“Girls must be considered as a child till 18 years”

The State Government must issue an order immediately banning employment of girl children below 18 years of age, demanded the Campaign Against Sumangali Scheme (CASS) at its first State conference held here last week.

A resolution adopted at the conference pointed out that girls below 18 years of age were employed in textile units under schemes referred to as Sumangali Scheme, Mangalya Thittam or Thirumagal Thirumana Thittam. But, the age prescribed as per the United Nations Child Rights Convention for the definition of a child was below 18 years.

This age criterion should be considered for defining girls employed under these schemes as child workers, irrespective of the definition contained in laws like Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, or Juvenile Justice Act.

Demanding ban on such schemes that violated constitutional provisions, labour laws and United Nations and International Labour Organisation conventions, the conference said that the State Government should not allow any such attractive schemes devised to exploit the existing dowry and income-related socio-economic conditions of the most vulnerable rural communities.

Women workers under the scheme, who had completed 18 years of age, should be treated as permanent employees after six months under the Tamil Nadu Industrial Establishments (Conferment of Permanent Status to Workmen) Act 1981 and paid Rs.143 for eight hours of work a day as minimum wages.

The conference claimed that women workers and girl children were being recruited from tribal and Dalit families in violation of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The State should protect the children of vulnerable communities and ensure social justice by issuing an order to award severe punishment for such recruitment.

Violation of laws

The conference drew the attention of the government to alleged violations of laws in the Sumangali Scheme and urged the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission on Protection of Child Rights to take cognizance of the violations.

According to a CASS press release, the conference mooted the formation of district-level committees under the chairmanship of the Collector and participation of civil society organisations to inspect textile mills to ascertain the number of girls and women employed, facilities available and violations, if any. The government should launch certified educational and vocational training programmes for women in vulnerable areas so that skilled workers were absorbed in the industry as permanent employees.