For the wrong reasons, textile units in Tamil Nadu have grabbed headlines several times in the past. Non-governmental organisations, including international organisations, have alleged that child workers are employed in many textile mills and that some units that employ young women do not provide adequate facilities for those who stay in hostels within the mill premises.
The problem seems to persist in an industry that employs about 50 lakh workers directly in the state, though employment of children has reduced drastically in the last few years and there are only ‘rare instances’ now. Says A Aloysius, Founder of Social Awareness and Voluntary Education, an NGO in Tirupur, it is due to the mandatory audits and pressure on industry to comply with norms from western buyers, child labour is almost nil in the garment sector. Still, there are instances of children employed in medium-sized textile mills in areas such as Udumalpet, Dharapuram, Vellakoil, etc., he says.
Further, several north Indian workers have moved to Tirupur for work, with their families, and live in specific localities. Their families do handwork, such as stitching buttons, and there are cases where they involve the children at home for this work rather than sending them to school. Though these children do not go to factories for work, they work out of home. This is a development in the last two or three years, he says.
According to Aloysius, the State needs to have proper monitoring mechanisms to identify employment of children in such work. Officials, textile management sources, and voluntary organisations say that one reason for employment of children in some of the textile mills is labour shortage.