Nearly 20 years of campaigning against child labour in the fireworks industry has only driven the practice underground, a fact-finding study in Sivakasi conduced by a group of non-governmental organisations has said.

Commissioned by Campaign Against Child Labour – Tamil Nadu, the study was jointly executed by members of Centre for Child Rights and Development (CCRD), NEED, Sivakasi, Human Rights Foundation, Indian Council for Child Welfare, Manitham of Sivaganga, and World Vision. The primary finding was that children were working at home, before and after school hours, during week ends and some children, even during school hours.

In Vijayakarisilkilam, Kothainachiyarpuram, Muthandipuram, Ammaiyarpatti, Kizhasalaiyapuram in Veempakottai block, clearly children below 14 years are involved in this work, at home. A review of the school records of these children confirmed their age, said S.Thenpandian, deputy director of CCRD. The manufacturers contract the work to agents who then sub-contract it to families known to them.

“Very few factories now employ children as labourers. So it is difficult to pin the blame on the manufacturers by establishing the link in the chain of command that leads to them,” he added.

Even if an accident occurs, it is only traced as far as the sub contractor, who is dispensable. If he is arrested, then someone else takes his place, Mr. Thenpandian says.

However, it is essential to make manufacturers responsible to ensure that no child labour is used in the entire process of manufacturing fireworks sold by them. Only this is likely to have a lasting impact.

Though the Child Labour Act provides for children to help out with family businesses/work, the very fact that it is a hazardous industry would naturally exempt fireworks from this clause, pointed out Vana Rajan, CACL's southern district convener. Researchers found that filling aluminium powder into the crackers causes great health problems to the children, particularly adolescent girls who are involved in the work.

The powder causes wheezing, asthma, headaches, and the girls also suffer hormonal issues, Mr. Thenpandian added.

Nose bleeds, stomach pain, back and hip pain, and tuberculosis are also common among the children.

The reason for the numerous accidents is the explosive nature of the substance they are dealing with, and complete ignorance or facilities to handle these substances in a safe and scientific manner.