The latest NCPCR survey report reveals large-scale child labour in Bt cotton production; asks stakeholders to prepare an action plan to eliminate it

Forced to work for 14-hours at a stretch and even carry pesticides on their back, the plight children engaged as child labour in the Bt cotton production has often gone unnoticed, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has said in its latest survey report.

To rescue these children and in an effort to curb the growing problem of child labour in Bt cotton fields in some states, the Commission in collaboration with the labour department of Andhra Pradesh, conducted a State-wide meeting with BT cotton seed companies in Hyderabad in May.

“Child labour is being engaged in large numbers in Bt cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. They are forced to work for 14 hours and even carry pesticides exposing themselves to toxins,” said Commission member Dr. Yogesh Dube who visited the area. “Plants producing Bt cotton seeds require children of low height for cross pollination. Besides children make easy and cheap labour,” he added.

He noted that there was an urgent need to step up documentation of the problem to help implement the measures to curb it. “Child Welfare Committees (CWC) should be made more accountable, helpline numbers should be put in place so that people can directly call them up. More efforts should be put in to improve network and rehabilitation,” he added.

The NCPCR representatives also held meeting with 12 companies manufacturing Bt cotton seeds. Representatives of some of the companies claimed that engaging children in BT cotton seed production had come down in the State following intense monitoring by the labour department in the last few years coupled with measures taken by the multinational companies.

The NCPCR team's report also noted that the during a member's field visit to certain places in southern Rajasthan including Dungarpur, Udaipur, Banswada children were found trafficked from Rajasthan to Gujarat's northern districts like Sabarkantha, Bansakantha and Patan.

The Commission suggested that all stakeholders prepare an action plan for total elimination of child labour in Bt cotton seed production in the country.

“We observed that in several areas, child labourers were working in Bt cotton seed companies and carrying huge quantity of pesticides on their back… harsh working conditions (are) resulting in unreported deaths. Most of them hail from poor families of tribal communities.

The Commission had also brought these facts to the notice of the Gujarat government and the State government had also initiated action on the recommendation of the Commission and established some seasonal hostels for migrant children, established check posts at the borders in Rajasthan as well as in Gujarat,” noted the report.

The Commission also passed a resolution that all Bt cotton seed companies incorporate a clause in the agreement between the contractor and the farmer stating that they will not engage any child below the age of 14 years.

The other points in the resolution included that the seed companies should formulate ‘village committees' to monitor employment of child labour, and that the committee should monitor that children under 14 years are not sent for such work.

“We also suggested that the labour department initiate all measures to eliminate child labour in coordination with departments like education, social welfare, panchayati raj, police, revenue, etc. and conduct meetings every fortnightly… since Bt. cotton seed companies operate in more than one state…emphasised to think beyond Andhra Pradesh. Stringent action will be initiated against farmers engaging child labour,” noted Dr. Dube.

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