Earn upto Rs. 9,000 pm checking Emails. Join now!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tribal girls till the land in Bt cotton fields

SALEM: Agrarian crisis may have forced farmers to switch over to Bt cotton much against the warnings of environmentalists but not without unacceptable fallouts. For 10 months after UNICEF brought out the prevalence of migrant child labour in Bt cotton fields with Attur taluk in Salem getting notorious along with Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, a current survey indicates that at least 13 per cent of the total labour in the cotton fields are children, particularly tribal girl children, with serious compromises being made on their right to education and health.Assertions and denials flew between UNICEF officials and the district administration at the one-day consultation on ‘Child Protection Issues in Salem district’, organised by the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) and the UNICEF here on Tuesday.Dr Davuluri Venteswarlu, a UNICEF consultant, put the total figure of migrant child labour in Attur Bt cotton fields at 38,000, while all over the state 65, 000 have been identified according to a survey conducted in 2006-2007. Tribal girls below 14 years and up to 24 in Kalrayan Hills (part of the hills between Villupuram and Salem) and from Sitheri hills in Dharmapuri continue to be the main source of migrant child labour.According to Vidyasagar, another UNICEF consultant, Salem accounts for 9,000 acres of Bt cotton seed, the highest in the state. That is also largely the reason for increased cotton production in the state. Being labour-intensive, cotton seed farming requires at least 1,00,000 labourers at a time. With labour cost rising two times, farmers demand cheap labour. Moreover, cross pollination process which spans 90 days between October and December is done manually in the case of hybrid varieties (including Bt). Girls are automatic choice, much sought for their nimble hand in plucking and transferring pollen.However, the activity is highly hazardous as children come into close contact with toxic pesticides. A girl reportedly died in the field at Attur after being overexposed. Children are forcibly pulled out from schools during the pollination season, never to return to education.Livelihood resources on a sustained basis continue to elude the tribals in Salem district despite an encouraging demographic shift favouring child development. Land alienation and dismal social infrastructure like health and education were said to be driving forces that send children to work. Farmers on the other hand expressed reservations and said as long as their incomes dip, the other steps would be piecemeal.Salem Collector, N Madhivanan, denied that the situation was all that alarming and referred to the steps initiated through a comprehensive child labour eradication drive under the NCLP. According Attur RDO, only 35 child labourers were identified between October and December 2007. NCLP Project Director, Viswanathan, said the children were malnourished, looked younger and small.Officials also take cover under the Child Labour Act excluding agriculture from its purview. Serious violations under the Act's regulations such as working hours (11 hours a day in Bt cotton fields) are not taken into account. However, there is a move to bring agriculture under hazardous category with respect to child labour employment.UNICEF plans to make social investments in solving the crisis through funding, capacity building, supporting education and health development in an overall child protection framework, said Vidyasagar.Supply side and demand side factors continue to challenge official and non-official interventions to arrest the pernicious trend. Some broad approaches to bring about the needed changes were discussed at Tuesday’s workshop.

No comments:

  • cns-news