Child labour continues unabated despite India’s laws prohibiting it, with people fearlessly employing children in eateries, bangle-making units, homes, and even hazardous occupations like carpet weavi
Child labour continues unabated despite India’s laws prohibiting it, with people fearlessly employing children in eateries, bangle-making units, homes, and even hazardous occupations like carpet weaving, to name a few blatant violations.
Amod Kanth, the founder of child rights NGO Prayas which rescues and rehabilitates child labourers, believes the government has no plan in place to put an end to it. Conversely, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 has been diluted through amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012. “If the government has its way, a major part of child labour perhaps will be regularised,” Mr Kanth said.
The bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2012 by the then labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge, seeks to amend the 1986 Act in order to prohibit children below 14 years of age from any work, but allows them to “help” their family after school hours. It also introduces a new category of persons defined as “adolescents”, who are between the ages of 14 and 18. The bill allows these adolescents to work in all occupations and processes barring three — mining, flammable substances and explosives. According to the 1986 Act, the list of prohibited occupations and processes stands at 18 and 65 respectively. While increasing the penalty for employers for offences, the bill exempts first-time offending parents from any penalty. However, repeat-offender parents can be penalised.
Though the prohibition of children under 14 from all work has been welcomed by child rights activists, most are worried about the exception where the child can participate in home-based work as a majority of child labour, Mr Kanth said, starts at home. “You are legalising the situation by permitting child labour at home. As for whether parents should be tried or not, they have been given concessions. If you allow the family to use children for labour, who is going to enter the home to see what’s happening ” asked Mr Kanth.
Mr Kanth and Kailash Satyarthi of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, as members of the Central advisory committee of labour which formulates the law relating to children, had opposed the dilution throughout.
“The dilution took place not in the original draft, but subsequently. In fact, all people working on children opposed the dilution,” Mr Kanth said. He averred that a lot of things are happening in the government where activists are not included.
The provision to allow children to “assist” in family enterprises would create a trap for children — a farmer’s child will be a farmer, a beedi-maker’s child will be a beedi-maker, and so on. Hazardous processes like carpet weaving can be categorised as family enterprises, and these would be exempted from penalty.
Child Rights and You (CRY) believes this provision will impact education and lead to higher rates of school dropouts. Legitimacy will lead to an increase in the number of working children, which currently stands at 49.84 lakh as per a 2009-10 NSSO survey. CRY added home-based work has not been specified in the bill, which leaves safety and regulation of child labour in a grey area. “There has been a narrowing of the list of hazardous occupations. Most family-based work may be hazardous in nature, like working in cotton fields, bangle making, beedi and agarbatti rolling, home-based leather units etc. In the absence of a concrete rehabilitation plan, more often than not, many children end up working once again,” said CRY’s regional director (north) Soha Moitra.
Children in the 14-18 years age group are equally, if not more, vulnerable to exploitative, abusive situations and should be treated as children, said Ms Moitra. “The blanket ban proposed in the amendment should be extended to the age of 18 years,” she insisted and added that the bill also needs to strengthen the roles and accountability of the enforcement machinery (labour department) in rescue, post-rescue processes, inter-state coordination and rehabilitation.
The Child Labour Act, enacted almost three decades back, was brought into existence by Rajiv Gandhi, a “young man in a hurry, anxious to be bring about change”, said Mr Kanth. “There was a time in the 1980s when a lot of new laws came up, for which I give credit to Rajiv Gandhi and those people who were far ahead of their times. We were well in time then, but today we are far behind time,” rued Mr Kanth.
The Gurupadswamy Committee, formed in 1979, had observed that any legal recourse to end child labour would not be a practical proposition as long as poverty continued. The only alternative according to this committee was to ban child labour in hazardous areas and regulate and ameliorate the conditions of work in other areas. As the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 was born out of the recommendations of this committee, chances of child labour ending completely seem slim.
Tomorrow: Children escape torturous bangle-making unit, help rescue others