Fireworks and some truths

Published : Nov 17, 2006 00:00 IST

Children making dummies for fireworks at a residential colony in Keezha Kothainachiarpuram near Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu. - K. GANESAN

Children making dummies for fireworks at a residential colony in Keezha Kothainachiarpuram near Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu. - K. GANESAN

AFTER gaining notoriety for employing children in its matchstick and fireworks units, Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu is struggling to become `child-friendly'. The National Child Labour Project (NCLP) has contributed significantly to bringing down the number of working children - from 9,808 in the first official survey in 1999 to 4,513 in 2005.

Since 1999, the thrust has been on luring children back to school. The strategy was to induct identified children into special schools run by the NCLP or the INDUS (Indo-U.S. Department of Labour) project. Between 1987 and 2004, 7,200 children were brought into mainstream schools from special schools. Now, 1,600 children study in 54 special schools run by the INDUS project.

In order to improve the economic condition of families whose children were removed from work, 63 special self-help groups were formed in the district to engage in income-generation activities. Education committees were formed at the village level to improve enrolment in schools. A campaign to get one lakh signatures on a one-kilometre-long cloth was launched to create awareness against employing children.

Despite all this, children in the district continue to work. Registered manufacturers of fireworks claim that they do not employ children. The Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers' Association (TANFAMA) certifies that products made by its members are child-labour-free. But District Collector S.S. Jawahar concedes that unregistered units employ children. This year, owners of 150 manufacturing units have been fined for this offence. The Labour Department lacks the manpower and vehicles required to organise factory checks.

It is not unusual to see children involved in hazardous and non-hazardous work in the manufacture of fireworks and matchsticks. Even schoolchildren around Sivakasi, Sattur and Vembakottai are in an "all-work-no-play" situation. Preparing dummies for crackers, making wicks and packing matchsticks are some of the activities of children in the cottage industry sector.

The market is flooded with fireworks manufactured by children and marketed by unlicensed manufacturers when the demand goes up during the festival season. Children exposed to chemicals live with lung and uterine diseases. The myth of nimble hands, cheap labour, work discipline and easy availability encourage the employment of children.

In the 2005 survey, 4,513 children were identified as workers in the district. Of them, 635 were involved in domestic work, 53 in fireworks manufacture and 103 in matchstick making. Contrary to popular belief, poverty is not the major factor that drives children to work. A survey conducted by the district administration in 2000-01 indicated that among 4,441 "child labour homes", 74 owned tractors, 127 owned refrigerators, 227 owned a bicycle and a motorcycle, 249 owned two LPG cylinders and 119 owned television sets.

However, lack of alternative employment for parents means that even when there is easy access to schools, many parents are not sensitive enough to choose education instead of work. As a result, in many villages, the home becomes a workshop and the child an apprentice. After basic schooling, he or she decides to join a matchstick or fireworks factory. This lack of alternative employment for adults is attributed to the absence of guaranteed water supply for irrigation. The Alagar dam and the diversion of west-flowing rivers are two key projects hanging fire. Their implementation will rejuvenate farm activity and also invite agro-based units to this arid district.

M. Annamalai
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment