ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Legislating on Child Labour

The law on child labour is to be tightened but the issue goes much beyond legislation.

The union cabinet has approved amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 which will ban employment of children up to 14 years for commercial purposes in all industries, homes or on farms. Those between 14 and 18 years of age will be termed “adolescents” and their employment in mines, chemical, paint, explosives or other hazardous industries will be prohibited. The existing law only bans employment of children below 14 in hazardous industries and regulates their work in non-hazardous ones. The 1986 law is also in contradiction with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act that makes education free and compulsory for children in the age group of 6-14 years. Legislating a ban on child labour is the easy part, the hard part will come in implementation. Enforcing the law on child labour requires the involvement and commitment of a number of agencies and organisations – the labour inspectorate, police, people’s representatives and civil society.

Child labour is rampant: according to the Census of 2001, India in that year had an estimated 12.59 million of workers in the 5 to 14 age group. From working in garages, welding units, matches and incense stick-making units, hotels and eating houses, and homes to labouring in industries like readymade garments, zari and sari weaving, construction sites and farms, child workers are everywhere. They work long hours in abysmal conditions that not only blight their childhood but also condemn them to an adulthood of poverty and disease. As the non-governmental organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan has pointed out, while 13,60,117 inspections have been carried out under the law since 1986, only 49,092 prosecutions have been launched and 4,774 employers convicted. The fines collected amount to very little. The not very encouraging result of the implementation of the existing law is due to a lack of coordination between different government agencies. An example of this is brought out by the 2010 report India’s Childhood in the Pits, the result of a study across eight states by HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, Samata and the Alliance of Mines, Minerals and People. The report documented the terrible conditions of children working in mines, but more significantly pointed out that this was just a part of the story. The children living in mining areas, mostly adivasis and dalits, are far more malnourished than their counterparts in other areas and much more vulnerable to abuse and trafficking. However, the mining ministry does not address this issue, leaving it to the child welfare, tribal welfare and other departments to tackle the problem. The laws relating to mining are blind to the plight of these children. Similarly, the rehabilitation of “rescued” child labourers has hardly been a success story. As the experience of various states like Karnataka and Maharashtra shows, the efforts to either “mainstream” (admitting these children to government schools and keeping them away from work) or rehabilitate them in other ways is beset with a number of hurdles. Most of the children belong to parents who are migrant workers or the children themselves have been sent to work far away from their parental homes. In 2007, the central government had issued model guidelines for individual care plans for the rescued children which the states were supposed to follow until they could come up with their own plans. The crux of the issue remains the same: the need for tremendous effort in coordinating not merely between different government departments and voluntary bodies but also between far-flung state administrations.

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