Farmers employ children to work in fields as engaging labourers turns costly

Will the tradition of child employment in agriculture be discontinued if the sector faces constant crises of labour availability and the debilitating increase in investment? Farmers will certainly be forced to accept a “helping hand” from their children when they try to cut cultivation costs.

The government’s effort in curbing child labour and enrolling children in schools through the Right to Education (RTE) seems to have been defeated partly because it has failed to control inflation in agriculture. As poor farmers with meagre land holdings can ill afford the costly labour, they cannot escape deployment of their children at least for minor works in the fields.

Governmental agencies like the Rajiv Vidya Mission (RVM) which look after the implementation of the RTE, have not yet formulated a policy to specifically “target” child employment in agriculture sector. “We do not have statistics related with children employed in agriculture but we do try to address the problem mostly through counselling of parents”, says Borekar Virender, Community Mobilisation Officer (CMO) in RVM, Adilabad.

“A mobilisation van keeps reaching out to farmer-parents in the rural areas. Our counsellors try to convince the parents to enrol their children in school”, he adds, as he explains the efforts being made by the premier agency.

This effort however, does not seem to be equal to the task. More and more children can now be found in fields working as casual labourers.

The services of children of a younger age are used mostly in lighter jobs which require their presence in the field only early in the morning. It is the teenagers, students from classes IX and X usually, who appear in the fields to take up regular work as labourers who actually face the risk of ending up drop-outs from school.

“Instead of calling it labour, I will just say our children are sharing our burden. If the government is serious about child labour, it should work towards making agriculture a cheaper proposition”, suggests tribal farmer Madavi Bhim Rao of Dubbaguda in Jainoor mandal.