November 13, 2009: Over 17 Lakh Children Engaged in Bidi Rolling in India

Joint Press Release


On the occasion of November 14, Children’s Day, several child rights and public health organizations joined hands to demand urgent action from the Government to eradicate child labour and save children from the exploitative practices of  the bidi industry and similar hazardous occupations.

The Constitution of India prohibits children below the age of 14 from working and the law bans child labour, however allowing children to work in home-based industries. (Proviso to Section 3 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. This loophole has been used by the bidi industry to circumvent the law.

The bidi industry claims that they are a cottage industry providing livelihood as well as  contributing to the country’s economy and export revenues. But underneath all this, lies an organized system of deceit. The industry continues to engage children in home-based settings across India. It is estimated that over 17 lakh children in India are working as child labour in the manufacturing of bidis. ( ILO, 1996).

Betrayed Childhood:

  • The bidi industry prefers to engage children as their nimble fingers are more adept at rolling bidis. Moreover, children can be easily controlled, exploited since they are neither aware of their rights nor able to assert or safeguard themselves. 
  • Children are made to work upto 14 hours a day with no breaks or holidays. Most of the children, particularly girls are made to discontinue school after primary level. Those who do roll bidis before going to school and continue when they return.
  • After initiation into bidi rolling, they have no access to educational or other career opportunities and certainly no way of experiencing normal childhood.
  • These children are constantly exposed to hazardous chemicals and tobacco dust because of which they suffer from TB, postural and eye problems, anaemia, lung diseases, skin and other diseases.
  • After continuous bidi rolling and exposure to tobacco, the skin on the fingertips begins to thin, and they are unable to roll bidis by the age of 45.  They have to resort to begging as they know no other trade or occupation.
  • Bidi rollers earn on an average as little as Rs 30 per 1000 bidis and children are not even paid this meagre amount as they are supposed to be helping their parents. 

“Sixty years after independence, do we want to encourage the bidi industry that promotes child labour, deprives children of the joys of childhood as well as educational opportunities and openly manufactures a product that kills 6 lakh people annually?”, says Alok Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.  

Madhabi Khatoon is 7 years old from Umrapur village in Murshidabad district in West Bengal. She has been rolling  bidis since the age of 5 and today her nimble fingers can roll 400 bidis a day. She does not go to school, or play with her friends as her mother thinks earning is more important than education. She is among the many children whose childhood has been snatched away by the bidi industry. Unless the Government acts now, there is little hope for children like her.

There are 17 million child labourers in the country who go to work sometimes in hazardous industries such as bidi making while others of their age go to school. The most common reasons for children in labour are poverty and the lack of livelihoods for adults and free education. There is an urgent need to rehabilitate working children by including them in formal schooling and at the same time ensuring their family’s livelihood and health needs are met,”  - Pankaj Mehta, Manager - Development Support,   CRY – Child Rights and You

What the government needs to do:

  • Regulation of the bidi industry to enable workers to demand their legitimate rights such as establishing a foolproof registration system, ID cards and all other statutory requirements to be provided to all workers and contractors so that benefits can reach them.
  • Immediate enforcement of the provisions of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 and all other related Acts to prevent employment of children in bidi rolling or other hazardous occupations.
  • Strict implementation of the Right to Education Act whereby all children under age of 14 should have access to free and compulsory education.
  • Compulsory implementation of the ICDS scheme and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan programmes in bidi rolling areas and similar areas where child labour is prevalent. There should be additional incentives for families where children are able to complete school education.
  • Need to link bidi workers with vocational training facilities in accordance with local realities to improve and upgrade their skills. 
  • Bidi cess collected by the government should be used for welfare measures and other benefits for bidi workers and children trapped in this vocation. The current registration system shows that a majority of workers do not have ID cards and hence are not entitled to welfare measures.
  • Developing safer, alternative livelihoods for bidi workers is an essential strategy that the Government of India must initiate on a priority basis on a large scale. Any such measures must take into account the lifestyles of bidi rollers, level of skills, needs and constraints.
  • Implementation of NREGA and other poverty alleviation programmes as  an immediate alternative solution for bidi workers. The benefits of these schemes are not reaching them currently.


For further information, please contact:

Akhauri Pradyuman Sinha -  9891050619
Binoy Mathew                    -  9911366272

VHAI landline - 011-47004300

This press release has been jointly issued by VHAI and partner organizations – Prayas, CRY – Child Rights and You, Butterflies, Campaign Against Child Labour,  Pratham, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Save the Children India, Bihar Voluntary Health Association,  All India Women’s Conference, UNICEF and Hriday-Shan.

  Bidis: An Overview

Welfare and Working conditions of the Indian Bidi Industry

Bidi Workers and Livelihoods The Human Toll: Women and Children
  Media Coverage
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