There is no holiday bliss for the little ones of Khammam, Andhra Pradesh. Thanks to the dearth of farm workers, these tiny fingers will not be flying kites or playing cricket ; the children from the tribal hamlets of Khamman will have to go to the fields and pick cotton.
Sridevi, a seventh standard student was back from the welfare hostel and with her parents at Vinobhanagar, for the 10-day Dasara vacation. Along with other neighbors -kids themselves, they reach the cotton field at 10 am and work till evening, gathering cotton from the bursting pods. Her wages - a measly fifty rupees per day.
Work on the cotton fields is not new for many of these children. They often work before and after the school hours and help their parents out. But this time they are engaged in paid work.
Tractors arrive at the village, load them with children and head for the cotton fields.
So, why child labor for this agricultural operation? Cotton picking is much more an easier job for these deft hands. Children can move swiftly in the fields reaching out to every pod. Some families are engaged in work on contract and in such cases the number of children available in the family matters a lot. In fact, many farmers take laborers from the neighboring Chattisgarh also.
The non-availability of workers can also be pinned down to the fact that the area under cotton has ballooned by three times. It could be a little over 2.6 lakh acres in the district and 90 per cent of the cotton is of Bt variety. The vigorous implementation of the NREP has resulted in pushing up the wages considerably and hence, farmers are looking for cheaper options.
No surprise then that cotton picking, as its gains momentum, could have drastic consequences of the attendance of children, in rural schools.