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Football's secret shame

The Sherrin and Canterbury footballs that Australian children punt, pass and catch in weekend games are stitched by India's poorest children in appalling, dangerous and illegal conditions.

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Football maker Sherrin could be sacked as ball supplier to the AFL after being hit with a breach of agreement by the league over its alleged use of illegal child labour.

But the AFL will continue to use Auskick balls hand-stitched by poor Indian children to teach Australian children football.

After revelations by Fairfax that Indian children were working up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week stitching Sherrin footballs for 12¢ a ball, the AFL has refused to comment on whether it will re-call or stop distributing balls made by the company in India.

Laxmi (mother in green sari holding baby) Sunali in blue and white dress, stitching Sherrins). Sunali, 11 and her sister Rupa, 10, stitch Sherrin Auskick balls while their mother, Laxmi, cares for their infant sister. Sunali doesn't go to school anymore, instead she stitches six days a week. She is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every ball she completes. Photo: Ben Doherty Click for more photos

Aussie icon made in India

Laxmi (mother in green sari holding baby) Sunali in blue and white dress, stitching Sherrins). Sunali, 11 and her sister Rupa, 10, stitch Sherrin Auskick balls while their mother, Laxmi, cares for their infant sister. Sunali doesn't go to school anymore, instead she stitches six days a week. She is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every ball she completes. Photo: Ben Doherty

  • Laxmi (mother in green sari holding baby) Sunali in blue and white dress, stitching Sherrins). Sunali, 11 and her sister Rupa, 10, stitch Sherrin Auskick balls while their mother, Laxmi, cares for their infant sister. Sunali doesn't go to school anymore, instead she stitches six days a week. She is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every ball she completes. Photo: Ben Doherty
  • Seven-year-old friends Shama and Fahana stitch balls in their village of Rasoolpur Chhodi, in India's Punjab. They are sewing soccer balls for the domestic Indian market.
  • Nine-year-old Muska sews soccer balls in her village Rasoolpur Chhodi in India's Punjab. She works every day, but says she doesn't like stitching.
  • Six-year-old Sheetal stitches a soccer-ball in her home in Mata Sant Kaur, in Jalandhar, in India's Punjab. Today, she and her brother Yashvant are sewing soccer balls for the domestic Indian market.
  • 12-year-old Reena has fallen three years behind her classmates because she miss class to stitch balls. She stitches five hours every day, seven days a week. She is sewing a Canterbury rugby ball, for which she is paid 11 Rupees, less than 20 cents.
  • 10-year-old Samvari stitches balls bearing the Channel Nine logo and that of The Footy Show. The balls were commissioned by brewer Lion for a promotion. They were given away, free, to audience members at The Footy Show last week. Samvari was paid 4.5 Rupees, less than eight cents, for every ball she stitched.
  • 18-year-old Ruby has been stitching full-time since she was pulled out of school at 14. She stitches six days a week, for between six an eight hours a day. To stitch a Sherrin Auskick ball takes an hour, and she is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every completed ball. Photo: Ben Doherty
  • Ruby wears leather guards on her fingers to protect her hands for the two sharp, heavy needles stitchers use and from the wax-coated string used. Stitchers often end up with septic wounds in their hands and fingers from their work. Photo: Ben Doherty

The AFL has about 170,000 five to 12-year-olds involved in its nationwide Auskick program.

All Auskick participants, when they sign up, are given a synthetic Auskick football. Most are hand-stitched in India.

League boss Andrew Demetriou declined to be interviewed about the AFL's use of balls made using child labour.

A spokesman said: “We understand Sherrin is investigating these very serious claims and will continue to provide us with information as it comes to hand.

“The AFL has strict contractual regulations with licensees and in order to maintain these regulations we have formally provided Sherrin with a notice of breach of agreement while these investigations are ongoing.”

The AFL's agreement with Sherrin contains a specific provision outlawing the use of child labour. It has issued Sherrin with a "please explain" notice over its use of child labourers, most of them girls, who are pulled out of school to stitch balls.

The AFL is awaiting the results of Sherrin's own investigations, but a termination of Sherrin's contract as official ball supplier to the league is a possible sanction.