Use of children at tobacco farms | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 08, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 AM, February 08, 2019

Use of children at tobacco farms

Health at risk, schooling affected as the menace goes on increasing in Rangpur division

When other children of his age are at school, it was third grader Golam Rabbani's turn to tend plants at a field. His parents are growing tobacco in the field in Baje Majurai village of Mahendranagar union under Lalmonirhat Sadar upazila.

Rabbani skips school like this every now and then to help out his parents in the tobacco field. He does not even know the harm the crop causes to human body.

He did not seem to understand the risks of handling chemicals either. When asked what he does at the field, Rabbani said, "I spray the plants with a water solution mixed with fertiliser," adding that he likes to work in the field with his parents.   

  He said he was not sure how consumption of tobacco harms people and that his parents always encourage him to work at their tobacco filed.

Rabbani's father Abdul Baten said he has been growing tobacco as it is more profitable than other crops. Considering the high margin of profit, as opposed to three bighas of land last year, he has expanded the farming on a total of seven bighas this year.

Moreover, after harvest, tobacco firms buy off the tobacco at a rate they assure beforehand, he said.

Aside from Lalmonirhat, schoolchildren in surrounding districts --  Rangpur, Nilphamari and Gaibandha -- are also being engaged in tobacco fields by their parents.

In Maminpur union of Rangpur Sadar upazila, fifth grader Mamun Islam and his brother, ninth grader Habibur Rahman, works in their parents' tobacco field on two acres of land in the village of Janpur.    

Asked why they work in the field, Habibur, the older of the two, said, "It's because of the interests of our parents." 

According to data from Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Rangpur division, tobacco farming is on the rise in the area as it is being grown on 13,787 hectares of land in the division this year, as opposed to 13,058 hectares last year.  

Tobacco farmer Azad Ali, from Janpur village in Rangpur Sadar upazila, said, “Tobacco farming is a family work and it is nothing new. So, all members of the family, including our children, help us there."

He said the financial and technical support are the main reasons for locals to choose tobacco farming over other crops. And as long as he gets the support, he intends to continue farming tobacco.

“We get interest-free loans, seeds and chemical fertilisers -- all free of cost from the tobacco companies. Besides, agriculture officials from the companies always provide technical support so we get better harvest,” Azad explained.

Agriculture Officer Ali Noor, stationed at DAE office in Aditmari upazila of Lalmonirhat, said farmers in the region find no interest in other crops due to all sorts of support provided by the tobacco firms.  

"Their [tobacco firms] offers are so attractive that the farmers don't want to grow anything else now," he also said.

Speaking with the Daily Star, DAE's Additional Director in Rangpur division Shah Alam said the activities of tobacco firms are behind the rise in tobacco farming in Rangpur region.  

Although tobacco farming has negative impact on soil fertility, the DAE cannot do anything about it since there is no directive from the government against tobacco farming and engaging children in tobacco farms. 

“We can only try to discourage the farmers, but they are too hung up on growing tobaccos for the lucrative offers from the [tobacco] companies,” he added.

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