The task of protecting India’s child cotton pickers

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Rada estimates she is 11 years old, but she can’t be certain. She says she has been working in the Indian cotton fields for three years.

“My parents stopped me going to school because they needed me in the fields,” she says.

“I picked the male flowers and rubbed them on the female flowers. I also had to weed the fields.

“First of all they sent me to other farms to work. I earned 120 rupees a day. Next year I am going to work on my parents’ field.”


Rada, who comes from Andhra Pradesh in south-eastern India, goes to school at the moment but many other children do not.

It is estimated more than 400,000 children under the age of 18 work on cotton farms across India.

According to the most recent study by the International Labor Rights Forum in the US, half of them are younger than 14.

Their main role is to cross-pollinate crops by taking the stamen of the male plant and rubbing it onto the female plant. It is a laborious task, but it helps farmers to get a better yield.

Many of them prefer to employ children because they have nimble fingers and are the same height as the plants.

‘They work as we tell them’

The Indian government says the number of children aged between five and 14 who are working in the fields is going down.

"I worked from eight in the morning until eight at night. I almost did not realise when my hand got pulled in. It was oozing a lot of blood so I got some cotton and pressed it on my hand before running out” - Sonal, aged 16 cotton mill worker


The task of protecting India’s child cotton pickers

Delhi is working to improve this further by creating an environment where families do not need to send their children to work. But the use of child labour is very evident to anyone driving through the cotton fields of rural India.

“We used to have a lot of children working. They work as we tell them,” says Venkatram Reddy, a farmer in Andhra Pradesh.

“Sometimes it rains. We give them plastic sheets and they put them on their head and carry on working.

“It is not possible with adults. They don’t work as hard and don’t come on time. Although we pay them both the same wages, it is children who work sincerely and honestly.

“And it is the girls who work much better than the boys. The boys are always running around. If you beat them they stop working. We used to have lots of children and girls mainly. Now there are more adults.

John NealProducer, You and Yours, BBC Radio 4
Source: (Feb. 23, 2014)