The present section discusses the response from various institutions to the issue of child labour in cottonseed fields. It specially focuses on the response of various government departments, which are directly or indirectly responsible for promoting the welfare of the children and NGOs, which are working on the issue of child labour.
Till recently, the issue of child labour in cottonseed production and the specific problems faced by the children have not received any attention either from the government, or from the NGOs and other organisations. Since 1998 this issue has received some attention and efforts, though in a small way, are being made to tackle this problem.
Response from NGOs
Though a number of NGOs are working on child labour issues in Telangana and Rayalaseema regions, very few are active and seriously dedicated to the cause. Till recently, the issue of female child labour in cottonseed production did not receive much attention from even those NGOs who are seriously working on child labour problems. During the last three or four years only they have started working seriously on this issue.
The issue of female child labour in cottonseed production was first brought to the limelight by Mamidipudi Venkatrangaiah Foundation (MVF), an NGO working on child labour issues in Rangareddy district since 1990. It has commissioned a special study on the issue of female child labour in cottonseed production and the findings of this study were published in 199812.
In 1998, MVF had organised a huge public protest meeting against child labour in general and female child labour in cottonseed production in particular in Parigi mandal of Rangareddy district, where cottonseed production is concentrated. The immediate provocation for this protest was the death of a female child, who was working in the cottonseed fields due to the inhalation of pesticides applied in cottonseed fields13.
In Parigi, Pudur, Kulkacharla and Doma mandals of Rangareddy district, where cottonseed production is concentrated, MVF, with the support of local community has initiated a massive campaign against the employment of children. Due to its efforts, child labours in general and child labour in cottonseed production in particular has drastically come down during the last three years in these areas. Hundreds of female children working in cottonseed fields were withdrawn from work and sent to schools. Special bridge course camps for aged girls are being conducted for bringing them into mainstream school education.
In the process of working towards eradication of child labour, MVF has realised that there is a need for building a social norm against child labour by mobilising support from all the actors concerned with the issue. As part of its efforts, it has recently even initiated a dialogue with cottonseed industries and farmers to discuss the issue and sought their support in tackling the issue.
In Mahaboobnagar and Kurnool districts where cottonseed production is highly concentrated, the response from the local NGOs is very poor. Though some NGOs like A.P. Mahila Samatha and SHECS have taken some initiative, the issue of child labour in cottonseed production has not yet caught the serious attention of many NGOs working in these areas.
Response from governmental departments
There are a number of governmental departments such as Education, Women and Child Welfare, Labour and Revenue which are in one way or other responsible for implementing various laws and programmes meant for the welfare of the children.
Though there are a number of legislations against bonded labour and exploitation of children, the concerned departments never showed any serious interest in implementing them. Child bondage was abolished even before independence. There are other legislations like Abolition of Bonded Labour Act, 1976, which even abolished adult bondage, Minimum Wages Protection Act which provides necessary legal support to the government officials to act against bonded labour system and exploitation of labour through cheap wages.
The terms and conditions of employing female children in cottonseed production have all the necessary features of 'bonded labour system' as defined by the law. By enforcing the Abolition of Bonded Labour Act the employers can be prevented from engaging the child labour on long-term contract basis. The proper implementation of Minimum Wages Act also will discourage employers in engaging the child labour for want of reducing labour costs. None of these acts were enforced to prevent the exploitation of child labour in cottonseed production. Till now, not even a single case was registered against any employer in cottonseed production under Abolition of Bonded Labour Act.
Owing to the pressure exerted by some NGOs, the Labour Department has recently initiated a campaign against employment of children in cottonseed production. On the basis of complaints lodged by local youth activists, the Labour Department has booked some cases under the Minimum Wages Act against cottonseed employers in Rangareddy in 1998. The employers were severely fined for violating the Minimum Wages Act14. This came as a big blow to all the cottonseed employers. Realising that they will be in great trouble if the Labour Department seriously implements the Minimum Wages Act, they sought the help of seed companies for whom they produce the seed. Seed companies who have a strong political and media support have brought lot of pressure on Labour Department for withdrawing the cases they booked against cottonseed employers15.
The Labour Department in Mahaboobnagar district has a different story to tell. Recently it has also initiated a campaign against child labour and issued press statements advising seed employers not to employ child labour. It also identified some seed employers and issued letters directly to them. In order to stop the Labour Department from initiating any action, cottonseed employers in the district mobilised funds and started bribing some of the officials for not initiating any action against them.
The Education Department and the Women and Child Welfare Department have a number of programmes (District Primary Education Programme, Back to School Programme, National Child Labour Programme etc.) discouraging the employment of child labour and encouraging them to join schools. None of these programmes have made any real impact on the child labour situation in the areas where cottonseed production is concentrated.