Landelijke India Werkgroep

Study on the Health Status of Adolescent Girls working in Textile and Spinning Mills

Almost all girls have big physical and mental health problems

(Mar 31, 2015)

A study on the health status of adolescent girls working in the textile and spinning mills was conducted by the organization Vaan Muhil between October 2015 and February 2015.
In total 193 girls of girls from Tirunelveli District working in the mils or returnees of the Sumangali Scheme were selected for the study through group discussions, case studies and individual in-depth interviews.

"Sumangali Scheme or Thirumagal Thirumana Thittam, an euphemism for Camp Coolie System, introduced 15 years ago by textile mills and garment industries in Western Tamil Nadu, is nothing but a modern form of bonded labour system. Under the scheme, unmarried girls between 12-21 are being recruited from rural area in large numbers through agents to work in the industries."

Some prominent findings from the study are:

  • "Nearly 75% of the girls working under the scheme have joined the mills for the first time at the age group between 13 to 16. Out of the total respondents, 24% have started working at the age of 13 or 14 and at least 5% of the girls have joined the mills below 13. Working in the mills at the tender age affects their health very badly."

  • "Instances of locking these minor girls below 15 in bathrooms or separate dark rooms are common in the mills, when inspections take place. In some mills these girls would be sent home during visits by the officials."

  • "64% of girls interviewed have worked under the scheme for more than three and a half years At least 20% of the respondents have been in the mills for more than five years and 18 girls reported that they have worked more than seven years in the mills, which is a long duration and that has telling effect on their health."

  • "Health issues among the adolescent girls working in the mills under Sumangali Scheme are of high concern. 84% of the respondents have said that they had developed some our health problem or other, after working in the mills and they strongly feel that they did not have any of these problems before going to work in the mill."

  • "Out of the total respondents, more than three-fourth girls (78.24%) have complained that they have menstruation problems, after going to work in the mills. While nearly half of the girls reported to have suffered irregular monthly cycle, 41% of them have complained of overbleeding. A whopping 71% of the girls are suffering from white discharge, which affects their health very much. Many have also complained of low HB count and weight loss."

  • "Nearly 90% of them have developed arthritis pain and that could be due to long working hours in the mills. More than half of the adolescent girls (55.96%) suffer from chronic headache and nearly 73% of them suffer from insomnia, this might be due to continuous night shifts."

  • "More than 80% of them suffer from indigestion and loss of appetite. Lack of proper rest, coupled with poor intake of food, affects the health of the adolescent girls working in the mills. Many have developed ulcer problem, as they go empty stomach after night shifts."

  • "55% of the working girls have bronchitis problems, due to continuous exposure to cotton and lack of healthy environment in the mills and these girls suffer from continuous cough, wheezing and suffocation."

  • "Long working hours in the mills, heavy work load, lack of sleep, due to continuous shifts, lack of proper food intake, continuous exposure to cotton, stressful atmosphere in the mill and lack of healthy environment are some of causative factors that largely contribute to the health problems of the adolescent girls working in the mills."

  • "When asked the respondents about the mills conducting medical checkups at the time of joining the mills, 126 girls (84.5%) replied in the negative and only a small percentage (12.95%) answered ‘yes’ for the question on regular medical checkups being organized by the mills during the contract period (once a year), so also vaccination and supply of deworming tablets to these adolescent girls working in the mills."

  • "Toilets and bathing facilities in the hostels are a major problem for many girls staying there. Insufficient number of bathrooms and unhygienic conditions of toilets were matters of concern for the inmates. Asked about whether sufficient toilet facilities were available for the workers, at least one third answered in the negative, so also proper arrangements for disposal of sanitary napkins used by the girls."

  • "Of the total respondents, 88 girls (45.59%) had been forced to work overtime for four to six hours, which means 12-14 hours of work at a stretch (almost two shifts continuously), while one-fourth of the total respondents had to work for four hours extra every day."

  • "When the girls are unable to do any physical work, not even able to stand during menstruation period, the supervisors used to force them or scold them to do overtime."

  • "Verbal abuse and sexual harassment by supervisors is quite common. The girls, being very vulnerable and docile, are not able to react to their supervisors, their immediate boss, as the former have to complete their contract period to get the promised amount, and this is confirmed by 44% respondents."

  • "Using filthy language, with offensive remarks and derogatory references, mostly referring to female private parts and speak to them in double meaning with sexist overtones, really humiliates the girls working in the mills and this kind of verbal abuse affected their psyche very much, so say 31% of the respondents."

  • "Sexual harassment such as physical touch with sexist remarks or sexual intention, touching breasts, fondling, hitting at the back, touching cheeks and sudden hugging or embracing (unexpectedly), kissing, teasing them, pulling their dresses, forcing the girls to come alone to rooms and kissing them, have been quite common in the mills."

  • "18% of the girls responded that the male supervisors used to do some favours of being very lenient to those girls who adjust or yield to the supervisors in this regard, while they are very harsh to other girls, who refuse to yield to their sexual demands. At times they extract or demand more work from these girls."

  • "88.6% of the respondents strongly felt that they have some sort of psychological problems, after started working in the mills. With regard to normal relation or interaction with their friends and relatives, 48% of the respondents say that they are not able of relate with others normally as before and the stress level is very high."

  • "35.23% of the girls interviewed say that they are feeling lonely always, while another 40% feel occasionally lonely and many of these girls very often speak to themselves. The incidents in the mills and work stress have affected them badly."
At the end of the report recommendations on implementation of labour laws, on alternate employment opportunities, on the role of local bodies, on health and schooling and on collective efforts are given.

See the full report: (Mar 31, 2015)
See paper "Sumangali Trend-2015": (Jan 2015)
See article in The Hindu: "Girl workers physically, sexually exploited, reveals survey" (Apr 1, 2015)
More information about the Sumangali Scheme:

Landelijke India Werkgroep - April 15, 2015