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Marathwada sugarcane industry: Child labour rampant, 1.3 lakh 'deprived' of education

By Our Representative
A new study, “Human Cost of Sugar Living and Working Conditions of Migrant Cane-cutters in Maharashtra”, has expressed distress that over a staggering 200,000 children below 14 years of age migrate with their parents every year for sugarcane cutting in the drought-prone Marathwada region, which, ironically, is also a hub of sugarcane industry of India.
Pointing out that over half of them, in the age group of 6-14 years (54% boys and 46% girls), totalling 130,000, end up being deprived of their right to education, the study, released as a discussion paper by high-profile international NGO Oxfam, says that young children who accompany their parents to the field “often” end up working.
Revealing the type of hard work they are supposed to do, it asserts, “Children are found tying sugarcane tops into bundles (4-5 kg each), which thr: ey sell to farmers. In a day, one child ties 20-25 such bundles”, adding, “Instances of accidents involving children are common with some leading to deaths. However, workers feel that such accidents are never reported.”
“Children are drawn into the labour force from the early age of 6-7 years and by the age of 11 - 12 years they are full-fledged labour. Their labour is subsumed under the category of “family labour”, the study says, adding, “Children of workers are often engaged in activities such as weeding, collecting firewood and tying of sugarcane tops into bundles to sell. Adolescent girls have additional duties such as fetching water, and looking after their younger siblings and cattle.”
Children are drawn into the labour force from the early age of 6-7 years and by the age of 11 - 12 years they are full-fledged labour
Noting that the safety and security of girl children is a concern both at home and at the worksite, the study finds of “a very rate” of child marriage among them. In 2015-16, it reports, Maharashtra was one of the 12 states that ranked high in child marriages of girls in the age group of 15-19 (12.1%) with 67% of child marriages taking place in rural Maharashtra alone.
“Districts in the Marathwada region are among the top 100 districts with highest prevalence of child marriage”, it adds.
Based on interviews in 6 villages of 3 districts – Beed, Osmanabad and Ahmednagar – the study identified sugarcane cutters through what it calls “purposive and snowballing sampling techniques.”
The choice of these districts was made because they contribute significantly to the total number of people who migrate seasonally within and outside of Maharashtra for cutting of cane.
Key informant interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with 75 migrant workers (majorly comprising of women).

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