Andhra Pradesh' cotton plantations, employ 200,000 children below the age of 14. The vast majority are girls, as they are preferred over boys.
By Priyanka Khanna
Children employed in the cotton plantation industry in Andhra Pradesh have a reason to smile with corporate giant IKEA joining hands with UNICEF to prevent child labour in the south-eastern Indian state.
The partnership comes in the light of reports that the state’s vast cotton plantations, which produce bulk of India’s hybrid cottonseeds, employ 200,000 children below the age of 14. The vast majority of these children are girls, as they are preferred over boys.
On average 10 to 12 girls work per acre and are mostly drawn from the traditionally-oppressed and marginalised communities whose families are heavily indebted and have pledged their child’s labour to pay off the debt.
A UNICEF survey conducted on children working in Andhra Pradesh’s cottonseed farms indicated that about 95 per cent of the children were employed under some form of debt bondage. Almost all children were working against a loan given to their families which meant that 100 per cent of their wage went into paying back the loan.
The impact of working in the cotton fields on a child’s health is severe, given that they stand for up to 14 hours for manually cross-pollinating cotton plants. In addition, the exposure to toxic chemicals leads to an array of adverse health conditions.
About 60 per cent of the children working in cottonseed fields have abandoned school and 29 per cent have never attended school, the report states. As about half of them began working before the age of 11, literacy levels are very low.
Child marriages are also rampant in the area. Sexual and other forms of physical abuse by employers are common, and verbal abuse is routine, the report states.
These findings have led IKEA and UNICEF to expand their existing global partnership to include the cottonseed plantations of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. The project, supported also by the German Committee for UNICEF, aims to promote an integrated community-based strategy for the promotion and protection of children rights. The world leader in furnishing will contribute over USD 500,000 to the initiative.
About 60 per cent of the children working in cottonseed fields have abandoned school and 29 per cent have never attended school.
IKEA shares UNICEF view that the child labour has serious implications for the growth development of these children and violates their rights.
The project also looks at a convergence of government and community actions to facilitate children to withdraw from work and access education. It includes promotion of an integrated, community-based strategy involving government departments, community groups and children themselves.
The foray into Andhra Pradesh comes on the heel of success of another project jointly implemented by UNICEF and IKEA in the carpet weaving belt of Uttar Pradesh. The initiative, started in 2000, is based on the understanding that child labour can only be eliminated through an integrated programmatic approach focusing on holistic development of a child -- through education, health anThe project highlights the need for school-based campaigns against child labour and the development of a reliable database on impact of hazardous work.d child protection interventions.
The project in Uttar Pradesh is complimented by sensitisation and empowerment of marginalised communities, in the belief that community support is a must for promotion of children’s rights in a sustainable manner.
(Click here for photo-essay on the IKEA UNICEF initiative in the carpet weaving belt in Uttar Pradesh).