Naveen S. Garewall
Stitching together football dreams
Ludhiana, June 3
As the world watches the first FIFA-World Cup Soccer match, thousands of small children involved in the stitching of soccer balls remain oblivious of the big event, spending countless days trying to earn a square meal at the cost of their health and education.
Protests by various national and international agencies notwithstanding, child labour in this industry continues unabated. India is the second largest football producer in the world after Pakistan and most of the footballs made in India are produced in three towns of Punjab Jalandhar, Batala and Ludhiana. According to reports of Global March, an organisation which works for the eradication of child labour, there are estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 child workers involved in the stitching of football in the state.
Since, football-stitching is a home-based industry and middlemen place orders in the homes of individuals, its becomes difficult to detect and eradicate child labour in this industry. “In most cases, football is family work, where a middleman, who acts on behalf of a sports goods manufacturer take orders to homes. The children in the family are forced to sew footballs at the cost of their education, thereby creating a vicious circle of poverty and uneducated labour”, says a spokesperson of Volunteers for Social Action, Punjab, another agency dealing with the issue.
Global March, in its report, has quoted a child as young as 10-year-old saying, “I have been stitching footballs for as long as I can remember. My hands are constantly in pain. It feels like they are burning. There is nothing I can do, I have to help my elder sister complete the order.”
A code of conduct by FIFA, prohibiting use of child labour has forced some local manufacturers, especially those at Jalandhar, to gauge the extent of use of children in the manufacture of soccer balls through an informal survey. They say that they have uncovered 79 stitchers under the age of 14. Child labour continues unabated here despite an international campaign initiated by Global March Against Child Labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also launched its “Red Card to Child Labour” campaign this week to coincide with the start of the 2002 African Cup of Nations that was held in January in Bamako, Mali.
‘The Dark Side Of Football’, a study by an independent NGO India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), on the football industry in Punjab reads, “We mainly see women and girls at work. A few girls tell us they are getting Rs 2 for half a ball. Working 12 hours a day, they make Rs 15 to Rs 20 each. Another girl is working for Globe Sports. The footballs she is stitching carry the tag: `No child labourer used’. The report wants the industry listed in the `Hazardous Occupation’ category, as children stitching footballs for long hours complain of joint pains and backaches. Many of them suffer from loss of eyesight, chronic back and neck pains, cuts on their fingers and even deformation of their fingers. For younger children, these conditions can last for their lifetime since proper treatment is usually not given.”
Efforts at various levels have effectively brought the issue of child labour in the public eye and forced the industry and companies take up the issue.