The Constitution of India, as a part of the fundamental rights, has laid down that the State shall direct its policy towards protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and shall not be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment.
India has the largest number of urban and rural child workers in the world. The Government of India acknowledges at least 17.5 million working children. The Operations Research Group-Baroda, a social research organization in India, conducted a national survey published in 1983 of 40,000 households and concluded that approximately 44 million children work in India while The Center for Concern for Working Children, a non-governmental organization in Bangalore, approximated the number of children who are not attending school, and put the figure of working children at 100 million. However, the exact number of child workers in India's export industry is not known. Major export industries which utilize child labor include hand-knotted carpets, gemstone polishing, brass and base metal articles, glass and glassware, textiles and silk, and fireworks. Footwear industry is also one of the major export oriented industry employing a large number of children.
FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY IN INDIA
The Footwear Industry is a significant segment of the Leather Industry in India. India ranks second among the footwear producing countries next to China. The industry is labour intensive and is concentrated in the small and cottage industry sectors. While leather shoes and uppers are concentrated in large-scale units, the sandals and chappals are produced in the household and cottage sector. India produces more of gents' footwear while the world's major production is in ladies footwear. In the case of chappals and sandals, use of non-leather material is prevalent in the domestic market.
The major production centers India are Chennai, Ranipet, Ambur in Tamil Nadu, Mumbai in Maharashtra, Kanpur and Agra in Uttar Pradesh, Jalandhar in Punjab and Delhi. Table 1 shows the concentration of footwear units in different parts of country.
PROCESSES IN FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY
The processes in the footwear making include chappalsLast making, pattern cutting, clicking, Sewing, Assembling and Finishing. In the process of Last making, the lasts are made either of wood or plastics according to the shape and comfort of the footwear required. Once the desired Last is ready, the desired pattern is selected and then the leather is cut with special scissors and this cutting process is also known as "clicking". Similarly, the sole for footwear is also cut. Then the upper part of the footwear is assembled to the sole by using adhesives or glues. Finally, the finishing touch is given by polishing and the footwear is ready for marketing. Each of these processes is associated with certain type of hazard ( Figure 1), and workers especially child-workers are more prone for hazards.
CHILDREN IN FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY
Children are employed in the manufacture of shoes, particularly in the Agra. It is estimated that as many as 25,000 children may be involved in shoe making, both for the domestic and international markets.
Children between 10 and 15 years old are mainly employed in assembling shoes. Some 80 percent of the children work for contractors at home. Children work on soling (fixing upper portions of shoes to leather or rubber soles with glue). Children in cramped poorly lit rooms suffer from continuous skin contact with industrial adhesives and breathe vapours from glues.
These child workers are exposed to physical factors like poor illumination, noise and poor ventilation, and chemicals like leather dust, benzene (used as a solvent in glues) and chappalsLastp- tert butyl phenols (used in neoprene adhesives). Thus, most children suffer from respiratory problems, lung diseases and skin infections through constant exposure to glue and fumes.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH HAZARDS IN FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY
Worldwide epidemiological studies provide evidence that the employment in the shoe production and repair plants is associated with an enhanced risk for cancer (primarily nose and nasal sinuses).[7,8] According to the majority of studies, it is induced by exposure to leather dust, which contains numerous chemicals acquired during the process of leather tanning and finishing (chromium salts, vegetable dye extracts, mineral oils). Some of these compounds exert carcinogenic effect. In a study, the exposure-related excess mortality in footwear industry was found to be due to malignant neoplasms of larynx and lung in men, and malignant neoplasms of gallbladder and lung in women. For these neoplasms, the values of observed risk among those exposed were significantly higher than among the non-exposed. In a study among Chinese footwear workers it was reported that these workers were exposed to high levels of benzene, toluene, and other toxic solvents contained in the adhesives used in the shoe-making process and many workers have been afflicted with aplastic anemia, leukemia, and other health problems.
The organic solvents present in the adhesives and glues are mostly neurotoxic, causing shoemaker's paralysis that manifests as a more or less severe form of paralysis. The shoemaker's paralysis is of the flaccid type; it is localized in the limbs (pelvic or thoracic) and gives rise to osteo-tendinuous atrophy with areflexia and no alteration in superficial or deep sensitivity. Clinically, it is a syndrome resulting from functional inhibition or injury of the lower motor neurons of the voluntary motor system. The common outcome is the neurological regression with extensive proximo-distal functional recurpations. An Italian study reported that Italian shoe workers exposed to n-hexane, with methyl ethyl ketone and cyclo-hexane, had decreased motor nerve conduction velocities in upper and lower limbs and an increased prevalence of symptoms of early narcosis, as compared to controls.
The children employed in the footwear industry usually carry out the sewing process manually. During this they are susceptible to injuries from sharp special needles. Though these injuries may be trivial, there is always a risk of wound contamination because of poor knowledge of wound care and neglect of trivial injuries. Similar studies in other sectors employing child labour have also revealed poor wound care among children.
Exposure to adverse physical factors
About 80% of the child labourers work on contract basis and carry raw material to their homes, where they work. Working in houses with poor illumination and ventilation results in symptoms like eye-strain, headache and communicable diseases.
Footwear workers may develop dermatitis due to exposure to chemicals present in the additives used in processing of leather and rubber footwear. Occupational vitiligo can result from contact with the glue, which contains chappalsLastp- tert butyl phenols.
One study has reported higher prevalence (16.6%) of carpal tunnel syndrome among footwear workers, as compared to the general population. It was observed that the rapid trigger movements of the fingers were predictive of Carpel Tunnel syndrome. Psychological distress due to high level of physical exposure and psychological demand was also observed.
Footwear workers are exposed to a plethora of occupational hazards and child workers among them; if exposed to such hazards, will develop cancers and neurologically disabling conditions, affecting quality of life. Thus it is recommended that child labour be stopped and allow the child be a bread eater rather than a bread earner.
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