Staff Reporter

65 per cent of workers are under the age of 18 years

Many cotton mills engage girls aged below

17 for work

They are left outside the ambit of

ESI, Provident Fund

KARUR: Opposition to the Sumangali Thittam, which involves employment of girl children mostly in the textile mills in the Kongu region, is gathering momentum with non governmental organisations becoming more vocal in their determination to end the practice that is weighed decidedly against the innocuous young girls and their poor, gullible parents in rural areas.

For the families below poverty line, who struggle even for their subsistence, marrying off their girls causes a severe economic strain. Many cotton mills exploit the situation and engage the young girls below 17 for work.

Unscrupulous brokers do the poaching for the mills getting Rs. 1,000 per person engaged for contract.

Under the Sumangali Thittam, also called variously as Mangalya Thittam, Camp Coolie Scheme and Subamangala Thittam, the girls have to work for three years in the designated mill for which they would get Rs.30,000 at the end of the third year. Though the practice has been there for the past decade, the ills of the scheme have caught the imagination of the public and the affected parents and girls only in the recent years, says J. Christuraj, Director of Psycho Trust, which has been tracking the Sumangali Thittam and such other schemes for more than three years now.

Though several district administrations have been instructed to constitute monitoring committees to track any such nefarious practice that could stifle the freewill of the young girls, the schemes have been flourishing to day, Mr. Christuraj observes.

No record

Few employers have clear record for the girls working under the Sumangali Thittam and even if they had the workers are mostly left out of the ambit of ESI, Provident Fund and other social security nets and they receive no bonus.

An estimated 65 per cent of the workers under the schemes are below the age of 18 years.

There have been complaints of sexual harassment in confinement.

In just two panchayat unions of Karur and Kulithalai in Karur district there are about 4,500 girls who work under the Sumangali Thittam in various other districts.

Always the girls are uprooted to work away from their native districts. The numbers might go up drastically if all the eight panchayat unions are taken into account, he says.

Mr. Christuraj says that Psycho Trust has planned to present some of the case studies before the Tamil Nadu Commission for Women in a public hearing on October 6, as part of its efforts to intensify the struggle against the menace that is threatening to rob the young girls of their childhood.

Besides, the organisation has also decided to broadbase its efforts at reaching out to the elected local body members, panchayat leaders, women SHG members and students in rural areas to stem the tide.