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Ample evidence of child labour in South Gujarat's cash rich sugarcane belt, 24% "not enrolled" in school: Study

By Rajiv Shah
A recent German government-funded study, undertaken jointly by the NGO Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, which mainly deals examines the working conditions of migrant workers in the cash-rich sugarcane zone of South Gujarat, has gone a long way to suggest large scale prevalence of child labour during the harvesting season.
About 1.75 lakh workers, most of them landless migrants coming from the tribal belts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, are employed as harvesters in sugarcane fields, owned by the rich and politically powerful rural lobby, which has strong stakes in cooperative sugar factories in the region. Working for five to six months starting in November, these workers move in 5,000 teams led by 2,000 brokers or mukadams, an upwardly mobile tribal middle class.
The study says, “A very large section had been engaged with one or the other livelihood activity since they were children”, giving the example of Shiva Sonvani, a native of a village in Sakri taluka of Dhule district, Maharashtra. The 52-year old harvester, a landless worker, “has never stepped into a school due to the extremely weak economic status of his parents”.
“He does not remember the exact age at which he started working but he got engaged with livelihood activity beginning as a small child helping his parents by adding into the family’s income. He recollected that poverty was so severe at times that often they could not feed themselves twice a day and sometimes had to remain hungry for a day or two”, the study says.
Suggesting that things are not very different for others, the study underlines, “In the age group of 46 years and above more than 70% of the harvesters have been doing this work for the last 16 years, and out of them a large majority, 40%, are in this activity for the last 21 years.”
It adds, “Similarly, in the age group of 31-35 years more than 75% of harvesters have been working for more than 10 years.” Then, “Nearly 50% of the harvesters in the age group of 21-25 indicated that they have been working for the last 6 to 10 years.”
Pointing out that the researchers’ survey among harvesters suggests that “a little more than a quarter of the population comprised of children below 14 years of age at camp-sites”, the study says, one finds that each group of harvesters consisting of 15 kyotas (each kyota consists of two harvesters, usually husband and wife) has “five school going age of 7 to 14 years and eight children below 6 years.”
Noting most of these children do not attend schools, the study says, “A large section of them are second or even third generation of sugarcane harvesters with their own children moving with during harvesting season.”
It adds, “Only during non-harvesting period when parent-harvesters return back to their native places do the children attend schools.” In fact, according to the study, “Getting their children educated is a luxury for them when mere survival is the core issue.”
Pointing out that even though almost 8 out of every 10 villages, from where the migrant workers come, have primary schools, as has been revealed in the narration, “most of the children of harvesters remain deprived of them.” 
“Raghu Thakre belongs to Vagoda village of Nandurbar taluka of Maharashtra. The 30-year-old harvester could not pursue his studies as he and his siblings accompanied their parents harvesting sugarcanes in south Gujarat region. He too became member of his father’s koyta unit at the age of 15”, the study states.
Thakre informed the researchers, he has got this work “as inheritance from his father and his father too inherited it from his grandfather”, adding, his own children too would “do the same work ensuring the continuity of the vicious cycle.” 
Data on the status of enrolment of children (who were at camp-sites) also indicates, says the study, that, at their native places, “one-fourth of them are not enrolled, though some of them may be toddlers.” It adds, “Even though majority of them are enrolled in schools in native villages their studies suffer tremendously as they can attend schools for only few months, which in turn, affects their overall education graph detrimentally.”

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
If this is the state of affairs in Modi's home state what must other states be like? Is this an example of "Sabka saath, sabka vikaas"?

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