Trafficking of children to cottonseed fields of Gujarat
An article by India Committee of the Netherlands based on the annual report 2014 of Dakshini Rajasthan Mazdoor Union, Udaipur, India.
Every year thousands of tribal children from South Rajasthan and North Gujarat are trafficked to cottonseed plots in North Gujarat for work in the cotton seed fields, in particular to do cross-pollination by hand. This work is done in the rainy season, from August to September. Since many years the trafficking of children for cottonseed cultivation is a serious human rights issue. The Dakshini Rajasthan Mazdoor Union aims to combat trafficking through the documentation of trafficking incidences, stopping trafficking of children where possible as well as advocacy with the media, the state government and other institutions. The Union also helped farmers to get paid in time – and not e.g. only after a year - for the seeds they produce for seed companies.
Incidences of child trafficking in 2014
To gain information on child trafficking Union volunteers conducted a household survey in two villages of Maadri–Phalasia cluster. Through the survey 14 child labourers were detected to have been trafficked to work on cottonseed plots. Also Union functionaries provided intelligence to the police about the trafficking of children. In 40 villages they watched over the occurrence of child trafficking. Information was shared with the district administration and contact with the local police was maintained. The police control room was called about 10 times and informed about possible trafficking of children. As a result of the intelligence four vehicles transporting children were intercepted by the police. In some cases the police responded slowly or did not respond at all.
In spite of the high prevalence of child trafficking in Maadri–Phalasia cluster it was not easy to document incidences in detail. Through a network of labour contractors, locally called ‘mates’, children are trafficked. Mates have become smart in using all kind of methods to cover their tracks, including the transportation of children by night, taking children by public transport mixing up with other passengers, bribing the police of stations on the route and crossing interstate borders by foot through forest terrain. Furthermore parents who have send their children for work due to economic constraints, do not easily admit having send them. Also farmers do not allow outsiders to enter their cottonseed plots, which makes it difficult to investigate the prevalence of child trafficking and child labour in the Gujarati cottonseed industry.
The Union documented details of 4 trafficking cases that were filed with the police in 2014. One of these cases is the result of intelligence provided by the Union. In 2013 the trafficking for wage labour has been recognized as a crime and was included in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as section 370. In 2014 for the first time section 370 was used. Out of the 4 cases, 2 cases have been brought into criminal jurisprudence through section 370 of the IPC. See the story about Reshma, one of the filed cases, below.
Involvement of police personnel in trafficking operations
The Union received reliable information that some police personnel were actively involved in trafficking operations. Police officials were taking a commission for letting the vehicles carrying children pass through the interstate border.
A case of a Union activist who received a threat to his life supports the information on the involvement of police personnel in trafficking operations. The Union activist was assisting the police with the anti-trafficking operations. He was involved in getting a vehicle intercepted. The driver got arrested but was released on bail. After his release the driver met the Union activist and said that the police told him to hit the activist with his vehicle for the reason the activist was troubling the police by constantly reporting complaints to the police control room about the possible trafficking of children.
In their annual report 2014 the Union states that not all police officials are corrupt. There are also police officers who actively assisted in anti-trafficking operations.
Over the past years there has been an increase in tribal farmers lured by unscrupulous agents to take up seed farming. The cultivation of cottonseed is a complicated business. Farmers are contracted by seed companies to cultivate seeds under close supervision of their company staff. The final produce is tested. If the germination rate of seeds falls beyond a certain level the whole batch is rejected which leads to high losses for the farmer. Also tribal farmers often are not skilled enough to fully understand the process and pitfalls at each step of the production of cottonseed. The small size of their plot further led to an increase in number of intermediaries, each charging a commission.
Over the past two years the union has seen a large number of farmers being told by the companies that their harvest has failed. The failed share became very high. Even farmers whose sample had passed were still not paid one year after the harvest. After a large number of such complaints reached the Union, meetings were organized. The Union compiled the complaints and passed these on to the district administration. A sit-in was also organized at the district collector office in Udaipur to discuss the issue.
The Union also pursued the cases with the different seed companies, among them Nuziveedu Seeds, Ankur Seeds and Monsanto. A case was received against US-based multinational Monsanto. The Union wrote to the companies’ human rights commission about the default in payment to tribal farmers. The company responded. After protracted negotiations with the field officers and agents operating for Monsanto, the agent paid an amount of Rs. 150.000 to the seed farmers under pressure of Monsanto officials. However the agent came back on the agreement and tried to file a police complaint against the tribal farmers.
The Union has also tried to register a police complaint for the reason that farmers have been cheated by seed companies. After advice from the local police, the case was presented before the Criminal Investigation Department at state level. A high ranking enquiry has been ordered.