By Sumir Karmakar
Guwahati: The Assam government has asked tea estate owners to give a written pledge not to engage child laborers or face action under anti-child labor laws.
Minister for Welfare of Tea Tribes and Labour Pallab Lochan Das said the government has issued notices to the owners of tea estates and planters and some submitted that they would not engage child labor. But the labor department was awaiting replies from a majority of the estates.
“We have told gardens that child labor cannot be allowed to continue. They have been asked to submit in writing on compliance every year. Labor 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 labor in tea gardens. Sources said the step was taken as child labour posed a threat to the Assam tea brand in international market
According to an estimate, nearly 100,000 of the total 300,000 child labor work in tea estates. Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights identified child labor as one of the major reasons of absenteeism and dropouts in primary 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 percent 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 450,000 state government employees on June 12, the International Day against Child Labour, not to engage child labor.
In January 2016, the earlier Congress government had set a target to end child labor 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.
It also spoke about the need of crèches in brick kilns, establish and strengthen children and adolescent groups and equip them with life skills and maintain a community vigilance register at the panchayat office, among others.