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Netherlands report: Gujarat's huge 60% child labour in sugarcane fields is unpaid

By Rajiv Shah

A recent report, published by The Hague-based child rights organization, Global March Against Child Labour, has found that, of the four states it studied for child labour and gendered dimensions in sugarcane supply chain in India -- Gujarat, Maharashtra Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka -- Gujarat not only has the highest number of children migrating from its tribal areas to work in sugarcane fields, but also has the largest number of unpaid child labourers.
The report finds that, in Gujarat, 59.2 per cent of child workers are unpaid, followed by Maharashtra 42.3 per cent, Uttar Pradesh 36.3 per cent and 24.7 per cent Karnataka. As for the paid child labourers, they report says, Maharashtra has the highest, 27.6 per cent, followed by Uttar Pradesh (23.7 per cent), Gujarat (21.5 per cent) and Karnataka (17.5 per cent).
“All of the child labourers were the children of cane cutters, mainly engaged in activities such as cutting of cane to the ground level; proper cleaning of the cane, i.e. removing extraneous matter such as leaves, trash, roots and; binding of cane which is further loaded on trucks, tractors or bullock carts either arranged by the factory, the contractor or the family itself”, the report says.
The report, published in September this year, is based on an interaction with a total 1,433 children aged 6 to 18, and 367 children of up to five years in the four states. They work in sugarcane fields of 554 sugar mills mainly in South Gujarat under a state-controlled cooperative system, with a few of them also privately owned. They employ more than 0.45 million farmers and cultivators, with the harvesting process entirely dependent on migrant labourers.
“A factory employee acts as a contractor for both the factories and the labour, also known as muqaddam who is responsible for approaching labourers from neighbouring districts to arrange for migrant workers to harvest sugarcane. The harvesting is done from November-December until March-April, depending on the sowing period”, the report notes.
The states studied, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, were selected as they are some of the most crucial states for sugarcane production in India. Due to the vastness of geographical land under sugarcane cultivation, only the districts with highest sugarcane crushing capacity and migration rates were selected, says the report.
Asserting that around 57.41 per cent of children in Gujarat were found to be working in sugarcane harvesting to support the family income, the report gives the example of one Keshav (name changed), aged 14, born in a family of seasonal sugarcane harvesters in Dang region of Gujarat, to suggest how, after his father passed away in a road accident, he began working in a sugarcane field in Surat district of the state.
Uneducated, Keshav is “officially” not employed for cane cutting on the farm, yet he works for six to eight hours a day to help his mother and brother in harvesting more volume of cane. He is quoted as saying that he comes to the farm every day, and is “learning” some work and also “helping” his mother and elder brother in work.
In yet another example, the report cites 37-year-old Darawde Munde, also from Gujarat’s Dang district. He has been migrating for the last five years with his family to the sugarcane farms of Bardoli in the state. Earlier, he worked in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. “He has been working as an agricultural labourer ever since he dropped out of school”, the report states, quoting Munde as saying, “My father spent his entire life repaying the debt to muqaddam. We had no other choice but to accompany him to the farms every season”.
Noting that this type of situation is common in sugarcane fields, and identifying it as a form of bonded labour, the report quotes Munde as saying, “It is our helplessness. We have nowhere else to go or nothing else to do. You must think that me and my family are bound but I don’t like to think that.”
Uneducated, Keshav is officially not employed for cane cutting on the farm, yet he works for six to eight hours a day to help his mother and brother in harvesting more volume
Yet, the report regrets, officials do not consider it “as an act of bonded labour”, quoting an official from the Agricultural Labour Department, Surat, Gujarat, as saying “The workers or their families who take advance from muqaddam are not always the victims. They often take the loan but refuse to go to work when the season comes which has financial disadvantages for the middle man. The workers have nothing to lose.” 
According to the report, the wages are not paid according to the state's minimum wage standard. Thus, in Gujarat, daily wages of cane cutters per day was found to be Rs 266.55 per metric ton for a pair of harvesters (usually husband and wife duo), which is lower than the daily minimum wage rate of Rs 203.27 per day for an agricultural labour in the state. 
Focusing on gender issues, the report finds that young girls migrate with their families during the sugarcane harvesting season “to take care of their siblings and household work, besides working on the farms”. Thus, “girl child labourers with triple burden were found to be the highest in Karnataka, 91 per cent, followed by Gujarat at 88 per cent and Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh at 76 per cent and 62 per cent respectively.”
The report finds that, in Gujarat, the number of out of school girls working on sugarcane fields was the highest, 33.89 per cent, as compared to 26.22 per cent boys, as against 30.98 per cent girls and 20.78 boys in Karnataka, 30.59 per cent girls and 24.78 per cent boys in Maharashtra, and 32.68 girls and 29.89 per cent boys in Uttar Pradesh. Further, in Gujarat, 15.61 per cent girls and 10.55 per cent boys were never enrolled in schools, and 8.52 per cent girls and 5.21 per cent boys were dropouts.

Comments

Child labour is banned on paper but like many other good laws in our country, who cares? There is either no one to enforce these laws because of ignorance of the laws or the offender bribes the enforcer and that is the end of it.

When the budget is so niggardly about spending on education--what else can you expect?

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