Addiction rising among child labourers in Rajasthan’s stone quarries
The dirty red blotches are easily visible over Arun’s (name changed) teeth. The eight-year-old was asked whether he consumes gutka, a tobacco product prohibited for below 18-year-olds.
Gradually, the shyness gives away an indulgent smile as he confesses to taking gutka regularly.
“I buy gutka from the same shops from where my parents get it,” he says and adds, when asked, “Yes…My parents know that I consume gutka. At times I have taken it in front of them as well. No one disapproves as my parents consume it too.”
His friend Lakshman (name changed) who studies in class 2, has another truth to reveal.
“In the morning, my motions don’t happen unless I have consumed gutka,” says Lakshman, a resident of Dabi village in Bundi district of Rajasthan.
He also mentions his favourite gutka brand even as another 7-year-old friend argues in favour of another brand.
For children living in villages adjacent to stone quarries in Bundi, addiction to tobacco products is as normal as breaking cobblestones which are exported to countries such as Belgium, London and Netherlands.
Many of them are child labourers who drop out of school at a very young age and engage in making cobblestones near stone quarries.
“We had surveyed a total of 1,438 children in the age group of 6-12 years living in the villages Budhpura and Bheelo ka Jhopra and found that 263 children are addicted to chewing gutka,” said Bajrang Singh of the Manjari Sansthan, an NGO which works with the objective to end child labour in Bundi.
The survey revealed that the number of addicted children increases drastically as they enter their teenage.
“Out of the 945 children in the age group of 13-18 years, we found that 546 were addicted to tobacco products. We also came across one or two cases where children have become alcohol addicts,” said Singh.
Budhpura, Dabi, Dhaneshwar and Parana villages are stone quarrying hubs where the labourers have migrated from different parts of the country looking for work in the mines. Children are engaged in the activity at a very young age.
“To counter the fatigue, they consume gutka and even alcohol. Gradually this consumption becomes permanent and as they grow up, become alcoholics,” says 19-year-old Deepak Yadav, a volunteer with the Shiv Sikhsha Samiti Ranoli, another NGO.
Yadav, whose family has been working as labourers in Bundi stone quarries for the last two generations, tries to spread awareness about the harms of addiction among the local kids.
“We try to teach the children about the adverse effects of chewing gutka and alcohol addiction through various interactive activities and games. It is something that takes time and is a long process,” said Ramswaroop Gurjar of the Shiv Shiksha Samiti Ranoli.
According to representatives of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in Bundi, government is not doing enough to address the issue of addiction among children.
“Till now, we haven’t been able to do large scale work on this because of a number of hindrances such as lack of infrastructure and funds. At times, we have partnered with private organisations working in these areas to eliminate child labour. We will raise this issue of addiction to the government in the future,” Rekha Sharma, chairperson, Child Welfare Committee (CWC), told HT.
Doctors believe that chewing tobacco products such as gutka from a young age can increase the chances of cancer early in life.
“We have come across cases where 14-year-olds have been diagnosed with mouth cancer owing to chewing gutka. Moreover, this addiction also gradually shrinks their mouth, a phenomenon termed as oral submucous fibrosis,” said Dr Pawan Singhal, associate professor, department of ENT, head and neck injuries, SMS Hospital, Jaipur.
“The fact that a child is psychologically under the belief that he can’t pass his motions without consuming gutka is a sign of high-level addiction,” he observed.