New Delhi, 14 November
As the nation celebrated the 54th Children’s Day, several child rights and public health organisations joined hands to demand urgent action from the government to eradicate child labour and save children from the exploitative practices of the bidi industry and similar hazardous occupations.
 That child labour continues in India is mainly due to lack of political will to actually see to the complete ban of child labour, they said. India is home to the largest number of child labourers in the world with close to 13 million children child labourers under 14, they pointed out.
The child rights advocates said the Constitution prohibits children below the age of 14 from working and the law bans child labour, while allowing children to work in home-based industries. It is this loophole that has been used by the bidi industry to circumvent the law, they added.
They said the bidi industry claims that they are a cottage industry providing livelihood as well as contributing to the country&’s economy and export revenues. The industry continues to engage children in home-based settings across India, the  activists said pointing out that an estimated 17 lakh children in India are working in the manufacturing of bidis.
The bidi industry prefers to engage children as their nimble fingers are more adept at rolling bidis. Moreover, children can be easily controlled, exploited since they are neither aware of their rights nor able to assert or safeguard themselves, the activists said.
 Children are made to work up to 14 hours a day with no breaks or holidays, they added, pointing out that most of the children, particularly girls, are made to discontinue school after primary level. Those who do roll bidis before going to school and continue when they return.
"There is an urgent need to rehabilitate working children by including them in formal schooling and at the same time ensuring their family&’s livelihood and health needs are met,”  Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India, said.