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Alleging rampant child labour in Gujarat, Rajasthan cotton fields, Dutch report praises "initiatives" by MNC Monsanto

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, ‘Cotton’s Forgotten Children’, released in The Hague, has expressed serious concern over the fact that the number of child workers, who haven't reached adolescence and working in cotton farms, has gone up by a whopping 30,000 since 2010 in Gujarat and Rajasthan. As for adolescent children, the report says, the numbers have gone up by another 70,000.
The report, which seeks to prove an all-India picture of child labour in cotton farms, an abuse which is said to have particularly picked up following the introduction of the genetically modified Bt cotton seed to sharply increase cotton production, estimates that almost half a million Indian children produce cottonseed.
Saying that the sharp rise in child labour in Gujarat and Rajasthan has taken place because of an increase in cotton area, the report underlines, the governments of the two states are "not paying serious attention to tackle the issue" and are adopting a "denying mood", as if no child works in cotton seed farms.
Authored by Dr Davuluri Venkateswarlu for the India Committee of the Netherlands, the report says, "Almost half a million Indian children are working to produce the cottonseed that is the basis for our garments and all the other textile products that we use. Around 200,000 of them are below 14 years of age."
"It is equally shocking", the report says, "that the number of children working in the cotton seed fields has increased with almost 100,000 since the last all-India study on this issue in 2010. Children’s below 14 constitute around 25% of the workforce on the fields of the farmers that supply their seeds to both Indian and multinational companies. Another 35% of the workforce are children between 14 and 18 years of age."
The report notes, "Children below 14 – of which two-thirds are girls - are employed in the seed fields on a long-term contract basis through loans extended to their parents by local seed producers, who have agreements with the large national and multinational seed companies. Children are made to work 8 to 12 hours a day and are exposed to poisonous pesticides used in high quantities in cottonseed cultivation."
It regrets, "Most of the children working in cottonseed farms belong to poor Dalit, Adivasi or other backward class families. Around 70% of the children are hired or even trafficked from other states while 30% is ‘family labour’. Most are school-dropouts."
Despite sharp rise in child labour in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the report finds "some hopeful signs" in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where, it says, "The number of children below 14 working on seed farms – in proportion to the total workforce - has dropped" by "42% and 69% respectively."
Interestingly, the report praises "initiatives" by multinational companies like "Bayer, Monsanto and DuPont, as also some local companies, government agencies, Unicef, NGOs like MV Foundation in Andhra Pradesh and a union like DRMU in Gujarat which helped to reduce the number of young working children."

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