Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The tiny hands that cook cocoons...

Do government policies and projects to bring in economic empowerment always ensure a qualitative change in the lives of the beneficiaries? The answer could be in the negative if one looks at the story of the sericulture industry in Karnataka.

Sericulture has been promoted in the state as a labour-intensive, low-cost high income-source industry ever since the 1980s. Further, it was also hailed as an effective scheme to include a large number of poor people including women and to achieve regional development.

Though that has happened, all’s still not well, observes a Bangalore-based NGO MAYA (Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness), as part of a study they conducted some years ago.

The NGO has worked on the issue of child labour ever since 1998. Its case study on the sericulture industry in Karnataka and a documentary film revealed that exploitation of a large number of children in the sector is the ugly side of this ‘labour-intesive’ industry.

The organisation’s survey report was based on the silk industries in Ramanagaram and Channapatna. These regions including Magadi and Kanakapura regions and Kollegala taluk of Mysore district have a glorious past as far as the silk industry is concerned.

In 1913, the Department of Sericulture was formed and a Silk Farm was established in Channapatna in 1914.

Occupational hazards

According to MAYA’s study, children worked in the region’s sericulture industry as turners, helpers, pupae pickers, and cocoon cooks in the filature units. Besides, the working condition also necessitated employment of children.
Children stood cornered against the wall, and trapped under the machinery waiting for a ladleful of cocoons to be put aside by the reeler every now and then.

A lot of concentration is necessary to avoid wastage, for nearly 12-16 hours a day.

The hands that should have been playing with toys were killing silkworms while cooking the cocoons, inviting skin diseases.

They were involved in unhygienic processes of mulberry cultivation, cocoon rearing, reeling, winding, doubling, twisting, and re-reeling in a cramped, damp, dark, poorly ventilated place with loud, music playing in the background.

They inhaled the vapours from the boiling cocoons and the diesel fumes from the machines which lead to respiratory diseases among the kids.

The NGO’s experiences of working on the child labour issue in sericulture sector of the Bangalore rural since 1998 has made it realise that the issue has a link with intricate network of other socio-cultural aspects such as hostile school environment, parents’ priority of expenditure and the lifestyle which deprive the child of its childhood and fundamental rights.

Most of these children were forced to work here because their parents hadborrowed loans (for marriages and festivities) from the employer.

Hence, it is not the immediate necessity of earning bread for the day, but to clear the debts.


In its documentary film on child labour in the silk industry, Indebalya (Childhood now), MAYA focuses on the inhuman working condition at the industry units.

The organisation points out that children are involved in all stages of work in the units and the machines, such as reeling equipment, miniature wheels, cramped spaces and low bobbins used here are designed in such a way that a child can work on them.

Another plus point from the employer’s perspective is that these kids don’t organise protests against bullying or overwork!

However, the laws of the land or ad-hoc solutions for the issue don’t eradicate the root cause of the problems.
Poverty, which is said to be the chief factor, is not just a state of having no money, but it also includes limited opportunities for the poor to articulate their needs, to improve their capabilities, and to access to resources.
Solutions for the issue such as one-time income-generation programmes, short-term vocational training or compulsory enrollment of child labourers in formal schools will have only limited impact.

To bring in sustainable change in the system, the concept of economic development and the policies that are framed to achieve it need to be looked into.

The study points out that we need to ensure that the development projects bring not just money, but a quality change in the life of all including these young citizens working in the sericulture industry.

Initiatives on child labour in the silk industry

* There have been plenty of initiatives when it comes to rescuing child labourers employed in the silk industry in the Magadi belt of the state.

* One such is the Magadi Child Labour Elimination Project, which worked towards withdrawing children employed in sericulture-related activities in Bangalore rural areas.

* According to a report entitled United Nations in India, sponsored by the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Child Labour, the silk twisting units have been an alternative employment option because of poor irrigation facilities for agriculture and sericulture cultivation.

* The Magadi Makkala Dhwani (MMD) or the Voice of Magadi children organised a people’s movement to eradicate child labour from these silk twisting units that are hazardous to the health and development of the children.

* The Magadi Project is a joint initiative of the Government of Karnataka, 4 NGOS BOSCO, Chiguru, Vikasa and Sankalpa (representing the network MMD) and UNICEF to rehabilitate these working children and prevent fresh entrants to the work force in the taluk, covering directly over 125 villages and reaching out, through Government support, to the surrounding 300 villages of Magadi.

* The focus of the Project was the withdrawal of children from the work situation, bridging them to school through Residential Transit Programme, addressing related services in terms of hostel; vocational training and sustaining the initiative through community based support groups as well as the local Government Task Force Committee.

* The project personnel and all local and district officials were oriented and trained to undertake the specific strategies in the field areas. Expertise from government organisations was utilized for capacity building measures of project and field staff. Regular monitoring of project activities at state, taluk and field level enabled better programme management, resolve local issues and address specific policy interventions.

* The project developed effective partnerships with other stakeholders especially local NGOs, employers’ organizations, local communities, parents of the target groups especially Self Help Groups.

* The Task Force Committee comprising local government officials, NGOs and people’s representatives played a major role in enforcement, and their objectives included:

* Identification and release of children employed in silk twisting activities and otherhazardous occupations like construction work, brick making, etc.

* Rehabilitation of these released children though education strategy by inducting them into formal schools, further to Bridge program when required.
nProvide access to vocational and life skill training to older children in the 14+ age group to whom mainstreaming to formal school is not the appropriate intervention.

* Create sustainable social mobilization against practice of child labour through partnership approach with local community, employers, parent and local elected representatives.

* Organize community, women and adolescent girls as Self Help Groups to support education initiative at village level and protect child exploitation and abuse.

A report cited by ISCA: Initiatives for Social Change and Action.

By Malathi Belur


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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