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How One Program Helped Rescue Over 1300 Child Labourers Working in Cotton Fields

How One Program Helped Rescue Over 1300 Child Labourers Working in Cotton Fields

From spreading awareness and sensitizing farmers, monitoring fields for rescue, initiating a contractual ban on child labour, incentivising those who refrained from it to implementing penalties upon violation, Bayer's Child Care Program (CCP) has been tackling the problem of child labour with a multi-layered approach.

This article has been sponsored by Bayer.

“Education is a fundamental right for any child. While this is a true statement, for many like me it is a privilege,” shares Mariyavva, a 24-year-old resident of Guledgudda town in Karnataka.

An extremely bright and inquisitive mind, Mariyavva from a very young age, believed in the idea that education was the only path to carving one’s identity. A passionate dreamer motivated to create her independent identity, she wanted to study as much as she could and then create a positive legacy for the children in her community.

However, financial challenges faced by the family pushed her parents to put a stop to her dream. “My parents were construction workers who were coping with acute poverty. I was the eldest daughter among six siblings, which meant I had to take care of them, even if that meant trampling on my dreams. So when I was still in primary school, my parents decided to pull me out of school,” adds Mariyavva, who not only had to give up on school but was pushed to start working in cotton farms to aid her parents in running the household.

A mere kid of 11 years, she was spending hours in hard labour on the cotton fields, instead of getting much-deserved education. And this would have been her unfortunate fate if not for a Child Care Program (CCP) initiated by Bayer in cotton farms that are associated with the company.

Through this programme, Bayer rigorously pursued the transformation of the seed supply chain into a sustainable model compliant with their ‘No Child Labour’ policy. Rolled out in five states including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, where Bayer has contract seed production, this initiative has helped to identify cases of child labour and facilitate the movement of children out of the fields, back into the schools.

Recognising the root cause

Cultivators in cottonseed farms

Bayer entered the seed business in India in 2002. While at a glance, the hybrid seed production and marketing practices complemented Bayers’s strategy and ethos, a deeper dive into the sector revealed issues that required to be addressed immediately.

“A few months after Bayer acquired a local agro-based company in 2005, we realised the prevalence of child labour in the supply chain operations, especially in the cottonseed supply chain,” points Suhas Joshi, Head of Sustainability and Business Stewardship at Bayer India.

He added that the production process of hybrid cottonseed was complex, tedious and labour-intensive, with its farming requiring almost 10 times the usual labour days of any ordinary commercial cotton production. Approximately, 2,200 labour days had to be spent per acre, with manual efforts for cross-pollination, a crucial stage in the cultivation process. To aid with this stage, most Indian farmers hired children as extra labourers. Owing to their nimble fingers, height matching that of the cotton plants, and inexpensive wages, children below the age of 15 were preferred over adults to work in the fields.

A shocking reality as it was, the incidence of rampant child labour was in direct violation of Bayer’s ‘No- Child Labour’ policy and hence prompted the inception of CCP to formulate remedial solutions to bring kids out of this supply chain and empower them with the much-deserved right to education.

Launched in 2007, a team working under CCP first began with identifying cases of child labour in the cottonseed supply chain. From spreading awareness and sensitizing farmers, monitoring fields for rescue, initiating a contractual ban on child labour, incentivising those who refrained from it to implementing penalties upon violation, CCP began to zero down on this problem with a multi-layered approach.

“We had to be extremely careful and sensitive in the situation to ensure small farmers adhered to these guidelines. Although we started with a productivity enhancement training programme called Target 400 to enable them to have an additional income and incentives while discouraging child labour, many were yet to be motivated. That is when we devised a holistic plan to incentivise as well as penalise in case of violations. For instance, a first time violation would lead to a warning, while the second time would invite a 10 per cent cut of the procurement price. The final and third violation would result in the termination of the contract with Bayer. Slowly with time, an integrated approach supported by awareness initiatives with parents and the overall community, helped implement these solutions,” adds Joshi.

Mariyavva with her family

After their relentless efforts, Joshi shares that the incidence rates of child labour in Bayer’s cottonseed production have substantially dropped to a virtual level of zero. Mariyavva is one of the many children who were saved by the program and re-enrolled in schools. A mother of a 2-year-old son, she was just 11-years-old when Bayer representatives helped her come out of the cottonseed supply chain and back into the school in 2009. She rejoined school from Class 6 and finally in 2018 completed her bachelor’s degree.

“They gave me a second chance to dream and have the gift of independence,” says Mariyavva who is now applying for a job as a police constable.

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