The Parliament recently passed amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. However it was passed even though it has been highly criticized by various politicians, activists and social workers. The amendment doesn’t allow children below the age of 14 years to work and bans all forms of child labour. The act also recognized adolescent children in the age group of 14-18 yrs of age and also put a ban on employment for this age group in the sector of hazardous industries. And breaking this law can lead to imprisonment up to 2 years and imposition of fine of Rs 20,000 to 50,000.
But at the same time this act provides for a proviso that can allow children up to the age of 14 years to be employed in ‘family enterprises’. This in turn allows a loophole in law to include children under the age of 14 to engage in family businesses like that of beedi making, embroidery, packing or manufacturing and other forms of domestic labour. Thus instead of a completely restricting child labour, the amendment allows for lapse that will lead to loss in education. The main aim of bringing about this amendment was to support the Right to Education Act which allows for free and compulsory education to every child till the age of 14 years. Such provisos however will therefore not serve the purpose for which this amendment was brought about.
Children can work after school hours, during holidays in the family enterprise. This can very well be misused to exploit children to work in factories which can be linked to far-off relatives who might actually be exploiters and creditors who provide for the family in exchange for labour. In such situations, it will be difficult to regulate child labour which will continue under the garb of family business or enterprises. Education of these children will obviously be negatively affected rendering such amendment useless.
In the case of adolescents in the age group of 14-18 years of age who are prohibited in working in hazardous sectors, the prohibition has been very limited. It only points at three situations namely mines, production of inflammable substances or that of explosives and in the hazardous processes as assigned in the particular clause of the Factories Act of 1948. This provides a free pass to every other sector to employ adolescents legally. This will put them in a more vulnerable situation and more prone to abuse as work such as construction and farm work are clearly excluded from the list of prohibited sectors. This will make it impossible to extend the Right to education for children above the age of 14.
Voicing his opinion Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has said that instead of weakening the law relating to child labour the country strengthens it as it should be a priority for the current government as the Prime Minister has always highly promoted development. Talking of the Make in India initiative, he said that, “the people investing in India will depend on the supply chain and globally, the major concerns in this chain has been ecology and child labour”.
Even with such concerns being highlighted by activists, the government has passed this amendment. These will just dilute the laws as already present and will also lead to difficult implementation.
Another major criticism which has been seen in this case is the fact that this act will affix caste-based occupation for the children who will be forced to continue in their family businesses. As the act allows for practice of family enterprise it may restrict the choice and learning of children about other professions that should be available. This will lead to the continuous vicious chain of caste system being affixed and more generations being further marginalized and excluded from the rights and benefits they deserve. This can open doors for the manifestation of caste system and practices through occupation in the society.
The government has reasoned this proviso by stating that this decision has been made keeping in mind the importance of preservation of social fabric and learning of traditional occupation. However, in this case how can the government further ensure that a child will not be subjected to difficult and long hours of work that may lead to exhaustion and loss in concentration and energy for studies at school? Carrying work and studies together will be difficult to handle by these children and can also affect the overall health and welfare of a child. How can such things be monitored by the government or how will they keep this in check through the law?
Such questions have arisen after this amendment has been passed. Children are still in vulnerable position and the chance of dropping out of school is also high. In the presence of such possibilities how can the future of India be brightened? Children need to be provided a safe space for growth, education and play. A better environment is necessary to make a better citizen for the country. The objective of the lawmakers should be to strive towards that which will benefit the children and not that which will benefit contractors and exploiters who can use such poor legislature to escape punishment for their wrongdoing. This law is regressive and changes need to be brought to such an act.
If steps are not taken to correct and better this act then it may lead to more damage to the children and worsen the situation to a lower level. It is highly necessary to keep in mind that these children who are marginalized need to be provided with better opportunities and support. Not doing so and giving way to such regressive laws it can be clearly seen that we as a society are failing our children. What is important now is to build a strong framework of laws and support groups to punish the perpetrators and to help those affected.
By: Anyatama Nayak