Teenagers form large labour force but not recognised by census. As a result they miss out on many welfare schemes meant for children.

Adolescents in the State are a vulnerable group who need support structures to ensure their education, wellbeing and legal protection. Results of a recent study have revealed that the lower the socio-economic status of an adolescent, the greater the exploitation.

The survey, which studied nearly 2,500 adolescents in 25 districts of the State between January and December 2012 and was released on Tuesday, was taken up to understand adolescent poverty. It was conducted by Madurai-based Littles Trust.

The study revealed that over 73 per cent (1,790) of those surveyed were dropouts and half were grossly exploited at their workplace. Nearly seven per cent of the surveyed group worked as bonded labourers. They were employed as contract labourers in industries in Tirupur, in flower picking and fishing.

Though adolescents form a large labour force in the unorganised sector, they are not recognised by the directorate of census. Even the directorate of education — which has numbers of children enrolled in school up to class VIII — does not have any details of the number of children enrolled in classes 9 to 12.

The children surveyed were mostly from government or government-aided schools. , where the medium of instruction is Tamil. All the children said that their families had at some point taken loans to build a home, for medical treatment or for education.

The study also found that girls were married off because government schools were not upgraded in their region or there were no toilets in the schools or there was no transport to reach the school.

“These children, when they turn 18, have the right to vote but do not have a voice to speak up during their crucial adolescent years about their plight,” said T.R. Parvatha Varthini, managing trustee of Littles Trust.

The Trust had technical support from Samakalvi Iyakkam and financial support from Child Rights and You.

Chella Selvakumar, State general secretary of Samakalvi Iyakkam, said the exploitation of girls in the spinning mills in Tirupur had taken a toll on their health. Nearly 25 per cent of the children said they would like to return to school if given a chance, the surveyors said.

The organisations demanded that the country formulate a comprehensive national policy for children and place it in Parliament for discussion. Only this could lead to an amendment of the Constitution to recognise adolescents as eligible for free education and make them beneficiaries of welfare schemes for children, they said.

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