The threat of COVID-19 spread has forced schools to remain closed indefinitely but it has failed to keep students indoors. Children aged between 8 and 16 years can be found toiling on the fields these days, more in the tribal belt.
These children do not fall strictly under the category of child labourers as the Right To Education considers only those students who bunk school for a period between one month and three months and work on fields or in industries. “And agriculture is placed in the category of non-hazardous industry under the RTE,” pointed out B. Gangaiah , former Academic Monitoring Officer under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (subsequently Rajiv Vidya Mission), Adilabad.
The Hindu spoke to a number of farmers in the agency mandals who said that children found scope for ‘employment’, mostly on cotton fields and in this season had negated the impact of labour shortage. “We prefer children for jobs like collecting debris while preparing land, sowing of cotton seeds, administering fertilisers when the crop is nascent, ploughing and weeding,” revealed Mesram Limba Rao, a farmer from Bandeyer in Sirpur (U) mandal of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district who said almost all the 50 school-going children in his village were working on cotton fields.
Another reason for farmers to prefer children sharing work is the ease with which they bend when compared to adults while working.
Kanaka Hanmanth Rao of Marlavai village in Jainoor mandal had all his four children, aged between 9 and 14, working on his 10-acre field. “Their contribution saved me about ₹15,000 in investment and that money will be used to buy new clothes for them in the coming months,” he said. Mr. Rao also said he would not mind his children working on other farmers’ fields whenever they could. “Children in our ethos have always learnt to be self-sufficient in this manner,” he added.
Children who work find at least 20 days of work and earn ₹200 per day in wages during the season.