July 9, 2018
After facing criticism in international tea markets, the Assam government has asked tea garden owners to give a written assurance as not to engage child labourers or face action under anti-child labour laws.
Minister for welfare of tea tribes and labour Pallab Lochan Das said that garden owners and tea planters have been issued notices following which a few gardens submitted in writing that they would not engage child labour. But the labour department was awaiting replies from a majority of gardens.
“We have told gardens that child labour cannot be allowed to continue. They have been asked to submit in writing on compliance every year. Labour inspectors will conduct surprise inspections in the gardens to ensure implementation of the order,” Das said.
Some tea traders in the US and UK had stopped buying Assam tea a few years ago following reports in international media that children are used during plucking or in their processing.
This drew much criticism from NGOs working for child rights who alleged the state government had failed to check child labour in tea gardens. The step was taken as child labour posed a threat to the Assam tea brand in international markets.
According to an estimate, nearly 1 lakh of the total 3 lakh child labour (4 per cent of population) between five and 14 years work in tea gardens. Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights identified child labour as one of the major cause of absenteeism and dropouts in schools.
A survey by an international NGO, Save the Children, among 1,463 households in 70 tea gardens in seven tea-growing districts in Assam in 2016, revealed that 63 per cent of children start working in gardens to earn for their families. A majority of the children started working in gardens by 11 years.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, prohibits employment of children aged below 14 years and those between 14 and 18 years in hazardous jobs.
The step comes after a pledge by all state government employees (4.5 lakh) on June 12, the International Day against Child Labour, not to engage child labour.
In January 2016, the earlier Congress government had set a target to end child labour by 2021 and provide education to such children. It had launched a convergent plan of action for child welfare by bringing together 23 departments to rescue children engaged in hazardous work, provide care and education and prevent exploitation and trafficking.
It also stressed on setting up and strengthening block-level and village-level child protection committees, livelihood support to women and support families to prevent them from engaging children in work.