Dozens of street children gathered in the Sri Lankan capital on Monday demanding the right to go to school.
"If streets are our destination, what's our future," read one placard held by the demonstrators. "Don't make school a child's dream," said another.There were some 20,000 street children in Sri Lanka, most of them living in Colombo and other major towns, said Jayaweera Kohombange of World Vision Lanka, a nongovernment organization that organized the protest.
"We are trying to create awareness among the public about the plight of street children by holding this protest," he said.
There is no state organized program to assist street children in Sri Lanka, but some nongovernmental organizations run ad hoc rehabilitation programs.
"They are a difficult group to deal with, but definitely not enough attention is being paid to them in Sri Lanka," said Hiranthi Wijeyamana of the U.N. Children's Fund.
She said while some of the children lived on the streets, others were brought from homes to be used as beggars, prostitutes and drug peddlers either by poor parents or by organized gangs.
The government last year passed tough new laws aimed at curbing pedophilia.