Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd op/published on: www.fibre2fashion.com, 21-6-2007

Paulomee Mistry

India : Disha on route to root-out child labour

June 21, 2007 - According to a rough estimate, around 1.5 lakh children migrate every year from Southern Rajasthan to Northern Gujarat to work in BT cotton farms. These children are employed as casual labourers on daily wage basis for cross-pollination work in seed plots of Bt cotton. Most of these farms of Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts are owned by the rich farmers. There are contractors who supply children from Southern Rajasthan to farmers. Annual work cycle is for two to three months during July to August for BT cotton farms.

Age group of these children is between 10 to 14 years and a large proportion of them consist of girls. As explained by some contractors, girls are preferred because they are more manageable and work harder. The task of pollination of hybrid Bt cotton involves opening out of female buds during afternoon, marking of buds with red tags, collection of male flowers during early morning and sprinkling pollen from male flowers in opened female buds. Children have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to collect male flowers because it is only this early when male flowers open out.

Collection process of pollen gets over before sunrise. After that, they have to remove petals of flowers and take out buds. Until afternoon, they work on pollination. There is a sense of urgency associated with pollination process, as it has to be carried out only during a specific period. Therefore, children have to keep working even if rain starts or any other event occurs.

A child worker works more than 14 hours a day and gets around rupees 30 to 40 as daily wage. Ironically, a child has to give rupees 5 to 7 to his contractor from his daily income. Children have to live in extremely inhumane conditions. Usually, around 15 to 30 children stay with one contractor in a small room located on a farm itself, far away from a village.

Children are commonly subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Girls suffer from constant teasing. It is a general perception that contractors as well as employers harass many girls sexually. Some cases also occur of young girls disappearing from worksite who remain untraceable afterwards.

Disha’s efforts:
Disha’s Gujarat Agriculture Labour Union (GALU) wrote several letters to the labour commission of Gujarat, requesting an investigation on actual situation of child labourers employed at these farms.

On 12th October 2006, GALU of Disha received a phone call from the rural labour secretary informing that his department was planning to carry out an investigation on 14th October and he wanted GALU representatives to join the investigation operation.

A joint inspection to check condition of child labourers:

On 14th October 6 o’clock in the morning, a team of 12 officers from Labour department and Rural Commission held a meeting with Mr Vipul Pandya, Ms Paulomee Mistry and Mr Udaising of GALU at Labour department’s office at Himmatnagar, the district capital of Sabarkantha. The group discussed modus operandi for the operation. Three teams were formed with each team including four labour officers and one representative.

Each team visited different villages of Idar taluka of Sabarkahtha. A total of 31 villages were visited which include Surpur, Khaski, Bhudheli, Masal, Fichod, Falasana, Oda, Patariya, Sapawada, Ladoda, Chitroda, Kukadiaya, Laxmipura Campa, Pratapgadh, Pshina, Aankalav, Godhamji, Umedpura, Sabalwada, Sabalwadkampa, Madh, Veraval, Chapra, Veravalkampa, Chandap, Surapura, Kamalpura, Movatpura, Gulabpura, Baldal pura and Acharal.

Strangely, all the teams found that very few children were actually working at farms that day. It was apparent that farmers and contractor somehow had information about the investigation operation and they had sent children back to their homes before it.
In some cases, where investigation teams found children working on farms, GALU representatives requested the labour officers to book complains and file cases against employers under the Child Labour Prevention Regulation Act (CLPRA). Initially, the labour officers were hesitant to book complains, giving excuses that those children appeared older than 14 years. The GALU representatives appealed that to prove the age of those children as above 14 years was responsibility of contractors and employers and therefore the labour officers should not be playing their role of determining age of those children.

Conclusion of the joint investigation:

GALU representatives were very disappointed with the entire investigation operation, as the labour officers were defending contractors and employers rather than giving a fair hearing to problems of children. It was also apparent that if investigations were carried out during April to August rather than October, there would have been many more children employed on BT cotton farms, as that was the main duration for cross-pollination work.

Soon after this operation, GALU prepared a leaflet addressing farm owners that to employ children on BT cotton farms was a crime and that they could be punished and sent to imprisonment under the ACT.

Disha’s plan for next year:

Disha plans to carry out an awareness campaign in Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts before children actually come from Rajasthan to work in BT cotton farms. A large number of leaflets containing information regarding the CLPRA and implication of employing children on BT cotton farms will be distributed. Posters conveying these messages will be prepared and displayed on important locations to spread the message. Volunteers will be appointed on check posts on State borders as well as Octroi tax collection centres at towns’ borders to check for child labourers and prevent them from coming from Rajasthan.

Disha sincerely believes, ‘Let an adult work in place of a child, but a child? Never!’

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