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Child workers shun school to toil in Bellary's chilli fields

Siddaiah Hiremath, Bellary, Feb 9, 2012, DHNS: 23:55 IST
The State government’s efforts to bring down dropout rates in schools seem to have fallen short of expectations, and children from Siruguppa taluk toiling in the chilli fields of Bellary taluk stand testimony to this.
Instead of attending schools, children in the age group of 10 to 14 years from Tekkalakote and other villages in Siruguppa taluk work as agricultural labourers.As a result, schools in the area have registered a considerable decline in attendance.The fields in Siruguppa taluk are irrigated by water from the Tungabhadra right bank canal and they reap two paddy crops in a year. However, due to poor rainfall this year, farmers could not harvest the summer crop.

Poor rainfall and the resultant crop failure have forced the farmers to travel to Bellary taluk to pluck chillies in the fields for a living. The agrarian distress has forced not only farmers, but also their schoolgoing children to accompany them to the chilli fields.

Every day hundreds of children are dumped like cattle in goods carriage vehicles, flouting all norms of safety and taken to the chilli fields in the taluk.
“Although students in the age group of 10 to 14 years are working in the fields as daily wage workers, they are given attendance in the school.
Thus, even as they are promoted to the next class, they struggle to write, read and comprehend,” said Basavaraj, member of an NGO at Tekkalakote. Employing children below 14 years of age is an offence and punishable under law. However, poverty at home forces parents to take their children with them to the fields to work, as it helps them augment the family income, he added.

Children are also paid Rs 125 as daily wages, the same as their parents. Farmers who are already under duress due to crop failure, find it convenient to take their children to work. It is a Herculean task to make the parents realise that taking their children out of school will jeopardise their future, said Basavaraj.
Advantage brokersApart from land owners, brokers and goods carriage drivers stand to benefit from the vulnerable state of the farmers.

The brokers get a commission of Rs 10 for every agriculture labourer brought to the land owners. Similarly, vehicle owners get a commission of Rs 30 for transporting farmers to the fields.

“If the children continue to be employed as agricultural labourers and are deprived of education, a fundamental right, the future of the district appears bleak. The Labour and the Education Departments should act at the earliest and ensure that the children are back in the schools” said residents of Tekkalakote.

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