Sumangali Thittam (marriage scheme) is one of the worst practices in the textile industry. In Tamil Nadu, South India, up to 300,000 girls and young women are lured into three year apprenticeships in spinning mills, in return for a lump sum which can be used for their dowry.

In reality only about a third of these apprentices finish the three years and receive the payment. Most leave prematurely because of ill health, accidents or abuse – spinning mills are dangerous and difficult places to work.

In 2013, TRAID funded READ to establish 5 model spinning mills, encourage a further 30 mills to register their worker hostels with the government (meaning they have to follow certain norms and be monitored), started a mini business for ex-mill workers and provided education scholarships for 22 girls. This follow on project will have a special focus on girls under 14 years, migrant workers, who are potentially even more vulnerable, and will make more use of the media to raise awareness. It will also continue to put pressure on the government to ensure existing labour law is implemented.

Find about more about the work TRAID has funded to stop Sumangali Thittam below:-

In Tamil Nadu, South India, girls and young women are working in appalling conditions in spinning mills making clothes for big brands and retailers under a scheme called Sumangli Thittam (marriage plans). Recruiters target poverty stricken families promising their daughters will be given decent wages, good accommodation and a lump sum payment at the end of a three to five year contract. This sum can be used for a marriage dowry which these families could not otherwise afford.

The reality is that the girls live in mills in squalid, cramped hostels paying for housing and food costs from their already tiny wages. They work long hours with forced overtime, are closely supervised and are allowed little contact with the outside world, including their families. Their isolation leaves these girls vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Few girls ever receive the bonus payment as they are fired just before the end of their contract or leave due to ill-health, injury or depression.

In 2013, TRAID funded in-country partner READ and UK partner Dalit Solidarity Network, to remove underage girls from mills, and to improve the pay and conditions of older girls and young women. Up to 5,000 girls and young women benefited from the project, including preventing 1,000 at risk children from entering the mills.

The project worked to make poor families aware of the reality of the scheme, pressured the state government to implement and enforce labour legislation and lobbied the national government to adhere to UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights. Vitally, the project built relationships with spinning mills, worked with management and owners to improve their practices to establish five ‘model mills’ which are free from child labour with good pay and conditions. Very young and vulnerable girls were given training for alternative employment or reintegrated into the school system.

The project also worked to engage international brands supplied by mills in the project area to use their influence to improve working conditions and stop this scheme.

2015 Project Funding: TRAID committed a further £15,789 grant to hold two consultations with around 50 spinning mills. The sessions included sensitising local mill owners to the legal requirements under state law to provide their workers with decent working and living conditions. These funds allowed READ’s director to work full-time to coordinate the consultation, and every mill owner was visited in person to ensure attendance and to lobby them that mills will benefit from increased productivity with a happy and health workforce. A small portion of the grant was also be used to replace computers damaged in recent severe storms, which are used to skills train girls and women formerly employed in spinning mills for future employment.

Update August 2015: READ held a special meeting with managers of spinning mills to talk about sexual harassment and abuse of girls working at their mills. As a result two have already set up ‘Internal Complaints Committees’ and another 34 plan to do so. This is a big step for mill managers who until recently refused to even acknowledge that there were any such issues in their mills.