can I
feed the child. But I also want get rid of this habit, therefore I agree
to visit the centre to have treatment ", she says. Like Nirosha, Kapila
Nalaka and Subramaniam Sarada living in slums close to the Beach Vadiya,
Wellawatta are also ready to undergo treatment as they have realised the
way they live is not good.
According to Indra Kumari Agalawatta, from the National Dangerous
Drug Control Board, the environment these people are living is the basic
reason for the addiction to heroin and other forms of drugs. "Many of
the women engaging in prostitution also need drugs. To sleep with few
men a day they need to have drugs. Otherwise they cannot exist.
Since they are earning a lot of money per day they spend lavishly on
We should free them from these addictions. We must get then away from
this environment to get them free from these habits", Agalawatta says.
According to her, the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board is
having two centres to provide treatment for drug addicts.
One centre is at Sri Bodhiraja Viharaya, Slave Island and on
Thursdays there are clinics to treat drug addicted men. "We conduct
clinics and channel them for rehabilitation and conduct medical clinics
to get them free from this drug addiction", she said.
The other centre for women is located at Thalangama which is open
daily from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm. Not only the women addicted to heroin but
also cigerettes or any other form of drugs also can visit this centre at
Thalangama for treatment. They also can stay for a few days there or can
have their treatment during day hours, she said.
"After visiting these places we can identify the people and channel
them for treatment and medical treatment", she said.
Like her the Samurdhi Officer and women Development Officer were also
collecting data to identify vulnerable people living there who needs
According to the Zonal Samurdhi Manager Kusum Perera, these people
need to be assisted under Samurdhi program. "These are the people who
should be benefited from the program. But they should change their life
style if they want to get benefit from that program", she said. The
Women Development Officer P.A.C. Shiromi said that many of the women
living in these places are not aware of family planning methods and also
how to solve their family problems. "Through this program we can channel
these women for vocational training and other programs to develop their
life skills. That will ensure a better life for their children too", she
According to IP Inoka Muhandiram, many of the people are addicted to
drugs due to absolute poverty. "They cannot live without those drugs as
they need that to engage in prostitution and other illegal forms of
professions", she said.
However, Inoka says that although these places look dirty even the
men clad in formal attire, coat and tie also visit these places in the
night seeking prostitutes and drugs. Even young boys visit these places,
Thushara Wickremasinghe who headed the team said the Probation and
Child Care Department is concentrating more on the vulnerable children
living in these places. "We are trying to identify them and solve their
family problems and send then to schools. We are providing them exercise
books, bags, shoes and other material they need to pursue their
education. We also discuss with the principals and teachers of the
schools these children are attending to give them more attention and
make sure that they pursue their education", she said. "We are also
sending the children who do not have a parent or guardian to children's
homes after producing them before courts", she said.
"After this survey we are conducting an awareness program for all the
people living in these risky areas at the Bambalapitiya Police station
on May 20 and we will take action to provide the material needed for the
school children for them to attend school and the women to have
vocational training to ensure their livelihood", she said.
The society may disregard them for what they do for their living. But
the society is also responsible for the plight of this community and
look sympathetically towards them and help them overcome that hell and
lead a life like any other citizen of the country. Ignoring them for
ever or just evicting them from that place will create many more
problems in the society. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the
authorities to take decisions carefully and reintegrate them to the
society as better and responsible citizen after freeing them from their