Girls fettered: bonded labour on AP farms
NEW DELHI, May 16 (UNI) - A new trend of employing young girls as "bonded labourers" has come into practice on hybrid cottonseed farms in south India in recent years, a recent survey reveals.
Local seed farmers, who cultivate hybrid cottonseed for national and multinational seed companies, secure the labour of young girls by offering loans to their parents in advance of cultivation, compelling the girls to work at terms set by the employer for the entire season, and, in practice, for several years.
These girls work long hours, are paid very little, deprived of education and exposed for long periods to dangerous agricultural chemicals, says a survey report prepared by an NGO, the Global Research Consultancy Services, Hyderabad.
An important feature of hybrid cottonseed production is that it is highly labour intensive and, in south India and especially Andhra Pradesh, female child labour constitutes a majority of the total labour force. It is estimated that nearly 450,000 children in the age group of 6 to 14 years are employed in cottonseed fields in India. Andhra Pradesh alone accounts for about 247,800.
This figure surpasses the total number of children in India employed in industries such as carpet weaving, glass bangle manufacture, diamond and gem polishing and limestone put together. Moreover, child labour in these industries does not exceed 25 per cent, with a majority of them beings boys.
Though hybrids are used in cotton cultivation all over the country, hybrid seed production is concentrated in south India, particularly in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, which account for about 65 per cent of the seed production in India, said Davuluri Venkateswarlu, Director of the NGO.
Currently, there are about 200 seed companies involved in the production and marketing of hybrid cottonseed in India and the MNCs operate their seed business activities through their own subsidiary companies in India or through joint ventures and collaborations with local Indian companies.
The study is an attempt to examine the link between multinational seed companies and local seed producers and the role of MNCs in perpetuating child labour in hybrid cottonseed farms in AP.
With the current procurement prices, seed farmers cannot afford to pay better wages to the labourers and still earn a reasonable profit. Unless better wages are paid, it is difficult for the farmers to attract adult labour to work in their fields, the study points out.
Seed farmers have stated two main reasons for their preference for child labour: children’s wages are much lower than adult wages and they are generally easier to control.
"In the early 1990s when we paid Rs 8 per day to each labourer the procurement price was Rs 150 per packet (NHH 44 hybrid). Now we are paying about Rs 20 for labour but the procurement price is only Rs 180 per packet", a farmer said.
The study was commissioned by the India Committee of Netherlands. However, the MNCs do not own responsibility for employment of female child labour. One MNC said it did not employ child labour directly and this practice was being perpetuated by local farmers.