Tribal Money

Tribal children exploited in plantations near Nilambur

School dropouts rise as child labor becomes endemic in tribal areas on the hills bordering Kozhikode and Malappuram districts

School dropouts rise as child labor becomes endemic in tribal areas on the hills bordering Kozhikode and Malappuram districts

Tribal children of school age are increasingly exploited by employing them as labor in some plantations in the hilly areas of Nilambur. Small children are obliged to work with their parents and receive half the salary. Some of them are less than 10 years old. Many of them have not even taken their annual school exams held in March.

Abuse of tribal children in the name of employment has been seen in Kakkadampoyil, Akampuzha, Vendakkampoyil, Akampadam, Idivenna and Valanthodu areas under Chaliyar, Koodarinji and Urangattiri grama panchayats bordering Malappuram and Kozhikode districts. The Hindu spoke to several children and their parents and found that they were being exploited.

Some of the children appeared malnourished and admitted that they used to get country booze from a local smuggler. They start drinking at the age of six or seven and become addicts before they turn 18. “Alcohol is the major factor that makes part of the tribesmen including their children fall prey to exploitation,” said Aju Koloth, chairman of Mithra Jyothi. Tribal Development Foundation, an NGO working within the tribal community.

Tribal children are mainly used to clear bushes in plantations, pick areca nuts and work in banana plantations and resorts. In recent years, many resorts have sprung up on the hills of Kakkadampoyil, attracting tourists from different parts of the state.

A group of tribal children returning from work on a plantation near Kakkadampoyil.

A group of tribal children returning from work on a plantation near Kakkadampoyil. | Photo credit: SAKEER HUSSAIN

“I get ₹400 and my younger brother ₹300 a day,” said a 13-year-old boy this reporter found working on a barren hill named Punnoos Kunnu. Locals said the rocky terrain belonged to a senior retired police officer and the work was overseen by another retired policeman.

Where tribal men are paid ₹600-700 per day, women only receive ₹500 and children ₹300-400. Much of the money they earn from hard work goes to the local smuggler who secretly distills in a cave on a steep hill inside the forest. When this reporter reached the cave after an arduous ascent, no trace of alcohol could be found. An elderly couple sitting on the giant boulder gave a wry smile.

A tribal family from Pothukallu was found camping on land below the Punnoos Kunnu without any shelter. There are half a dozen children in the group, who are brought mainly for work on the plantation. They slept near the fire they made at night. “This place is relatively safe. No elephants here. A leopard had killed a cow some time ago,” says Anita.

A tribal child at work in the hot sun on a plantation near Kakkadampoyil.  He skipped school in February.

A tribal child at work in the hot sun on a plantation near Kakkadampoyil. He skipped school in February. | Photo credit: SAKEER HUSSAIN

Mr Koloth said the authorities had failed to act despite repeated complaints he had made about child labour. “We complained to the District Child Protection Unit and also to the Director of the Scheduled Tribes Development Department, TV Anupama. But none of them responded proactively,” Mr Koloth said.

Mrs. Anupama said The Hindu that efforts are underway to ensure 100% enrollment. “We are responding to the complaint about the increase in school dropouts by trying to plug it. Getting tribal children back to school is the best way to solve the child labor problem,” she said.