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POLICY & REGULATION: Child labour fuels Bt cotton boom in Rajasthan and Gujarat (India)



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   RE 1 PER HOUR: CHILDREN FUEL BT COTTON BOOM

SOURCE:  Hindustan Times, India

AUTHOR:  Urvashi Dev Rawal

URL:     http://www.hindustantimes.com/Re-1-per-hour-Children-fuel-Bt-cotton-boom/Article1-574810.aspx

DATE:    19.07.2010

SUMMARY: "Gujarat produces about half of India?s cotton, adroitly using its Bt version this decade to boost yields and lower costs. [...] The Bt cotton plant is smaller than normal cotton, and that drives the demand for child workers. It helps that they have small, nimble fingers for the delicate work of pollination. Since agricultural labour is not a hazardous occupation, the labour laws say children under 14 can work, but only for six hours a day with an hour?s rest in between. [...] Work hours in the cotton fields stretch up to 14 hours, and children exposed to insecticides report a variety of health hazards."

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RE 1 PER HOUR: CHILDREN FUEL BT COTTON BOOM

In this land of rolling hills, made lush by the monsoon, traffic ceases after dusk. So, it is unusual to hear jeeps running through the night on the winding roads of tribal south Rajasthan. Through the day, the local police, villagers and NGOs are out in force, trying to stop what they

can only slow ? the mass trafficking of children across the border into Gujarat from the Rajasthan districts that border it: Udaipur, Dungarpur, Banswara and Sirohi.

Dungarpur Collector Purna Chandra Kishan acknowledged that some 30,000 children, some as young as seven, were sent across the border last year. Udaipur Collector Anand Kumar said the count for his district was 25,000.

So, the jeeps continue their short runs at night, 8 to 20 km, into Gujarat. If the pressure is too intense, the contractors, called ?mates? locally, walk the children across the border, where more jeeps wait.

Once in the cotton fields of Gujarat?s prosperous Sabarkantha or Banaskantha districts, interviews with child workers reveal, the children are packed into sheds, where they sleep on a mat, must rise at 4 am, endure 12- to 14-hour days and little relief from illness.

Last year, according to official figures, five children died. The unofficial toll is in the tens.

Laloo Ramji, who ?guesses? he is 13 or 14, is a child worker who will not be going back this year. Perhaps, he never will. His hands are getting too big.

A wiry boy with an ear-stud and willing smile, Ramji recalled staying with ?40 to 50 other children in a small, cramped room?.

Their work was in the sprawling fields planted with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton, named after a soil bacterium whose gene has been inserted into the cotton plant to produce a toxin that resists the bollworm, reduces insecticide use ? and so transforms the cotton economy.

Ramji explained how he plucked the stamen, or the male part of the cotton flower. ?We placed it in the sunlight, so it opened,? said Ramji. ?After it (the flower) opened, we took the pollen and rubbed it on the female part (pistil) of the flower. We worked till about 1 pm when we were given a two-hour break for lunch. Then we worked till 7 pm.?

THE GREAT IRONY

The needs of modern biotechnology, the economics to Gujarat?s ascendancy as India?s cotton-bowl and multiple failures of national social security schemes in Rajasthan?s four southern districts drive the medieval exploitation of children.

Gujarat produces about half of India?s cotton, adroitly using its Bt version this decade to boost yields and lower costs. The state?s fields had a record harvest in 2009, and the anticipation of another boom fuels the trafficking of children.

The Bt cotton plant is smaller than normal cotton, and that drives the demand for child workers. It helps that they have small, nimble fingers for the delicate work of pollination.

Since agricultural labour is not a hazardous occupation, the labour laws say children under 14 can work, but only for six hours a day with an hour?s rest in between. In addition, there must be weekly holidays and medical benefits.

Work hours in the cotton fields stretch up to 14 hours, and children exposed to insecticides report a variety of health hazards. These include dizziness, headaches, nausea, weakness, skin infections and respiratory problems, as a 2000 study by the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union revealed.

A quiet, unsmiling preteen who worked two years in Gujarat?s cotton fields, Popat Parghi from Udaipur?s Dehri village described what happened when a girl working on a neighbouring farm fell ill.

?We asked the Patel (employer) to get her treated, but he refused and said the mate would do that,? said Parghi. ?The mate came the next day and arranged for the girl to be taken home, but she died en route.?

Of the five officially reported deaths in 2009, the government paid each family Rs 5,000 as compensation.

On the last day of their three-month labour, said Popat, children are given sweets and tilak (vermillion) is put on their forehead. ?The Patels give small gifts like a glass or bowl and ask the children to return the next year.?

The children earn between Rs 1,000 and 1,200 for their three-month stay ? at best, Rs 13 a day, which is Re 1 per hour. The official minimum wage: Rs 50 per day.

The ?mates? earn 40 times as much, earning commissions of Rs 40 for every day a child works. They can earn anywhere between Rs 30,000 and a few lakhs for the season.

Khemraj Barenda, a former ?mate? who trafficked children until two years ago, said parents are only paid an ?advance?, Rs 300 to Rs 500, for the season.

NO OTHER CHOICE

It?s not like there?s no government will to stop the trafficking.

Suggestions made in 2009 by a National Commission on Protection of Child Rights team, which visited Udaipur and Dungarpur districts, are now rolling out.

At a recent meeting, the governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat agreed to set up check-posts along the border. There are task forces, night patrolling, joint inspections, a control room, and raids on the Bt cotton farms. Officials have been asked to report any child absent from school for more than five days.

Yet, the jeeps roll on in the night, and in the village of Mata Ghati, 8 km north of the Gujarat border, primary school teacher Kewal Singh has seen ?mates? scouting for children.

Why do Rajasthan?s tribal parents agree to send their children to Gujarat?s cotton fields for the pittance that they get?

