Child labour in Bt cotton fields (12/8/2007)

NOTE: In 2003 it emerged that around 17,000 children were being used by Monsanto, and their Indian subsidiary Mahyco, in hazardous forms of child labour in cotton seed production in India.

Children were found to be working 13 hours a day for less than 40 Eurocents (Rs. 20) and were also found to be repeatedly being exposed to poisonous pesticides during their work. They were also getting no education.

More than 11,000 children were also found to be working under similar conditions for the following multinationals: Syngenta (Swiss), Advanta (Dutch-British) and Proagro (owned by Bayer from Germany).

Studies also showed that at the heart of the child labour problem was the very low amount these multinationals were paying farmers for cultivation of their highly profitable cotton seed. The payments were so low that the farmers would make a net loss if they stopped using children and hired adults at the local minimum wage. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5998

Monsanto appears to have been shamed into acting by the bad publicity, with Ranjana Smetacek of Monsanto India committing the company to rapid reform. "We consider this our responsibility," she said, even though the company's CEO, Hugh Grant, was more non-commital. the number of children working in this sector has declined. But until the fundamental issue of underpayment of farmers has been properly addressed the problem is unlikely to go away. See 'Child labour still a problem in cottonseed industry'

This article suggests the problem may be going increasingly under the radar.


Child labour in BT cotton fields
Times Now TV, 12 August 2007

[image caption: A minor girl toils in the BT cotton fields of northern Gujarat]

Little nimble fingers moving between plants, pollinating them so that BT cotton seeds are ready for the market - the struggle to live brings children from across the border from Dungarpur in impoverished Southern Rajasthan to districts in North Gujarat.

TIMES NOW had earlier brought you the shocking tale of how minors are smuggled across the border at night, herded like cattle in cramped trucks and jeeps. This time we followed them to the fields they were employed in. What emerged are shocking tales of child abuse and inhuman torture. What we saw was just the tip of the iceberg - on an average 30 such vehicles cross over to Gujarat every night and this number swells to over 50 during the peek seasons. Due to strict restraining orders by the dictrict administration, this entire operation is carried out stealthily in the darkness of the night.

Broken but defiant

Trekking up the hills to Jothri village, about 30 kms from Dungarpur, the TIMES NOW team met a young braveheart Hanja Raut, who had trekked his way back home from across the border after being abused and tortured - for a pittance of Rs 33.

"The owner used to beat us if a single plant got missed. He use to beat us with pipes. We would get up at 4 in the morning and work for 12 hours a day," he recalls, adding "The food was half cooked, vegetables had only watery curry. He gave me no money and so I walked back."

There was more. "The partner of my farm owner used to switch off the lights at night and forcibly carry the girls sleeping on the floor, on to his cot," Hanja said, his eyes on the ground.

Many of the young girls we met on the fields there silently acknowledged sexual abuse, but were unaware that formal complaints could be lodged against their landlords.

When Reena had left for the cotton fields last year along with ten-year-old Shobha she did not know that she would be returning home with the lifeless body of her sister. Shobha was gang-raped by the farmer owners son and his friends and was left to bleed to death. Though the farm owner obviously does not acknowledge the crime, as is the practice here he paid the family 40,000 rupees and the matter was hushed up.

"Our estimates are that something like more than 1 lakh children below 14 years go to work every year for three months in the BT cotton seed farms. Children are being employed primarily because they can be paid very low wages and made to work very long hours," Sudhir Katiyar of the NGO 'PRAYAS', told us.

The district administrations in both Rajasthan and Gujarat claim that strict laws are in place, but the images we captured and the voices we heard, tell a different story.

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