'Over 70,000 out-of-school child labourers in TN'

CHENNAI SEPT. 26. For the first time, following the announcement of an ambitious Action Plan for Elimination of Child Labour in Tamil Nadu, the Labour department has acknowledged that there are more than 70,000 child labourers in the State.

A household study by the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the State's 29 districts covered 2.12 lakh children in the schoolgoing age group who are not attending schools. Of these, 70,344 are now part of the workforce. More than 7,700 of these children are below eight years.

The survey took cognisance of child labour in 20 hazardous occupations and 12 non-hazardous ones. More than 75 per cent of the children are employed in non-hazardous occupations, the most common being manual work. More than 13,000 children throughout the State are being employed as casual workers, 4,900 in sheep rearing, and 2500 in catering establishments and shops.

Among the hazardous professions, the largest number of child labourers was reported in the weaving industry, where more than 3,900 children were employed. Then came the beedi industry with at least 2,390 children. The survey reported large number of children, more than 940 children in the automobile repair industry. More than 50 per cent of children employed in the workforce were boys.

SSA's analysis of communities involved in child labour indicated that over 30 per cent of the child workforce was from the Scheduled Castes and more than 26 per cent from the backward communities.

A district-wise analysis found that child labour was highest in Dharmapuri district, which accounted for more than 10,000 child labourers. Chennai ranked fourth with more than 7,5000 child labourers and Cuddalore the last with only 95 child labourers.

The survey was undertaken by the Labour department following a recommendation by the State Human Rights Commission to the Tamil Nadu Government in December last. The Commission passed the interim recommendation on a petition by a city advocate, who said that several children could be seen working in hotels, teashops and liquor outlets. The petitioner had said that by allowing child labour, the Government had clearly violated the fundamental rights of the children with regard to education.

In addition, with the State Government setting itself the goal of eradicating child labour in hazardous industries by 2005 and in non-hazardous industries by 2007, it became imperative that the magnitude of the problem was evaluated, said a labour department official. The last comprehensive survey on child labour in the State was undertaken in 1991, when the Government reported more than five lakh child labourers.

However, voluntary organisations working in the area are contesting the official figures saying that it is much below the actual count. Even SSA's estimation of out-of-school children is an underestimation, they say.

``A new more comprehensive survey on child labour, including the number of schoolgoing children out of school, needs to be taken,'' said Veerapan, a field worker with the Madras Social Services.

Officials at the Labour department said they would use the current census as a roadmap to eliminating child labour in the State. ``Every district has been asked to draw up their own action plan. The Education department has also been notified to take steps to immediately enroll the identified out-of-school children,'' said an official.

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