In this article, Anshula Srivastava discusses The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2016.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.– Nelson Mandela
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, which was tossing around in parliament for years, got amended after 30 years following the assent given by President Pranab Mukherjee.
The highlight of the recent amendment is that whosoever employs any child below 14 years of age for any work, except where a child is helping his family post school hours or during vacation, can get up to two-year imprisonment and maximum fine of Rs 50,000. Furthermore, the act classifies a person between 14 and 18 years of age as “adolescent” whose employment in hazardous occupations like mines and inflammable substance or explosives is now restricted by law. However, the amended law remained pertinent for a child working in films, advertisement or television industry.1
In India, 33 million children are gripped in jaws of child labour who are of the tender age of 0-18 years.2 India’s increasing population below poverty and the phenomenal rise in unemployment go hand in hand. The mechanization in agriculture has further worsened the opportunities of its people in villages, who ultimately have to migrate to cities. Also, in urban cities, poverty-stricken people have to push their children to work for financial assistance despite of the meager earning, which has deteriorated the child labour problem. Since demand and cheap labour can be efficiently derived from children, a great majority is working in this unorganized and un-regulated sector.
What lead us to this amendment and what were the earlier provisions?
A study conducted by the ILO Bureau of Statistics found that “Children’s work was considered essential to maintaining the economic level of households, either in the form of work for wages, of help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere.”3
Regardless of the fact, that earlier child labour had plagued India and although a complete ban is not communally practicable within our society following the stratum /design of our country. The Constitution of India in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy had put a partial restriction on employment of child labour under Article 24.
Article 24 clearly outlaws the employment of child below the age of 14 years to work in any factory, mine or any other hazardous employment. The Supreme Court has emphasized that Article 24 embodies a Fundamental Right “which is plainly and indubitably enforceable against everyone”.4 Since, labour is a subject of Concurrent List it is the duty of the State Government, Union Governmentto abide by the mandate.
In the case of Labourers Working on Salal Hydro- Project v. State of Jammu and Kashmir, it was pointed out in the final report of the Labour Commissioner (J & K) that some minors were found to have been employed on the project site but the explanation given was that “these minors accompany make members of their families on their own and insist on getting employed”.5 The court specified the Asiad Workers ‘case and declared construction as a hazardous occupation and children below 14 years cannot be employed for any construction work under Article 24. It also directed the Central Government to enforce its prohibition. The court broadly imposed it on the Government to approach the workmen and encourage them to send their children to school and furthermore to provide free education there. It was observed by the court that abolishment of child labour cannot be widely accepted by the masses due to their poverty and negligent.
The achievability for eliminating child labour by its roots, as observed above, cannot be fully implemented by the reason of the prevailing economic conditions. Therefore, in 1979, Gurupadswamy Committee which was appointed by the Government, proposed a prohibition on children working in hazardous areas and a various other policies, after proper scrutinization. In 1986, Government sanctioned the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act following Gurupadswamy Committee’s recommendation. The Act focused on the regulation of working conditions for children and it strictly restricted numerous hazardous occupations where children were employed. All those hazardous occupations and processes were enlisted in Schedule A & B of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act.6
The landmark case of M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu7 brought the issue of Sivakasi Match industries in front of the Supreme Court. The court thought-through the aspects of constitution for abolishing child labour and it laid down certain measures which were taken by the court to put an absolute end for employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous industry. The Court ordered the employers must abide by the provisions of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act stressed that eradicating child labour must be the priority for the public in general.
The Constitution of India embodied Article 21 – A for education of children upto the age of 14 years in the case of J P Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh8 in which the Supreme Court declared the scope of fundamental right.
ILO’s two major conventions on child labour i.e. the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 has not been ratified by India till date, taking into consideration India had not yet banned all kinds of occupations for kids below 14 years of age. Various statutes have been passed by the Government which puts restriction on employment of children under 14 years such as The Factories Act of 1948, The Mines Act of 1952 and the Apprentice Act, 1961; however India still prevails in fostering multitude of under aged employed children.9
The crux of the matter is how conducive is the new legislation for the betterment of our future generation.
The recent amendment has undisputedly blurred the vision in safeguarding the future of the young children and has come up with further hindrance. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 besides prohibiting engagement of children in certain types of occupations, it also authorisies children to work after school hours or during vacations in the businesses run by their families, failing the very purpose of Right to Education.10 Furthermore, it is the gateway for the adolescents for job opportunities other than of hazardous occupations and processes. The lack of education in children as well as adolescents working in different occupations will have a setback on youth and will increase the number of ill-educated workers readily available to work with low pay.
Notwithstanding the fact that the new child labour act was made keeping in mind the prevailing economic conditions of India yet it will bring a downfall on the prospective youth. India’s approach was appalling in shifting the large majority of children from the labour to schools. It took two flagship national missions, sustained over two decades, to achieve a semblance of universal enrolment in the early primary classes.11 The recent amendment has pulled us back to the beginning or may be worse, as it is not very conveniently possible that schooling and work go hand in hand.
The inclusion of the term “family enterprise’’ in the revised act which means any work, profession, manufacture or business which is performed by the members of the family with the engagement of other persons; will open gates for children of any age to legally work in brick kilns, slaughter houses, beedi making, glass furnaces and other hazardous workplaces under the garb of their being family enterprises.12 The authorization granted by the Government for working in family enterprises after the school hours will lead to increase in drop outs of school, since these children will be burdened with work load and also malnourishment due to poverty. These are the inevitable consequences which will certainly influence their performance at school. In conclusion, the Parliament must have thought through the intricacies and setbacks while framing the child labour act rather than considering it to be enactment of another labour law.
- The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016
- The Indian Express – Article published on 2nd August 2016
- Gopal Bhargava: Child Labour (Volume II), Kalpaz Pub. Delhi, 2003
- People’s Union for Democratic Right v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 1473 AIR 1984 SC 177
- (1996) 6 SCC 756: AIR 1997 SC 699
- AIR 1993 SCC (1) 645.
- Indian Constitution Law, M.P Jain
- Kailash Satyarthi reviews – http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/it-s-back-to-a-dark-past-for-the-children-of-india/story-ZpF8oEwACThmQJhpBVgWGM.html