Football Stitching Kills Tender Dreams
New Delhi, 27 June, 2006. While the World Soccer Cup 2006 has stormed the heart and mind of people all over the world, the dream of thousands of children in several villages of Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh is seized in football stitching, which they follow at the cost of their right to study and play, and to fetch some earnings for the family.
However, the earnings of these children are pathetically meager and they barely get Rs. 3-5 for producing a football. Working long hours stitching just two balls in a day, they burn themselves out and their health is severely impaired, resulting in fragile eyesight and bruised fingers. These deprived children of lesser God do produce football, yet never dare playing with balls. Access to schooling and acquiring education is a distant dream for them.
On 26th June 2006, few children from these villages revealed their stories of agony, trial and exploitation in a Press Conference at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi (India). Normally the entire family including the minor children is engrossed in football stitching. About 6-7 members of the family work hard for long hours in a day to produce about 10 balls and barely manage to earn Rs. 30-40 in a day.
Uma, a nine year young girl, who helps her mother, sisters and brothers in stitching soccer balls, informed that she was enrolled in class III in the primary school in village Kherki in Meerut district. However, she does not go to school. The teachers do not teach and remain involved in activities other than teaching. Out of desperation, she prefers helping her family in stitching balls and makes some earnings.
One can see the bruises, wounds and pus that have formed through piercing of needle on the tender fingers of 11 years old Musharad, She has never gone to school. Her mother informed that her children did not get admission in Government school and she could not afford to send her children to private school. Now the entire family is engaged in football stitching to feed itself and survive. The contractors exploit families involved in soccer ball stitching and never pay in full. Normally payments are delayed also.
Sabana, aged 12 years, has been stitching balls since young age. Her mother informed that they never get their due wages. They barely get Rs. 3-5 for a soccer ball, which is available in the market for not less than Rs. 80-100. Their health is severely impaired, resulting in poor eyesight and bruised fingers. Often needle pierces the fingers, resulting in pus formation and septic. Forward bending results in severe backache. She demanded that at least Rs. 20 should be paid for stitching a ball.
Kailash Satyarthi, the Chairperson of Global March against Child Labour and Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which have been involved in struggle at national and international levels for elimination of child labour from soccer industry, addressed the Conference. Mr. Satyarthi informed that Global March mounted a massive campaign during FIFA World Cup 2002, appealing to the FIFA, sporting goods manufactures and the world at large to focus on the plight of children working in sporting goods industry, especially in football manufacturing units. Our efforts resulted in announcement by FIFA to introduce code of conduct in collaboration with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) and specifically the monitoring of the elimination of child labor in India and Pakistan’s soccer ball industry. However FIFA has failed to implement the code of conduct. Today the Pakistan (Sialkot) and India (Jalandhar and Meerut) are the largest producers and exporters of soccer balls. Around 10,000 children are involved in football stitching and manufacturing of other sports goods in Jalundhar and Meerut. After removal from Sialkot, several thousand children have engaged in sports goods manufacturing in nearby villages.
Mr. Satyarthi said that Global March, ILO and ICFTU are mounting pressure at various levels for elimination of child labour. As a result, international sports goods manufacturing companies have taken some positive steps. Some result can be seen in Sialkot and Jalundhar. Yet, a lot has to be done. Mr. Satyarthi appealed to football players, spectators, sports lovers, students and clubs to promote only those footballs, which are free from child labour.
Mr. Satyarthi informed that Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) is trying to develop about 10 villages as child friendly villages in Janikhurd block of Meerut. Our efforts are geared towards ensuring that all children go to school instead of stitching balls, receive good quality education in schools, and have their own democratically elected Bal Panchayat, who would work with the Village Panchayat. BBA has successfully developed Pohli village in Daurala block in Meerut as Child Friendly Village. Today all children of this village regularly attend school and have elected their own Bal Panchayat, which contributes significantly to Village Panchayat in development work.
Mr. Kailash Satyarthi said that BBA is mounting pressure to ensure that minimum wages are paid to adult workers and children do not make footballs. BBA is trying to bring quality change in the situation of education in these villages.