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Southern States - Tamil Nadu

`Firework units still employ child labour'

By S. Annamalai

MADURAI APRIL 29. The fireworks industry, which is concerned at the implications of the World Trade Organisation regime and a dwindling domestic and international market, has been claiming for the last four years that child labour ``has been eradicated'' from registered units. However, NGOs, who are fighting against employment of children, do not see any tangible change in the predicament of children who are involved in manufacture of matches and fireworks. The gullible children, they point out, are being exploited by manufacturers, who take cover under legal provisions that allow children to work in households. Even when children are employed in manufacturing units, medical certificates that declare a lawful age for them are obtained, allege the NGOs.

A fact-finding mission, undertaken by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) in the Vembakkottai and Sivakasi blocks of Virudhunagar district during November, has brought to light involvement of children in the manufacturing process, the repeated denials of the industry and Government officials notwithstanding.

Two teams toured these blocks to study the prevalence of child labour in fireworks units. In Sankaranatham and Naranapuram, the team came across six children employed in two units. At Kalaignar Colony, Vinobhapuram, in Thayalpatti, several children, including urchins, were engaged in the manufacturing process at their homes. Enquiries with the villagers revealed that the finished products were being sent to three fireworks units in Karisalkulam, Vijayarangapuram and Thayalpatti.

According to the fact-finding report, these units subcontract the works to agents who, in turn, entrust them with individual houses. Paper tube rolling, filling of aluminium powder and sand, powdering, sticking labels and paper cutting are the works assigned to households. Teachers at the Panchayat Union Middle School, Alamarathupatti, had confessed to the team that children were involved in tube rolling after school hours.

The CACL has demanded that the district administration stop the manufacture of fireworks and amorces in villages and ensure appropriate labour standards and minimum wages for adult workers. The subcontractors and the factories that seek their help should be prosecuted under the Arms Act and Explosives Act. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act must be suitably amended to delete the clause that allowed children to work ``with the aid of the family'' at home. The CACL has also demanded implementation of the `comprehensive action plan' brought out by the AIADMK Government in 1994 to eradicate child labour in match and fireworks industries.

A rally and public meeting have been organised by over 150 NGOs in Virudhunagar tomorrow, on the occasion of the `Anti-Child Labour Day'. The fireworks units, taking refuge in the CACL finding that children are now working in their households, say the ``NGOs have accepted that there is no child labour in the fireworks factories.''

But the CACL has reiterated that ``major fireworks units, licensed or otherwise, still continue to employ child labour through a system of contracting and subcontracting whereby the manufacture of fireworks takes place in households in villages.''

The units also employed children in their premises ``obtaining false age certificates.'' N. Radha, convenor, CACL, says the fireworks industry ``still continues to employ children unashamedly.''

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