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Different ball, but the game's the same for India's children

A year on, Samvari is taller, healthier and the scars on her hands have healed. Twelve months ago, when Fairfax first met Samvari, she was 10 years old, stitching a football that was to be given away free to audience members at The Footy Show.

A year on, Samvari is taller, healthier and the scars on her hands have healed. Twelve months ago, when Fairfax first met Samvari, she was 10 years old, stitching a football that was to be given away free to audience members at The Footy Show.

For every ball she painstakingly sewed over the course of nearly an hour, she was paid four rupees - less than 8¢. Twelve months on, the family has moved house a few hundred metres down the crowded alley. She doesn't stitch any more, her father explains, because her mother, Madhubala, has found other work on a potato farm. But the work is temporary, he says, "maybe for two months ... when the potato work finishes, Samvari and her mother will resume stitching".

This week, Rebel Sport and Harvey Norman pulled all Summit products from their shelves as the Australian sporting goods brand accused of secretly using children in India to stitch rugby league balls said it would launch a full investigation into child labour allegations.

An investigation by Fairfax Media found children were being paid little more than $1 a day by a Summit supplier to make balls for Australian children of the same age.

The balls being stitched in India were identical in material, stitching, design and colour to those the company bought in Australia.

The report came a year after Fairfax exposed Sherrin AFL and Canterbury rugby union balls being made with illegal, under-age, pitifully paid labour.

Summit rugby league balls have now taken their place in the slums of Jalandhar in northern India.

Samvari still doesn't go to school and appears resigned to the fact that her family's straitened circumstances will compel her to work again soon. "What option do I have?" her father says, when questioned if his daughter should stitch sports balls again. If her parents can't earn enough, Samvari must. "There is less money in stitching compared to daily wage work."

Samvari's family demonstrates the difficulties of assisting families trapped in the arcane world of informal and child labour. These industries, illegal where it involves the employment of children, are deliberately kept hidden. But families are anxious to protect what work they have, despite knowing it is against the law and harms their children.

Sports balls are a massive industry in Jalandhar. Millions of balls are made here every year for scores of Indian and international brands. In some of the city's alleys, child labour is in almost every home. An industry source said: "More than 1000 children stitch balls in Jalandhar city, but the number is much more in the villages and slums on the outskirts of the city."

International brands sign supply agreements with ball manufacturers in Jalandhar to make balls cheaply in their factories. The per-ball prices global brands demand are some of the lowest in the world, and fierce competition means contracts are sometimes won and lost on as little as half a cent per ball, so local manufacturers save money by farming menial stitching labour out to slums.

Powerless to bargain for better pay, and unable to survive on the pitiable wages paid to adult workers, parents are forced into compelling their children to work. But a year since Fairfax uncovered child labour making balls for export to Australia, some of the families involved feel their lives have been improved by the exposure.

Gurbhej Singh works full-time as a driver for Spartan, the company that makes Sherrin footballs in India, the balls his daughter Ruby previously stitched.

Ruby, now 19, had been a stitcher since she was 14, but hasn't stitched a ball since her father was given the job that paid more than the four women in her family combined could earn stitching. "They are supportive of us, they gave me full-time employment," Singh says.

After leaving stitching, Ruby briefly attended a computer course with the aim of becoming an accountant, but the company's promised money to fund her education dried up after a month.

Her father tried to cover the costs but could only afford another two months. Ruby says the years of education she lost are hard to catch up. "I missed out on a lot."

The Sherrin balls Ruby stitched are no longer on the streets of Jalandhar, but they have been replaced by other Australian brands. In the lead-up to Sunday's NRL grand final, Fairfax found hundreds of Summit rugby league balls being stitched in homes, many by children.

Summit, after initially denying the balls were its, and then accusing Fairfax of fabricating the story, has admitted its "compliance program has failed", and that it was using child labour. It has recalled its balls, offered refunds, and will donate 25 per cent of future profits to Oxfam.

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