Seeds of Bondage: Female Child Bonded Labour in Hybrid Cottonseed Production in Andhra Pradesh


The introduction of hybrid cottonseeds in the early 1970s has brought significant changes in the quantity and quality of cotton production in India. It has not only contributed to the rise in productivity and quality of cotton, but has also helped to generate substantial amount of additional employment in the agricultural sector1.

Despite its positive contribution, hybrid cottonseed production gave rise to a new system of employing female children as 'bonded labourers'2 and their large-scale exploitation. An important feature of hybrid cottonseed production is that it is highly labour intensive, and female children are engaged in most of its operations. Female children are employed on long-term contract basis through advances and loans to their parents by local seed producers, who have agreements with national and multinational seed companies.

Magnitude of the problem

It is estimated that in India nearly four lakh female children, in the age group of 7 to 14 years, are employed in cottonseed fields, in which Andhra Pradesh (AP) alone accounted for about 2.5 lakhs. This number is far greater than the number of children employed in carpet, glass bangles, gem polishing and limestone industries put together in India. 90% of the labour employed in cottonseed fields are exclusively female
Table 1: Estimates of total number and percentage of child labour in different industries in India
Number of child labourers
Child labourers as percentage of total workers
Diamond polishing
Gem polishing
Glass bangles
Hybrid cottonseed
children. In no other industry do we find such a high ratio of employing female children. Of the total labour force in all industries currently known to employ child labour (such as carpet, match, glass, beedi making, gem and stone polishing) children don't exceed 25%. Within this 25%, majority of them are boys.

Note: The figures for Carpet, Diamond polishing, Gem Polishing and Glass bangles are taken from a book 'Economics of Child Labour in Hazardous Industries of India' edited by Richard Anker, Sandhya Barge, S. Rajagopal and MP Joseph (1998). The estimates of total female child labour employed in cottonseed production are drawn on the basis of data on total area under cultivation and the per acre requirement of female children to do different works. It is estimated that per acre about 10 persons are required every day throughout the season to do emasculation and pollination activity in cottonseed fields. Except in few areas, emasculation and pollination activity is exclusively done by female children. Female children are also employed in other operations such as sowing, weeding and harvesting. In 1998-99, nearly 45,000 acres were under cottonseed cultivation in India, out of which Andhra Pradesh alone accounted for about 28,000 acres (including the area under private research hybrids). Assuming that each acre cottonseed cultivation requires nine female children (90% of total labour force, nine out of ten) to work through out the season, total number of female children employed in cottonseed fields in India and AP are estimated as 4,05,000 and 2,50,200 respectively.

Concentration of hyhrid cottonseed production in AP

Hybrid cottonseed production is concentrated in South India, particularly in the Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of A.P. and the Northern districts of Karnataka. Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of A.P. alone account for 62.5% of the seed production in India. It is concentrated more in Mahaboobnagar and Rangareddy districts of Telangana and in Kurnool district of Rayalaseema. Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool together account for nearly 96% of the seed production in A.P. In the year 1998-99, of the total 28,000 acres of land (18,254 acres under public hybrids registered with AP Seed Certification Agency (APSCA) and about 10,000 acres under private research hybrids) under cottonseed cultivation in A.P., Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool districts alone accounted for nearly 27,000.

Though a large number of studies and reports are available on the magnitude of child labour, the working conditions of children and reasons for using child labour in various industries such as carpet, glass bangles, gem polishing, match and beedi3, much literature is not available on child labour in agricultural sector and hybrid cottonseed production in particular.

The current report is based on a detailed study carried out by the author on the working conditions of female children in hybrid cottonseed production in seven mandals of Telangana and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh.

This system of employing female children as bonded labour has adverse implications in terms of attitudinal change in parents towards the girls and also on their health and education.

The issue of female child labour in cottonseed fields needs to be examined in the broader context of growing feminisation of agricultural labour i.e. rise in women's agricultural wage employment vis-à-vis men4, and growing markets for hybrid cottonseeds and large-scale investments in seed industry by national and multinational companies.

Objectives of the study

The main objectives of the study are

  • To examine in detail the nature of working conditions of female children and the specificity of employing them exclusively in certain operations in hybrid cottonseed production.

  • To understand the implications of the female child labour in seed production with regard to the attitudes of the community and parents towards them, their health and education.

  • To examine institutional responses both by the government and NGOs in relieving the work burden, and providing health care and education for girls.

  • To examine the response/reaction of cottonseed companies to the issue of child labour in cottonseed production.
Structure of the report

The report is presented in seven sections. The first section discusses the various aspects of cottonseed cultivation including technique of seed production, division of labour, cast of cultivation and marketing aspects. It also examines the reasons for the concentration of cottonseed production in Telangana and Rayalaseema regions. The profile of study area and details of people interviewed are presented in section two. Section three examines the labour and employers relations in cottonseed production. In the fourth section, the reasons behind employing female children in the cottonseed fields are examined. Fifth section is largely devoted to the analysis of the impact of cottonseed work on girls' education and health. It also finds out the contribution of girls' income to their families. The responses from various institutions (NGOs and governmental departments), that are concerned with the welfare of children are examined in section six. The response/reaction of seed companies to the issue of child labour is discussed in section seven. Summary and concluding remarks are presented in the final section.


India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - June 6, 2003