Kendrapara: With demand for firecrackers swelling during Diwali, children are forced to help manufacture hazardous firecrackers in several villages in Odisha's Kendrapara district.
The scene in villages, including Putinga, Keruan, Garapur and Sujanagar, is largely the same. These are hubs of locally made palm-leaf firecrackers. Children sit together making them, mostly at the behest of their parents.
"Those who engage children are mostly unaware of the legal embargo on engaging children in cracker making. Employing children in fire-cracker making is a penal offence under the Child Labour Act," child-rights activist Binayak Swain said.
Fireworks manufacturer Subal Jena (38) said, "It's our age-old profession. Now it is reduced to a part time source of income. Demand for high-decibel crackers has gone down considerably after sound-control restrictions."
"It's only during peak marriage season and Diwali that we get to work in the real sense. As demand is heavy during this period, our children help us in cracker-making," he said.
"I am landless. For three to four months, we earn from cracker-making. For the rest of the year, we work as farm labourers. We make more money from fireworks-making than from toiling in the field. That's why we press our children into service" said the fireworks manufacturer.
Fireworks maker Ghanashyam Jena said. "There is nothing wrong in it. After all, it's our bread and butter. Why should we be penalised for it ? They are our own children. We have every right to engage them in our family trade".
Kids mostly dabble in processing, dying and cutting palm leaves into pieces. Experienced children, however, also shape the crackers with powder.
Garapur village palm-leaf cracker maker Anama Rout said the work is risky. "Children are well-trained and guided to stay alert during work. Of course, we take a risk in engaging children. Slight carelessness would spell danger".
Officials said they were unaware that children were engaged in cracker-making. "There is no official information of children being engaged in it," said district sub-collector P K Mishra.