Thousands of children working in Indonesian tobacco farms are slowly being poisoned, a Human Rights Watch report states.
The report, titled “The Harvest Is In My Blood,” is an attempt to raise awareness of the risky child labor practiced in Indonesia and calls on global tobacco companies to outlaw supplier who use underage children.
“Tobacco companies are making money off the backs and the health of Indonesian child workers,” said Margaret Wurth, a children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.
Children, some as young as 8, often work without protective clothing, which leaves them exposed to nicotine and pesticide poisoning and puts them at risk of bronchopulmonary disease, nicotine poisoning, mental retardation and even cancer. There have been numerous records of kids suffering from nausea, dizziness, vomiting and severe headaches, all of which points to nicotine toxin seepage into the skin.
Additionally, they have to endure dangerous physical labor in extreme heat using sharp tools.
Samsul Hadi began working the tobacco farms in his village when he was 9. Now 18 years old, the boy describes his experience of pain that began with an aching back and blackened hands to vomiting blood.
13-year-old Ayu helps her father mix pesticides for the tobacco and also aids him in harvesting the crops.
“I just put three or four cups of the chemical in the bucket, put in the water, and mix it with [a piece of] wood, and my dad puts it in the tank. The smell is so strong. It makes my stomach sick,” the junior high school student also added she’s “always throwing up every time I'm harvesting.”
A reported 14.2 percent of Indonesia’s rural population lives below the national poverty line and it has forced parents to employ their children in dangerous occupations.
“My kids are helping me in the field so I can save money on labor,” said Ijo, a farmer who is conflicted about his 12-year-old son helping him on the farm. “Of course I don’t want my kids working in tobacco because there’s a lot of chemicals on it, and it could harm my kids. But they wanted to work, and we are farmers.… I need more money to pay the laborers."
Indonesia is the fifth largest tobacco producer and has over 500,000 tobacco fields. More than 1.5 million Indonesian children aged between 10 to 17 are exploited as child labors in the country’s agricultural sector. There are no figures present as of yet exactly how many of those work in the tobacco industry.
While the government claims the country has a “strong legal and policy framework on child labor,” it does not include handling tobacco in its list of hazardous occupation that are forbidden for children.
Indonesia itself has a huge number of underage smokers. Almost 4 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 become smokers each year, according to Indonesia’s Health Ministry.