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Child labour in Sivakasi is now history

7th November 2014

Child labour in Sivakasi is now history

Today, Sivakasi is inching towards achieving the distinction of becoming a ‘zero’ child labour industrial cluster in the state, housing 800 cracker factories.

According to social activists, Sivakasi and adjoining areas, located about 565 km from Chennai, are suited for cracker production, thanks to dry climate and availability of cheap labour. The cracker industry in Sivakasi is estimated to be worth about Rs 3,500 crore, accounting for 70 per cent of the total cracker production in the country.

A senior government official associated with the project says, “Child labour in Sivakasi is now history.” According to him, the number of special training centres for educating children rescued from factories has come down to 19 from 120. The total number of students studying in these centres is 650, down from earlier 10,000.

After taking temporary training at the centres, these children are admitted to government schools and then sent to colleges. The official says the key to success of the project was regular monitoring of the students through volunteers stationed in villages.

K Pandiarajan, Virudhunagar MLA, says now children do not constitute even one per cent of the total workforce. Besides the state government’s efforts, the factors that worked to bring an end to child labour were a concerted campaign by voluntary sector organisations, social pressure on parents and high levels of automation in the factories. Media and regular court interventions also played a major role.

District Collector T N Hariharan had sent about 100,000 letters to villagers, explaining to them the necessity of education, the problems relating to child labour and early marriage. In those letters, he gave his mobile number, the project director’s number and a helpline number. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say the drive helped as villagers now know whom to call if there are any complaints regarding child labour. Frequent raids and searches have also helped the cause.

K Mariappan, vice-president, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Association, says while everyone has a word of advice on child labour and makes baseless allegations, nobody takes the trouble of proving their claims. The association has also written to Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel laureate, to prove his claim that the cracker industry still employs over 100,000 child labourers. Mariappan admitted child labour was once rampant in the area.

A senior industry official alleged that NGOs operating in Virudhunagar get Rs 20 crore every year as aid and it’s in their interest to keep the child labour issue alive.

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