Where children are forced to make crackers

Kendrapara: As the demand of crackers swells on occasions like Diwali, children are forced to work in fire cracker factories in Kendrapara district throwing the children protection laws to the dustbin. Villages like Putinga, Keruan Garapur and Sujanagar villages are the hub of locally-made palm-leaf fire crackers.

The children are forced into the hazardous work of making crackers by their parents themselves, says Binayak Swain, a child rights activist. "Those who engage their children in cracker making are unaware of the legal embargo on engaging children in making of crackers. Employing children in fire cracker industry is a penal offence under Child Labour Restraint Act," he said.

Ghanashyam Jena, a cracker manufacturer at Keruan village, however, sees `nothing wrong` in employing children in the hazardous job. "After all, cracker making has been our traditional source of earning for generations. Why should we be penalised for employing our own children? They are our children. We have every right to engage them in family trade."

Jena is a landless labourer and makes a living from making crackers for three to months a year. "For the rest of the year many of us work as farm labourers and earn more making crackers."

Cracker manufacturer Subal Jena says the age-old profession has now been reduced to a part-time job. "It`s only during the peak marriage season and Diwali that we have to work real hard and our children have to help us," he said. Demand of high decibel crackers, of course, has gone down considerably with sound control restrictions this year.

Children mostly work in processing, dying and cutting into pieces the palm leaves for the crackers. Some of them, however, do the work of filling crackers with the explosive. "Of course, we take calculated risk in engaging children in such jobs. Slight carelessness would spell danger," said Anama Rout, who manufacturers palm-leaf crackers at Garapur village. Cracker making involves a lot of risk and needs utmost care. Children are well-trained and guided to be vigilant while preparations for making the crackers are on, Rout claims.

According to Swain there are more than a dozen cracker manufacturing units in the area. They have temporary licences issued by police and engage over 200 children. Officials, however, deny engagement of children in fire cracker trade. "There is no official information of children being engaged in firework trade." When contacted the police said the labour welfare wing would be asked to see the if the norms on employing children in the hazardous job were being flouted.