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By Mamadi Bharath Bhushan, Community Developmnet Foundation – Bangalore, Timbaktu Collective – Anantpur, Parivartan Samaj Sevi Sanstha – Kanker, Dilasa – Yavatmal

Farm crisis reflected in its extreme form as farmer's suicides is today's biggest crisis of the country and it is increasingly pushing small farmers into debt, destitution and death. Agrarian crisis, mainly located in some pockets across the country, has claimed more than two lakh farmers since 1995. There are many more members from each of these families who are adversely affected by the tragedy. The problem is much larger in magnitude than what official figures indicate as many farmer suicides are not recorded and several others dependent on the farming community as share croppers, wage labour, service castes and artisans are also losing livelihoods and becoming victims of indebtedness and sometimes also losing lives.

Despite growing attention to the issue of farmers' suicides very little is known about the lives of the children from these affected families.

Field study titled "Understanding and Documenting Impact of Agrarian Crisis on Children" comprising 242 case studies, including 194 case studies of households with farmer's suicides, attempts to explain the challenges faced by the children in 'suicide belts' of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Chhattisgarh. The case studies explain how children, with dreams still fresh on their eyelids wake up to the sudden impact of their dreams being snatched away.

The study focused on the status of children affected by farm crisis with regard to

  • school participation,
  • child labour,
  • child marriage among girl children, and
  • role of school in assisting the child to cope with the trauma.

The burden of agrarian crisis is being transferred to the children as farmer's suicide doesn't end there, but is beginning of a larger crisis as the children and spouse are forced to repay the debts. Often the affected family has to clear the debt and pressures that have taken the life of the

farmer, now with less earning hands, and lesser social capital. Children of these families become child-farmers, wage labourers, or become 'bonded' labour.

Grief and pressures due to loss of a parent in 'unnatural' circumstances have severe disturbing impact on the tender minds and members of the family. New pressures of farm crisis are claiming sacrifices and forcing these children to lose childhood and take up tasks beyond their age and capacity resulting in adverse impact on their normal growth and well being. Many girl children are forced into child marriage. Children from these families are carrying inter-generational debt, liabilities trauma and distress. Teenage children are forced to support the family and repay the loans made by one's late father. In some cases they are separated from the mother and siblings as they work in nearby towns or engage in 'bonded' labour within the village. These children are forced into sudden transition of becoming bonsai adults and major bread winners and most often taking up the same farming that has ruined their families.

Research findings suggest that children affected by farm crisis should be treated as special category of vulnerability and policies to assist households with farmer's suicides cannot address the issues affecting these children. Special measures are required to ensure the crisis among small and marginal farmers doesn't jeopardize the SarvaSikshaAbhiyan and child rights.

(For the Executive Summary, contact research@negfire.org)