29% spike in child labour in 7 yrs in Guj cotton fieldsStudy reveal decline in employment of children in other major cotton producing states
Gujarat’s galloping cotton production hides behind it a cruel fact- the use of children as farm labourers in the cotton fields of the state. In fact, Gujarat is the only state among the five states of India, where Bt cotton production is high, to register an increase in the number of child labourers employed in the cotton field. The number of children (below the age of 14 years) employed in the cotton fields saw 29.4% increase from the year 2006-07 to 2014-15. The number of children employed was 86,360 in 2006-07 which rose to 1,10,400 in 2014-15 .
This was revealed in a report titled ‘Child labour and below minimum wages in hybrid cottonseed production in India’ commissioned by the Stop Child Labour coalition and the India Committee of the Netherlands.
The report also said that there was 85% increase in number of children (in the age group of 15 to 18) employed in the cotton fields for the same period. The number of children employed as child labourers in the cotton fields increased from 87,850 to 163,200.
Speaking about the situation in Gujarat, Sudhir Katiyar, project director, Prayas, said the government has developed a task force to keep an eye on farmers so as to prevent them from employing children as agriculture labourers in the cotton fields. “But often this task force is just on paper. Work doesn’t get done and the number of people fined for employing children is miniscule,” said Katiyar. He said as farmers form a powerful lobby; the government is also not very keen on cracking down on them for employing children.
Explaining why farmers prefer to hire children as farm labourers, Ramesh Srivastav, a legal consultant said it was because minimum wages for agriculture labour were the lowest in Gujarat. “Minimum wages here are Rs150, lower than Bihar an extremely poor state. When they hire children, who are mostly hired to do the pollination work, they pay them less than the minimum wages and there is no time limit about how long they have to work,” said Srivastav.
He added that with the advent of Bt cotton, child labour which was earlier mostly restricted to the cotton producing areas of Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Mehsana , have now even spread to Chota Udaipur , Panchmahal and other such tribal areas. “In most of the cases the children work with the consent of the parents. But use of child labour means they stay away from school. Moreover many girls who are still in their adolescence also get exploited,” said Sriavastav.
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