Source AP ©

Indian rural development minister uses child labor

Young boys plowing fields on a farm owned by India's rural development minister were shown by an Indian TV – the fact that is shaming a government that has tried to combat the country's widespread child labor problem.

Two boys were shown dragging a makeshift plow made from the trunk of a banana tree through rain-sodden fields owned by Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh in Bihar, a poor state in eastern India. Both the boys were barefoot and were wearing dirty, tattered clothing.

"It rained so much this year that the fields are still muddy and oxen and tractors cannot move on them," the minister's brother and farm manager, Raghuraj Prasad Singh, explains in the video broadcast on a number of television stations Monday and Tuesday.

Using children under 14 for farm work is illegal in India, and authorities in Bihar said they were investigating the matter. The boys in the video appeared to be around that age, but their exact ages were not stated.

Singh was quick to deny his farm used child workers. "The whole episode was stage-managed" by television journalists, he told The Associated Press. He did not elaborate.

Despite India's growing wealth, poverty remains widespread, as do the problems associated with it, such as child labor. Officials estimate that 13 million children work in India, many in labor-intensive jobs such as carpet-weaving or more dangerous industries such as glassmaking, where such work has been outlawed since 1986.

Rights activists, however, place the number of child workers as high as 60 million, with one estimate saying that 20 percent of India's economy is dependent on children under 14.

Last year India also banned hiring children under 14 as household servants or workers in restaurants, tea shops, hotels or spas.

But such laws are routinely flouted in small factories and businesses throughout the country, including dangerous firecracker-making plants. The children are usually poorly paid, underfed and often beaten.

In October, children as young as 10 were found sewing clothes for the American retailer Gap Inc. in a New Delhi sweat shop. The children said they had been sold to the sweatshop by their impoverished families and were not paid.

Gap, based in San Francisco, responded quickly, saying the factory was being run by a subcontractor who was hired in violation of company policies and none of the products made there would be sold in its stores.