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Prawn Units Stinks of Child Labour

August 4, 2002 · 

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Kolkata, India — Cases of child labour exploitation have been reported from the coastal districts of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Orissa, where the children are being engaged in the prawn cultivation, processing and packaging industry. The Centre for Communication and Development (CCD), an NGO based near the city, has caught on video instances of child exploitation at a prawn-processing unit. According to the organisation, more than 200,000 children are engaged in such jobs all over the country. These prawn-processing units are managed and run by third-party agents and contractors. Processed prawns are sourced from these units by leading corporate houses. The children, whose age ranges from three to 12, work for more than 12 hours from 9 at night to 9.30 in the morning. Their job is to take the prawns out of huge frozen ice cubes, decapitate them and remove their outer coverings. Injuries are common. For this, they earn about Rs 2-3 per night. Swapan Mukherjee, CCD Secretary, said the matter had been brought to the notice of the West Bengal Government. However, the Labour Department has denied any such instance of child labour exploitation. “The Government said their surveyors regularly inspect these processing units and they have never come across any such case. According to them, the phenomenon of child labour exploitation does not exist in West Bengal,” Mukherjee informed. The Centre recently saved a boy from one such processing unit and admitted him to its destitute children’s home. Incidentally, in West Bengal, the prawn cultivation industry is supported by the World Bank. “Moreover, companies such as Britannia, Shaw Wallace, Union Carbide and ITC are investing heavily in this sector,” he said. He clarified that none of these companies is directly involved in child-labour exploitation. Of the total labour force employed by these prawn-processing units, 70 percent or nearly 7500, are children.

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