Indian child rights organisation, Maya, has published a damning report on the growing incidence of child labour in the sericulture sector in Channapatna and Ramanagaram talukas of Bangalore.

In an extensive study, the group found that Karnataka - the largest silk producing state in the country - makes extensive use of child workers. The report's findings are shocking and highlight the fact that industry chiefs and Government officials choose to ignore the issue despite the fact that children are working in appalling conditions.

Earlier this month, a 12-year-old child working in a silk unit lost his life when he tried to go home for a festival. Though the owners of the unit say that the boy committed suicide, family members allege that the boy was tortured and killed. The boy's case is only a symptom of the problem says Maya.

"The employment of children, ostensibly to provide employment to poor families, has in fact benefited only the silk reelers and filature unit owners and not the families or the children employed," Maya said.

Some of the findings were:
  • The units are cramped, dark, wet, and poorly ventilated and sometimes have small generators running inside the rooms which generate carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes. Children suffer from bronchial ailments, cough, cold, persistent back pain, leg pain, lung infection and TB. Constant exposure to dead worms and the unbearable stench causes dizziness and fever;
  • The children work in highly damp conditions and have no protection for their hands or feet. This results in severe infections of skin, hands, and feet. Having to stand throughout the day leads to menstrual disorders in girl children;
  • Children work in the units for 10-12 hours, and are paid wages on a daily basis as wages are not fixed and depend on the discretion of the employer. Wages range from not being paid to Rs 5-10 per day. There are no holidays for the children;
  • Children are made to listen to loud music, probably to prevent them from hearing the deafening noise of the machines - this often causes deafness. Some children also suffer from silk allergy;
  • For a process called doubling, children are required to stand continuously, and this leads to problems like backache, eye strain and other physical problems. The machines in most units are designed specifically for child workers;
  • Most children in this sector work under bonded conditions. Parents take an advance from their employers and bond their children to their employers for several years until the loans are paid back.

These children spend a whole lifetime in silk factories and find themselves uneducated, unskilled and unemployed when they become adults, the report said.

Maya intends to do more than highlight the problem. "We are working to ensure that everyone, right from the government, the police, public servants, the sericulture ministry and even people who support the industry are shaken out of their complacency and realise that these are not just statistics. The lives of many children are still at stake," said a Maya spokesperson.

For more information, visit the Maya website at www.mayaindia.org.