Leading child rights organisation, Save the Children, has launched a Rs 48 crore, programme to liberate and rehabilitate nearly eight lakh child labourers working in the cotton fields of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. It would endeavour to create community-level structures to facilitate implementation of the integrated child protection schemes launched by the government.

Announcing the launch of the project at the headquarters of the northern region of the Confederation of Indian Industry on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour on Thursday, Prabhat Kumar of Save the Children, said Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar and Fazilka in Punjab and Sirsa, Fatehabad and Hisar districts of Haryana have been chosen for the project. International IKEA Foundation, rights organisation – Breakthrough — and an NGO, Pratham, would be the partners.

While Save the Children would facilitate creation of community groups that worked at various levels to discourage child labour as well as create awareness about the government’s child protection services, Pratham would assist in improving learning levels at primary and upper middle school level. Breakthrough will generate communication material and provide information on gender discrimination.

As against the latest census figures that only 1.7 lakh child labourers were identified in Punjab, recent studies by scholars including Dipankar Gupta and Sucha Singh Gill, indicated that at least five lakh child labourers were engaged in Punjab alone. Other estimates have indicated that about three lakh children were hired as labour in Haryana.

According to Mr Kumar, around 75 per cent of the total child labour, especially in the 10-plus age group, was hired in agriculture, which was declared non-hazardous. However, considering that more farmers were opting for BT seeds that entailed excessive use of chemicals through fertilisers and pesticides, child labourers were working in hazardous conditions if the texture of the crop, climate and long working hours were also factored in. “These children miss out on school, which is a huge impediment to their overall growth and capacity building,” he told The Hindu.