Pesticide exposure claims another child labourer's life

The Hindu

By K. Venkateshwarlu

A 13-year-old Dalit child labourer, Mallesh, of Dudekonda in Pathikonda mandal in Kurnool district, lost his life while spraying pesticide in a cotton farm on Tuesday. The death comes at a time when the district is preparing for the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh's visit.

Coming in the wake of the recent death of another child labourer in a road accident and reports that children are employed in Sanghi Industries, the incident has shocked child rights activists. They say Mallesh's death from exposure to pesticide is not the first of its kind; "scores" have fallen victim in the past few years. What makes Mallesh's death appalling is that it comes after the Government's tall claims of waging an intensive campaign to wean children away from work, especially work of the hazardous kind.

When Pasula Narsamma (13), working in a cotton farm, died under similar circumstances in Ranga Reddy district a few years ago, the incident had been dismissed as an isolated one. It did, however, bring into focus the exploitation of young girls by hybrid cottonseed producers. A series of visits by officials and meetings with seed producers followed. A year later, in 1999, Balaraju (12) of Thimsanpalli in Peddamul mandal in the same district fell victim to pesticide exposure.

The problem was subsequently checked in Ranga Reddy district, thanks to efforts by NGOs. Several such children were rescued and admitted into bridge schools.

Tuesday's incident indicates that the employment of children in high-risk cotton farms has been going on unabated in districts that lack such efforts. The Convenor of the Child Rights Protection Forum, C. Yadaiah, says at least 400 children are employed in cotton farms in Dudekonda village alone. This either goes unreported in the media, or is reported only in the local vernacular press, he says. "There is need to build pressure on the authorities to save such children and put them in schools."

One estimate suggests that 20,000 children are at work in farms all over Kurnool, a district known for the worst forms of child labour. The case of a girl child who had been chained to a table by her employer that came to light two years ago is symbolic of the problem in the district.

In a study on the chronic effects of pesticide on the development of children in areas cultivating cotton, Greenpeace India found that even small doses of pesticide exposure severely impaired analytical abilities, motor skills, concentration and memory in children of the farming community. The study, conducted in the cotton-raising season between April and December 2003, compared children in the cotton-growing belt with those in other locations. The results, published as a report titled "Arrested Development," were released in April this year.

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