Matli (Uttarakhand), June 27 : In a shocking display of indifference by the authorities towards child labour, small children extracting contraband from 'bhang' (cannabis) leaves in the fields is a common sight in Matli Village in Uttarakhand.
Most of the children of Matli, many of them around ten years old, instead of being at school, are seen around cannabis fields extracting contraband for a meager amount to supplement paltry incomes of their poor families.
The extraction from the leaves of the cannabis plant is smoked, chewed, eaten, or infused and drunk to obtain mild euphoria.
"We squeeze bhang (cannabis) leaves and sell it. Most of the people buy it from us. We earn around 30-40 rupees in the process," said Anil, a child involved in the process of squeezing bhang leaves.
Consequently, these children have not merely become child labourers but are involved in the drugs trade totally oblivious of the consequences.
Shockingly, all this is happening with the willful consent and connivance of their parents who say that poverty and lack of employment opportunities in the area is the reason for sending their children for work in cannabis fields.
"They go to study at school sometimes, and on other occasions they rub bhang (cannabis) and sell it off for around 10-20 rupees. We don't have any other source of employment. So, this is the way we earn our living," said Meera, mother of a child labour.
The ground situation at Matli village beats hollow the government's claims about much publicized "Sarva Shekhsha Abhiyan"
The Central and State Governments are deeply committed to universalisation of elementary education of satisfactory quality by 2010. But places like Matli seem to have to do nothing with it.
While social activists partly hold the poverty responsible for it, they allege the lack of attention by the administration as the major cause for the children being involved in such a trade.
"The children of the Sampera community are into this bhang (cannabis laeves) squeezing activity and this is how they earn their living. There are talks of the "education for all' scheme and most of the children here should be studying. However, these kids have nothing to do with school. They earn their living through selling bhang. They don't even get proper meals," said Himla Devi, a social activist.
On being quizzed about the state of affairs, the authorities in their usual non-committal stand said that they would look into the matter.
Statistics reveal that India has 17 million child labourers, the highest in the world.
Over half of the working children (54 per cent) are in agriculture, and most others are employed either in construction (15.5 per cent) or in household work (18 per cent).
About five per cent are in manufacturing jobs, and the remainder (about 8 per cent) are scattered across other forms of employment. By Ashish Goel