Verdict corner: Tricky terrains in the child labour Bill

By: | Published: December 3, 2015 1:28 AM

Critics question how the amendment will ensure that children get enough time to study after school hours if they are allowed to work in family enterprises

The government plans to seek the passage of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Bill 2012 (CLPRA) in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. The Bill proposes banning all kinds of child labour under the age of 14 years. This was done to align the child labour law with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, which makes education a fundamental right for all children in the age group of 6-14. While the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 banned the employment of children up to the age of 14 in hazardous occupations, this proposed amendment prohibits employment of children below 14 years in all occupations and processes.

However, there is an exemption—children below the age of 14 cannot be employed anywhere except in non-hazardous family enterprises or the entertainment industry, but only after school hours and during vacations.

The latter includes working as an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry, advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities, except the circus. The original child labour law banned employment of children below 14 years of age in only 18 hazardous industries.

The amendment has also relaxed the penal provisions for parents or guardians, who were earlier subjected to the same punishment as the employer of the child. However, in case of parents being repeat offenders, they may be penalised with a monetary fine up to R10,000.

However, employers would be penalised even for the first offence. In case of first offence, the penalty for employers has been increased two-and-a-half times—from the existing up to R20,000 to up to R50,000 now—and imprisonment for a term not less than six months but which may extend to two years.

In case of a second or subsequent offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the law, the minimum imprisonment would be one year, which may extend to three years.

Earlier, the penalty for second or subsequent offence of employing any child in contravention of the law was imprisonment for a minimum term of six months, which may extend to two years.

A new definition of adolescent has also been introduced in the amendment, and employment of adolescents (14-18 years) has been prohibited in hazardous occupations and processes.

The Bill adds that the offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the Act by an employer will be cognizable, which will allow police to arrest without a warrant.

The legislation provides for the setting up of a Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund for one or more districts for rehabilitation of children or adolescents rescued. Thus, the Act itself will provide for a fund to carry out rehabilitation activities.

According to reports, India has seen a tremendous spurt in school enrolment, particularly at the elementary level, due to efforts made by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) as well as the Right to Education Act 2009. Since 2001, the number of out-of-school children has decreased from 32 million to 2.2 million in 2012-13 (MHRD 2014). The number of children in paid occupations has also reduced accordingly, from over 1.26 crore in 2001 to 43.53 lakh in 2011 (Census 2001 and Census 2011).

There is, therefore, much to be appreciated in the government amending the CLPRA.

While this amendment is definitely a step in the right direction, critics question how it will ensure that children get enough time to study after school hours if they are allowed to work in family enterprises?

Legal experts say that the amendments have partially legitimised child labour. SC lawyer DL Chidananda says the amendment is in direct conflict with Right to Education. “Under the garb of family enterprises, these children can be made to work in labour-intensive areas like in brick kilns, carpet-weaving, zari and beedi-making units, diamond cutting, domestic help, etc,” he says.

Despite the amendment, different Acts continue to define “child” differently. While the RTE Act 2009 and CLPRA 2012 define a child as a 14-year-old, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 considers this to be 18 years. “This anomaly needs to be corrected. There can’t be conflict between the two legislations. The definition of child should be uniform,” says another SC lawyer Gaurav Goyal.

Even Congress leader Ahmed Patel in his tweet had criticised the changes, saying “the government’s move to partially legitimise child labour is a retrograde step. It violates RTE and defeats our aspiration to be a just society.”

Activists led by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi have described the proposed amendment as regressive. According to him, a majority of the 5,254 children rescued by his Bachpan Bachao Andolan in the last five years had been working in 30 occupations that the amended Bill proposes to remove from the hazardous list.

Speaking at the national consultation convened by Bachpan Bachao Andolan recently, he had said that a total of 5,252 child labourers were rescued across the country between January 1, 1010, to December 31, 2014. Of these, as many as 3,022 were below 14 years of age, while 2,231 fell in the 14-17 age group.

The data also showed while one-fifth of the children rescued were working with their families, almost 82% were rescued from establishments operating in residential areas.

“Another shocking fact is that, earlier, we had 83 hazardous occupations, which have been brought down to just three—mines, explosives and inflammables as hazardous processes as per Factories Act 1948. It is a very serious issue because it means that children will be allowed to work in many occupations where they were not allowed to work in the past,” Satyarthi said.

However, the key challenge would be the implementation part. Do we have the necessary infrastructure to ensure that parents or employers would not go scot-free in case of violations? Is policing enough? Should we not motivate parents to send their wards to the school? What will happen in case the unfortunate young girl/boy is the only bread-winner for the family? Framing rules and regulations without properly judging the ground reality is like hurling stones in the sky. There could be sound and fury; but it would not signify much.

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