India: Child labour on rise around Tata Mundra plant, teenage girls being forced into sexual abuse

Date of publication: 
19 June 2015

Belonging to Mota Kandagra, one of the project-affected villages as a consequence of the Tatas’ ultra mega power plant at Mundra in Kutch district, Gujarat, Minal, 11, and Sonal, 13, remember the joyful lives they led just two years ago. They never knew what hunger was. They went to the local school, played with their friends and were loved and treated well. Their father had a small farm and was a successful farmer.

Today Sonal, Minal and their mother have to work as manual workers on others’ fields to ensure that the family has enough to eat, and their two younger brothers go to school so that one day they could deliver the family from the current poverty and misfortune. This is just one of the several instances quoted by a recent Bank Information Centre (BIC)-sponsored study, which has found a sharp rise in child labour in the villages surrounding the 4,000 MW plant.

Quoting villagers, the study says, following the plant having come into existence, dependence on fishing as also farming and other occupations for livelihood has gone down, forcing children into labour force. “Earlier they used to catch Rs 100,000 worth of fish and now that has fallen to Rs 40,000”, the study quotes a fisherman from Sangarh as saying.

The 60 per cent decline in the fish catch “has forced families to engage even young boys early in life so that they have more productive members at work. This has contributed to young boys dropping out of school”, the study points out, adding, how this has also affected pastoralists, too. “In the pastoral communities (as in Tunda and Wandh villages), children are increasingly forced to graze cattle.”

“With the depleted grazing lands and decreasing agricultural productivity in the vicinity, the cattle have to be taken farther from the area for grazing, and the extra burden falls on the children”, the study, carried out by a team led by prominent Gujarat-based activist Prasad Chacko, says, adding, what is deplorable the Tatas have not made “any effort” to build new schools in the area either.

An elite NGO based in the US, BIC claims to advocate for “the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability” in the governance and operations of the World Bank Group-funded projects. The Tatas received a loan of $450 million for the Mundra plant from International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private lending arm.

Pointing out that many now children drop out after they go to higher primary levels, the study says, children aged 9-12 “have to travel approximately two to three km, and most parents do not want to send their daughters outside the village because “they do not feel safe”. It quotes people from Tunda village that Tata plant authorities were requested to provide school buses, but without any success.

The study further says, the power plant authorities claim that they have “provided vocational training to adolescents and youth” in order to “help increase access to employment opportunities for older children”. However, the the study found that “most residents from the villages studied reported that no such training programmes have been organised in their villages.”

In fact, the situation is particularly precarious for girls, the study points out. “In all villages, researchers learned that many adolescent girls are being employed as wage labour on sapling plantation sites that belong to the companies and as domestic labour in the apartments of the staff of the company, where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse”, the study says.

Loss of livelihood has meant “many parents cannot afford to send their children to school, and there is no outside financial support provided to poor families”, the study says, adding, “Though there are no school fees, and the school provides books for the students, parents are expected to pay for uniforms and stationary.”

“Tata officials claimed to provide notebooks and other stationary to students, but the amount provided is not sufficient for every student”, the study says, adding, the Tatas, as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) claimed to have provided computer education to school children.

But complained the Principal of Tunda village, “The number of computers provided is inadequate. For 121 students, CGPL provided two or three desktops, and the computer teachers appointed come only once per week to the schools.”