Most of them are Class V dropouts engaged for cross-pollination work for the past ten days

Officials raided cotton fields engaging child workers on Thursday, and rescued seven children, including four girls, who were less than 14 years of age, in Thalavasal block of Salem district.

A team comprising P.V. Viswanathan, Project Officer, Integrated Child Protection Programme, P. Balamurugan, Child Protection Consultant, UNICEF and officials from Department of Labour, Education, Revenue, Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the rural police and representatives from child protection organisations inspected cotton fields in Navakurichi, Navalur, Vengalur, Varagur and Siruvachur in Thalavasal block.

Four girls and three boys, all hailing from Karumandurai in Salem district and from Vellimalai in Villupuram district respectively were found engaged in cross-pollination works for the past 10 days.

Enquiries revealed that most of them were Class V dropouts and a few had completed only Class II. They were engaged in some work or the other for the past two to four years in various districts across the State. The children also said their parents were paid an advance amount from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,000 and they were employed for a daily wage between Rs. 160 and Rs. 200. A doctor from the Primary Health Centre in Siruvachur conducted age tests on the seven and confirmed that they were less than 14-years of age. They were lodged at Government and NGO run homes and their parents were informed.

Meanwhile, N. Karunanidhi, Revenue Inspector lodged a complaint with Thalavasal police that farmers A. Rajendran, M. Sakthivel and P. Manickam were involved in child trafficking for the purpose of child labour for farm works. Police registered a case under Section 365 (abduction for wrongful confinement) and 367 (slavery) of the Indian Penal Code.

This is possibly the first time in the country that a case was registered against farmers for employing child labourers. Police arrested the three farmers and produced them before the magistrate.

On remand in judicial custody, later in the evening they were lodged at the Aatur sub-jail in Attur.

ICPP officials said the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 had amended the Indian Penal Code on the specific offence of trafficking. Section 370 which defined trafficking in detail says that the consent of victim is immaterial in determination of the offence of trafficking.

Also, as per the Standard Operating Procedure to handle trafficking of Children for Child Labour, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 12, 2013, trafficking of children for economic exploitation and bonded labour is a heinous crime.