CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu has shown a significant decline in the total number of children employed in cottonseed farms from 2006-7 to 2014-15, according to recent studies.
A recent report, ‘Cotton’s Forgotten Children’ by NGOs ‘Stop Child Labour’ and ‘The India Committee of the Netherlands,’ reveals that the number of children employed in cotton fields has almost halved to 34,300 in eight years when the figure was 65,700. But for Tamil Nadu, it is on the rise across the country.
Traditional seed production in TN was once concentrated in Attur Taluk of Salem district and Kalkurch taluk of Villupuram district. But, it is now moving to tribal areas like Karumandarai hills in Salem district and Chitteri hills in Dharmapuri district. In the former, there is a significant fall in the number of children working in these farms compared to the latter. “Intervention of the State and other organisations like UNICEF at the grassroot level in village panchayats and schools has helped mitigate this problem to a large extent in Salem. The same is being done in Dharmapuri too,” says former child protection specialist, R Vidyasagar. UNICEF has set up vigilante teams in these two districts and have rescued 22 and 43 children respectively in 2013 and 2014. “The good news is that even the farmers today are alert and considerate and refrain from employing children. We hope it keeps getting better,” says Sugata Roy, Communication Specialist UNICEF State Office for Tamil Nadu & Kerala.
The study was carried out in 396 hybrid cottonseed farms in undivided Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Though Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh showed a significant fall, it has not translated into a decline in the total number of children employed in cottonseed farms. Revealing a another facet, the report says areas directly controlled by MNCs has consistently grown from 7,680 acres in 2006-07 to 30,000 acres in 2014-15.
In cottonseed production, labour cost account for about 50% of total cost of cultivation and hence the preference to employ children.
India’s hybrid seed market is one of the biggest in the world
Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka account for 90% cottonseed production area
Gujarat has the largest area covering nearly 50% (48,000 acres), followed by undivided Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana) - 17,000 acres (18%), Karnataka - 9,000 acres (11.6%) and Tamil Nadu - 7,000 acres (7.4%)
In Tamil Nadu, 63.4 percent children who work in these fields are girls
In India, children below 14 constitute around 25% of the agricultural workforce
Another 35% of the workforce are children between 14 and 18 years of age