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Child labour haunts Andhra

Hyderabad, May 23: Some 1.8 lakh children below 14 are being made to work illegally in the fields, factories, shops and restaurants in Andhra Pradesh, state labour officials revealed today.

Some 31,000 of them were identified and sent home from cotton-seed farms and cotton fields during the past one year, labour commissioner Rani Kumidini told reporters.

Another 40,000 children were freed from virtual bondage at shops and restaurants in former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s constituency of Nandyal alone.

Of these, 7,872 children were rehabilitated ' that is, they were put into “bridge schools” and residential schools so that they could continue their studies, state labour minister G. Vinod said.

“Another 45,000 child labourers have been identified in the Kurnool area,” Kumudini said, and would soon be rescued and sent home.

The labour commissioner said children below 14 years were exploited as menial workers at homes, shops, restaurants, agricultural fields, laundries, and the plastic and agri-processing industries in the state.

She blamed the lax labour laws, which prescribe a fine of Rs 1,000 and a jail term of up to six months for farmers who employ child workers.

“If the children are working in shops, homes or restaurants, the penalty is only Rs 100 and there is no provision for imprisonment for the employers,” a labour official said.

Some 1,614 people, including farmers and restaurant owners, were prosecuted for hiring child labourers in the past 12 months, the minister said.

“Child labour is a social and sensitive problem which needs careful handling.”

A large number of girl child labourers were identified working in the cotton fields and cotton-seed farms of Adoni in Kurnool, about 285 km from Hyderabad, and Tandur in Ranga Reddy district, Kumudini said. “There is a high incidence of child labour in the districts of Kurnool, Mahboobnagar, Ranga Reddy and Hyderabad.”

The law says that children below 14 can work only four hours a day (two in the morning and two in the evening) but the employer must arrange for sending them to school.

Besides, they must be paid 70 per cent of the minimum wages for an adult for the same work. Children below eight cannot be employed at all.

But these provisions are routinely flouted, taking advantage of the paltry penalty prescribed, labour officials said.

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