Mumbai, Jan 31 (IANS) Nearly 300 child labourers from all over Maharashtra Monday demanded inclusion of agriculture as a hazardous form of work in the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986.
'We want to play in the fields, not to work,' they said at a public hearing by a social organisation, Save The Children.
Social groups, prominent citizens and the children themselves, took part in the programme on 'Child Labour In Agriculture'.
Officials from the groups revealed that as per the 2001 Census, around 12.6 million children are engaged in various economic activities.
However, this does not include the children working in farm lands and in the agriculture sector though it accounts for the largest chunk of child labour as compared to other branches of the economy.
According to the National Sample Survey data, two-thirds (67 percent) of child workers were engaged in agriculture, of which 63 percent were girls.
They are employed in a range of agricultural activities and processes like cotton, cottonseed production, sugarcane, soyabean, paddy cultivation, in corporate and family farms, according to the officials.
Their routine includes transplantation, weeding, manuring, harvesting, cleaning, separating and packaging and animal husbandry etc, the public hearing was told.
Tabassum Sheikh Latif (11) from a village in Akola and Arjun Laxamrao Jadhav (13) from a Washim village - two child labourers - described their hardships and duties at the hearing.
While Tabassum is a school dropout, Arjun barely managed to attend school and they complained of body aches, rashes due to handling urea and other chemicals and skin discolouration due to long hours in the blazing sun.
All this to earn Rs.40 after toiling for ten hours, they said.
Moved by the plight of the children, the jury led by former chief justice of Bombay High Court, Justice A.A. Aguier, urged the state government to ban all forms of child labour, including that in the agriculture sector, and to make it a cognisable offence.
The jury comprised Aguier, who is also the chairman of the state advisory board, academician Asha Bajpai, Deeksha Borade, president of Children's Group in Panora village in Amravati district, Kalpana Sharma, a journalist, Swaroop Rawal, an actress among others.
The public hearing aimed to act as a platform to raise the concerns of child labour in agriculture at the state level and make an attempt to compel the government against such form of hard labour.