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Multinational companies like Unilever, Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta are perpetuating the terrible problem of child labour on cotton seed farms in India. These children get no education, earn less than 40 Cents a day and are exposed to poisonous pesticides during their work.

July 1, 2004, THE HINDU

Probe demanded into child labour in seed farm

(HYDERABAD) Expressing deep concern at 13-year-old Mallesh's death while spraying pesticide in a hybrid cottonseed farm in Dudekonda in Kurnool district, the M. V Foundation has called upon the Government to conduct an enquiry into the exploitation of children in the sector.

In a statement, the Secretary and Trustee of the Foundation, Shantha Sinha, wanted the Government to take immediate steps to enable children in the district to stop working and join schools. She demanded that legal notices be issued to all multinational and national corporations involved in producing hybrid cottonseed for the violation of child rights. She said the corporations must be asked to reveal the names and addresses of small farmers contracted by them for seed farming so the Government and NGOs could monitor child labour.

She said thousands of children continued to work in the production of hybrid cottonseed in Kurnool and Mahbubnagar districts. Each of them was at risk everyday, she said, adding that it was significant that most of the investment in the production of the seed was made by multinational corporations and reputed national companies. These could "very well afford" not to exploit children and abide by corporate and social responsibilities. At a time when small farmers had formed a Child Rights Protection Forum to see that no child was employed in farms, it was "outrageous" that such huge investors remain lackadaisical, Ms. Sinha said.

She said the Foundation had appealed repeatedly to the Government and the Association of Seed Industries to protect children. It had held several meetings with representatives of the Association in the last two years, asking them to put out a clear message that they would not tolerate child labour in hybrid cottonseed farms. "Except for issuing statements and pamphlets or holding meetings among themselves, the Association has done nothing to prevent employment of children in the sector.

JUNE 29, 2004, THE HINDU

Pesticide exposure claims another child labourer's life

HYDERABAD: A 13-year-old Dalit child labourer, Mallesh, of Dudekonda in Pathikonda mandal in Kurnool district, lost his life while spraying pesticide in a cotton farm on Tuesday. The death comes at a time when the district is preparing for the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh's visit.

Coming in the wake of the recent death of another child labourer in a road accident and reports that children are employed in Sanghi Industries, the incident has shocked child rights activists. They say Mallesh's death from exposure to pesticide is not the first of its kind; "scores" have fallen victim in the past few years. What makes Mallesh's death appalling is that it comes after the Government's tall claims of waging an intensive campaign to wean children away from work, especially work of the hazardous kind.

When Pasula Narsamma (13), working in a cotton farm, died under similar circumstances in Ranga Reddy district a few years ago, the incident had been dismissed as an isolated one. It did, however, bring into focus the exploitation of young girls by hybrid cottonseed producers. A series of visits by officials and meetings with seed producers followed. A year later, in 1999, Balaraju (12) of Thimsanpalli in Peddamul mandal in the same district fell victim to pesticide exposure.

The problem was subsequently checked in Ranga Reddy district, thanks to efforts by NGOs. Several such children were rescued and admitted into bridge schools.

Tuesday's incident indicates that the employment of children in high-risk cotton farms has been going on unabated in districts that lack such efforts. The Convenor of the Child Rights Protection Forum, C. Yadaiah, says at least 400 children are employed in cotton farms in Dudekonda village alone. This either goes unreported in the media, or is reported only in the local vernacular press, he says. "There is need to build pressure on the authorities to save such children and put them in schools."

One estimate suggests that 20,000 children are at work in farms all over Kurnool, a district known for the worst forms of child labour. The case of a girl child who had been chained to a table by her employer that came to light two years ago is symbolic of the problem in the district.

In a study on the chronic effects of pesticide on the development of children in areas cultivating cotton, Greenpeace India found that even small doses of pesticide exposure severely impaired analytical abilities, motor skills, concentration and memory in children of the farming community. The study, conducted in the cotton-raising season between April and December 2003, compared children in the cotton-growing belt with those in other locations. The results, published as a report titled "Arrested Development," were released in April this year. (by K. Venkateshwarlu)