Since the peak work period is between October and December when cotton blooms, contractors visit tribal settlements in Shervoray Hills of the Eastern Ghats and take children by paying parents paltry sums of Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,000 as an advance.
According to Dr Davuluri Venkateswarlu, Director of Glocal Research Institute, Hyderabad, who conducted the study, of the 1,20,000 people employed in cotton seed production in Tamil Nadu, 75 per cent are under 18 years and 20 per cent below 14. The largest group, which is 45 per cent of the workforce, is aged between 16 and 18. Girls constitute 55 per cent of the workers.
Venkateswarlu said the children had to work for 90 days without a break as the cross pollination, which is facilitated by manually dusting the pollen on the bloom, has to be done within 24 hours of the flower blooming, to produce quality seeds.
Migrant labour forms eight per cent of the workforce in the 10,000 acres under Bt-Hybrid Cotton production in the state, of which 90 per cent is in Salem district. The reason cited for employing these children is cheap labour.