Wee hour raid exposes child labour

SIVAKASI MAY 29. An early morning surprise inspection conducted by the Virudhunagar Collector, K. Gopal, exposed the prevalence of child labour in the match manufacturing units in Sivakasi on Tuesday. The age certificates of 85 suspected child workers have been sent for verification.

Three flying squads led by the Collector, the District Revenue Officer, K.V. Kanniappan, and the Sivakasi RDO, Somasundaram, with a team of police and officials from the Departments of Revenue, Factories, Regional Transport Office and Child Labour Project inspected nearly 25 buses, which started in the wee hours, for nearly four hours.

The raids brought to light that the units employed 57 children without any valid certificates supporting their age, against provisions of the Factories Act.

Besides, the inspections revealed that more than the illegal employment of children in hazardous units, children from various remote parts of the district and neighbouring districts were forced to board the buses as early as 3.30 a.m. and came home at around 8.30 p.m. The buses go to various places to take the children and the daily journey posed a health hazard for them. ``The long travel in odd hours would affect their spinal cord and nervous system.''

In some cases, the children were made to stand throughout the journey in lorries. The covered cargo vehicles were jam packed with labourers without enough ventilation. Fifteen such company-owned vehicles were fined.

The Collector found that a government medical officer was involved in giving ``fake age certificates'' to the children. A detailed enquiry has been ordered.

Dr. Gopal said ``gross violation of minimum wages to be paid to the children came to light when they were inquired''.

Meanwhile, there has been a drastic decrease in the number of age certificates issued to the labourers in the recent times following stringent action initiated against the practice of child labour in the district. Similar inspections would be conducted till the evil was wiped out, the Collector said.

The illegal activities by a handful of manufacturing units brought a bad reputation to the district itself, he regretted. Efforts are on to enrol the children in schools run under the National Child Labour (Eradication) Project.

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