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Protecting India's tobacco girls

  • Over 1.7 million children work in India's cigarette-rolling industry - most of them are girls.

    Over 1.7 million children work in India's cigarette-rolling industry - most of them are girls.

  • They have to roll at least 1,000 cigarettes for up to 14 hours per day. The workers use sharp knives and have no hand protection.

    They have to roll at least 1,000 cigarettes for up to 14 hours per day. The workers use sharp knives and have no hand protection.

  • Girls as young as 5 get pulled into the industry to support their families. Most drop out of school by the time they are 12.

    Girls as young as 5 get pulled into the industry to support their families. Most drop out of school by the time they are 12.

  • Children absorb large amounts of nicotine through their skin - by the time they reach 40 many lose sensation in their hands and can't roll cigarettes anymore.

    Children absorb large amounts of nicotine through their skin - by the time they reach 40 many lose sensation in their hands and can't roll cigarettes anymore.

  • A teenage mother cares for her young children while she works rolling cigarettes.

    A teenage mother cares for her young children while she works rolling cigarettes.

12 June 2012: Hundreds of girls forced to work up to 14 hours a day in India's cigarette-rolling industry are looking to the future thanks to a new Plan programme to help them realise their rights.

In the town of Kadiri in Andhra Pradesh alone, hundreds of families have relied on cigarette – or beedi – rolling for generations. Almost all of the workers are women and many are young girls.

They must roll at least 1,000 beedis per day to earn a paltry sum of less than 2 US$. The beedi manufacturers, however, make billions of dollars.

Skipping meals to keep up

For most, if they do not roll enough beedis every day there simply won’t be enough food on their plate.

“The pressure to keep up with the speed and meet the target is so intense that many skip their meals and even avoid drinking water so they do not need to go to the toilet,” says Shanu, a community volunteer.

Over 1.7 million children work in India's beedi rolling industry - manufacturers believe their nimble fingers are more adept at making cigarettes.

Although under Indian law beedi rolling is defined as hazardous work, there is a loophole:  children who assist their parents in the work aren’t protected. The pressure to deliver huge volumes of beedis each day has led to many girls getting pulled into beedi rolling to support their families.

Protecting girls

As part of Plan’s global Because I am Girl campaign to improve girls’ lives, a new project has been launched to focus on girl child labour in Andhra Pradesh, including girls involved in beedi making.

The project will directly impact the lives of 1,500 girls over the next 3 years.

“Plan will invest on awareness-raising on the rights of the child and on the harms of putting children into labour. We are aiming to create a model by working with communities and the local government structures to ensuring that children are prevented from falling into this cycle,” says Anita Kumar, Plan India’s senior programme manager.

Lost education

From unhealthy living conditions to exploitative wages, the situation of beedi workers involves violation of their rights and freedoms on many levels.

The majority of girls are pulled out of education by the time they complete primary school to support their families’ income.

The health impact on beedi workers is visible on all age groups. Tuberculosis, asthma, body pain and postural problems related with hips and joints are most common.

Continuous beedi rolling leads to absorption of high doses of nicotine directly through skin and thins children's fingertips progressively so that by the time they reach their 40s they cannot roll cigarettes any more.

Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign to improve girls’ lives

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