Victims of child labour try to be agents of change to save others
The People’s Action for Development has urged the authorities to raise the age under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, and for free and compulsory education to 18 years, from 14 years.
During an interaction at Vembar with girls, who have been involved in child labour, on Tuesday, its founder and executive director Rajendra Prasad said that companies were exploiting the age bar of 14 years. “Age of adolescent children involved in child labour is forged. The age should be ascertained using proper documentation like birth certificate or using services of a government dentist,” he said.
A number of girls, who have been involved in child and exploitative labour at textile mills, fish processing units, among others, shared their experience.
“We were drawn into working at mills after seeing other children who have started earning by themselves,” said one of the girls. The issue is prevalent in Vilathikulam block of Thoothukudi district and Kadaladi block of Ramanathapuram district and a number of other areas. The girls are taken to textile mills in Tirupur, Erode, Coimbatore and other places, often through Sumangali scheme.
After being taken to textile mills, the children are made to perform hard labour up to 12 hours a day and given a pay of ?300 a day, as opposed to an adult who usually gets ?700 a day. “Everything happens in an informal manner and no social security benefit is given,” said Mr. Rajendra Prasad adding that the Apprentices Act was being exploited.
“I was paid ?23,000 after working for one and a half years,” said another girl, who worked at a textile mill. The pay is often routed through brokers who bring them into the profession and pocket a commission for each day the child works. The children are kept hidden in rooms when officials come for inspections.
According to data from the Department of Labour and Employment in 2007, 38,461 adolescent girls are employed in 406 cotton mills while studies from NGOs and international organisations put the number anywhere between 2,00,000 and 4,00,000. Often, the girls suffer from health complications.
After leaving the labour, the girls have tried to be agents of change by ensuring other children do not end up in child labour through a programme launched by the NGO.
Mr. Rajendra Prasad said an education fund of ?42 lakh is available for 51 villages with which girls can pursue higher education.