Bt cotton fostering illegal child labour? - Times of India
Bt cotton fostering illegal child labour?
Friday, September 2, 2011
Times of India
GANDHINAGAR: The commencement of the cotton season may again bring more prosperity to Gujarat's agrarian economy, which grew by 16.6 per cent last year. This feat was mainly because of increased cotton production, which touched 105 lakh bales last year - one-third of the country's cotton output.
It was 78 lakh bales in the previous year. While farmers thrived, indications have emerged that this has happened at the heavy social cost of employing child labour in certain fields using the modern Bt cotton seeds.
North Gujarat, whose cotton output has taken a big turn due to better irrigation facilities from Narmada and Sujalam Sufalam canals, has proved notorious. Plants producing Bt cotton seeds require children of low height for artificial pollination, leading to child labour. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Labour (NCPCR) first noted this in a study report two years ago, "Children Migrating for Work from Dungarpur district, Rajasthan, to Gujarat."
The report said, "Migrant child labour is a major issue with parents sending children as young as eight years of age to work in the Bt cotton fields in Gujarat. Most of these children are going with relatives and friends to work 10-12 hours a day in a very unsafe environment." But it regretted, "Since child labour in agriculture is not prohibited, the labour department cannot enforce labour laws."
Though cases of child labour have been brought to the notice of the state government after the report, it denies its existence. Contesting complaints by Buniyadi Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (BAAG), an NGO, about continuation of
child labour, especially in Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts, officially, the state government denied its existence, calling allegations "baseless, false, fictional and non-factual."
If NGOs estimate 60,000 child workers, insiders in the government admit, it "has reduced considerably due to alternative employment under the NREGA."
Close on the heels of the letter, the Dalit Hak Rakshak Manch (DHRM), an NGO, held a hearing in the presence of NCPCR representatives on July 30, where several child workers, freed from Bt cotton fields, participated at Hadad village in Banaskantha district. Children, who had left primary schools, testified to having worked in Bt cotton fields for forty days. "These children belonged to Sandhosi village of Shihori taluka of Banaskantha district", activist Raju Solanki said.
Despite NGOs' campaign to eradicate child labour in Bt cotton fields, legally, it is going to be a tough task. As Solanki admits, "The only violation of the law, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, is that children work for more than double the time allowed under the rules in Gujarat - five hours. The other requirements for employing child labour in agriculture are - registers should be meticulously maintained, minimum wages be paid, and those employing child labour, must proactively tell the labour commissioner's office about it."