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INDIA: Child labour on the rise in cottonfields

by Ch Prashanth ReddyBusiness Standard
October 1st, 2007

More than 416,000 children under the age of 18, of whom almost 225,000 are younger than 14, are involved in child labour in India's cottonseed production. Most of them are girls.

They work in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which account for nearly 92 per cent of the cottonseed production in the country.

A recent report titled 'Child bondage continues in Indian cotton supply chain' reveals that the total number of working children in cottonfields has risen over 2003-04.

The only state to see a decline in the rate of child labour under 14 is Andhra Pradesh (AP), which has received the most scrutiny from the media, civil society and industry. Gujarat, which has the largest area under cottonseed production in the country, accounts for 1,75,260 (42 per cent) of the total children employed in this sector.

Farmers employ children, particularly girls, in order to minimise costs. The labour cost accounts for 50 per cent of the total cost of cottonseed production.

The report has been published on behalf of the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Watch, German Agro-Action and OneWorld Net NRW of Germany.

It is based on field research and has been written by Davuluri Venkateswarlu, director of the Hyderabad-based Glocal Research and Consultancy Services.

According to the report, more than 13 Indian companies and two multinationals, Monsanto and Bayer, are involved in this "modern form of child slavery".

The biggest among the Indian seed companies, Nuziveedu, Raasi, Ankur and Mahyco (a joint venture partner of Monsanto), make use of around 200,000 children who are employed by the farmers to whom they have sub-contracted the cultivation of Bt cotton seeds.

According to Venkateswarlu, Bayer and Monsanto have acknowledged the use of child labour on farms they have sub-contracted to farmers and have initiated programmes to address the issue.

The study is based on the analysis of primary data collected through field visits to 430 sample cottonseed farms in 78 villages in the four states. Of the 430 farms surveyed, 280 are in AP, 60 in Gujarat, 50 in Tamil Nadu and 40 in Karnataka.

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