The short answer is every rupee counts in a region where the Congress government?s cradle-to-grave social-security schemes are failing.

The only occupation is farming corn and tuvar dal, but the tribes grow just for their own consumption.

Rural Rajasthan is one of India?s poorest areas, worse off than many sub-Saharan countries.

In the former kingdom of Udaipur, the rural literacy rate hovers around 43 per cent, the annual per capita income is less than Rs 18,000 and the average landholding is 1.57 hectacre.

There are no specific figures for the district?s tribal region, from where the children are trafficked, but the poverty is far deeper.

Officials and NGOs in the area point to corruption, ignorance of government schemes, and the failure of social-security services, most of which are, theoretically, available ? from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to the Integrated Child Development Service to the National Social Assistance Programme for those in distress.

?Parents work under NREGS but children still go to Gujarat as the extra income is welcome,? said Patanjali Bhu, divisional joint labour commissioner. ?Besides, most districts stop NREGS during monsoon.?

Dungarpur is even poorer; the annual per capita income is around Rs 12,000 and the average landholding 1.3 hectares, compared to 10 to 15 hectares in Gujarat?s Banaskantha district.

?Critical to reducing child labour is effective implementation and access to the already available social protection schemes,? said Samuel Mawunganidze, chief of Unicef in Rajasthan. ?This will ensure that the parents have access to income and essential services, which will reduce pressure to send children to the Bt cotton fields.?

When that will happen is uncertain.

(Tracking Hunger is an initiative of HT and Mint to investigate and report the struggle to rid India of hunger.)



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   BT COTTON FOSTERING ILLEGAL CHILD LABOUR?

SOURCE:  The Times of India, India

AUTHOR:  Rajiv Shah

URL:     http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-09-02/ahmedabad/30105487_1_child-labour-bt-cotton-labour-department

DATE:    02.09.2011

SUMMARY: "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."

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BT COTTON FOSTERING ILLEGAL CHILD LABOUR?

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.?



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   CHEATED OUT OF CHILDHOOD - INDIA?S HIDDEN WORKFORCE

SOURCE:  TV-Novosti, Russia

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://rt.com/news/cheated-out-of-childhood-539/

DATE:    28.09.2011

SUMMARY: "?We need to highlight that the yield of BT cotton is produced with the blood and hard work of children who are working for 18 hours ... We have seen many cases of girl workers being raped,? explains Praveen Singh, Gujarat State lead at Child Rights and You. The children are taken to the cotton plantations each summer and are used to pick cotton. Their fingers are better able to pick the crop and the farmers can lower costs by paying them less than adults. Usually agents or middlemen bring the children to plantations about 300 kilometers from their village for work. They say they are just trying to help the kids make money and that they too end up getting cheated in the process."

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CHEATED OUT OF CHILDHOOD - INDIA?S HIDDEN WORKFORCE

Millions of children across India give up their childhoods to work in the cotton fields to support their families. While earning only a few dollars, they are often physically, emotionally or sexually abused, rights activists warn.

>From across the street, 16-year-old Naveen Prasade can hear the chatter of children a few years younger than him going to school. But his school-going days are long gone. Prasad was taken out of school to work on cotton plantations with the dream of making money for his family.

?I went to the farm. I worked from 4:00 am till 6:00 pm every day. There were 26 of us children working. I came back home as I wasn?t paid ? so the work I did was for nothing,? he says.

He was promised the equivalent of around two dollars but left the plantation that summer with nothing.

RT obtained a hidden camera video from social workers who used the visuals to provide evidence to policemen in the area so they could conduct a raid and save the children. The social workers say that these children are regularly sleep deprived, hungry, overworked and oftentimes physically, verbally and sexually abused.

?We need to highlight that the yield of BT cotton is produced with the blood and hard work of children who are working for 18 hours ... We have seen many cases of girl workers being raped,? explains Praveen Singh, Gujarat State lead at Child Rights and You.

The children are taken to the cotton plantations each summer and are used to pick cotton. Their fingers are better able to pick the crop and the farmers can lower costs by paying them less than adults.

Usually agents or middlemen bring the children to plantations about 300 kilometers from their village for work. They say they are just trying to help the kids make money and that they too end up getting cheated in the process.

?I went with 15 boys. I thought the more boys I can give him the more commission I will get for each worker,? says agent Manish Bhai Dabli.

In many rural parts of India, schools for children above the age of 14 are rare, so many parents believe that if they send their kids away to work for the summer, at least they will not have to worry about how to feed them.

?A vehicle would come here and pick them up and they would just go and work for two months. The fields that they worked on were secure and they could work with each other in a group,? Deepak Bhai Dabli, a relative of a working child, told RT.

Seventy million children in India are engaged in labor work. However, agriculture is not included in the Child Labor Prevention Act. Seventy per cent of India?s economy is dependent on agriculture so many argue that banning it would prevent children from working in the fields with their parents.

Experts say that it is a problem that stretches far beyond India. There are plantations in the country that harvest BT cotton ? the scientific abbreviation for genetically modified cotton.

Monsanto, an American agricultural company that critics say has a monopoly on agricultural practices around the world, sells BT seeds to these farmers.

Those familiar with the child labor situation say that these multinational companies should better investigate and be more responsible about where their seeds are going to ensure that the seeds are not used to harvest crops with child labor.

?Too many international companies are investing and involved in BT cotton. If the cost of production is too high, multinational companies won?t like that,? according to Praveen Singh, from the Child Rights and You.

For now, the victims of this mess, the scared children, can barely speak about their time at the plantations. Those who can, say they will never return.

?I came back home now I won?t go back there. All 26 of us were cheated by them,? says child laborer Naveen Prasade.

Cheated out of childhood ? for the greedy to make a quick buck.