60 % working children are in agriculture, says report

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), recent global estimates state that there are approximately 152 million children in child labour and seven out of every 10 working children are in agriculture. Reuters file photo

In numbers that should be a major cause of concern, a report by Child Rights and You (CRY) indicates that nearly 60% of working children across India are in agriculture.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), recent global estimates state that there are approximately 152 million children in child labour and seven out of every 10 working children are in agriculture.  

ILO also considers agriculture to be the second most hazardous occupation globally.

In India too, current trends indicate that more than 60 % of children in the country are part of the economy sustained by agriculture and related activities. 

Overall estimates suggest that in India there are 40.34 million working children and adolescents between 5-19 years (62 % of them are boys and 38 % are girls).

In Maharashtra, the percentage of working children in agriculture stands at 60. 67 %.

In many regions of Maharashtra that are drought-prone, like Marathwada, there is large-scale migration. Hence, the problem of child labour in agriculture gets exacerbated. When families migrate, the situation of children worsens—there is a rise in drop-outs, child marriages and eventually, children working as daily wage labourers.

In the Latur and Parbhani districts, with most fields drying up due to the non–availability of water, families are forced to migrate with their children in search of jobs in nearby villages or cities.

Families also migrate for employment during the sugarcane-cutting season and children migrate with the parents. With most villages having schools only until the primary level, many children eventually drop out of these schools and begin working with their parents at the place of migration. Put to work at a young age, there is a low possibility of the children returning to school to continue their education.

From the perspective of children, agriculture has its own set of hazards, too. For example – handling pesticides, agricultural equipment, can cause severe long-term damage.

"Experience gathered from the past four decades of work with children and their communities go on to suggest that the majority of agricultural work in our country is carried out in situations where there is hardly any boundary between the working and living conditions," says Priti Mahara, Director, Policy Advocacy and Research, CRY.

"Children, working in the fields, face serious dangers such as exposure to pesticides as well as pesticide-contaminated water and food. For children working in farms, hours of work can get extremely long during planting and harvesting. It is physically demanding and strenuous, involving long periods of standing, stooping, bending and carrying heavy or awkward loads,” Mahara added.

Children work mainly to help their families because the adults do not have adequate income. Children work also because there is a demand for cheap labour in the market. When they are forced to work for long hours, their chance of attending school is limited, preventing them from gaining an education. Their time to play and leisure is somehow compromised.”

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