Employing children below 14 years will now attract a maximum jail term of three years or a fine of up to Rs 50,000 with the Union Cabinet on Tuesday clearing a proposal by the Labour Ministry to completely ban employment of children below that age in all occupations and processes.
The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act,1986,will be amended to incorporate the changes and will be renamed as Child & Adolescent Labour (Prohibition) Act. Giving more teeth to the Act,offences under it have been made cognizable and the punishment increased. Presently,children under the age of 14 are prohibited from employment in hazardous occupations and processes while their conditions of work in non-hazardous occupations and processes are merely regulated. Sources said the amendments include increasing the age of prohibition for employment of children and adolescents in hazardous occupations such as mining from 14 to 18. Employment of children below 14 years are presently prohibited in 18 occupations and 65 processes. Employment of children as domestic help and at road-side eateries,restaurants and tea stalls was banned in 2006.
Labour Ministry officials said the maximum punishment for offences under the Act has been increased from one year to two years of imprisonment and from Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 fine or both. For repeated offences,it has been raised to three years of imprisonment.
According to the 2001 census,the total number of working children aged five to 14 was 1.26 crore. However,NSSO survey in 2004-05 said the number was 90.75 lakh. The NSSO survey in 2009-10 put the figure at 49.84 lakh.
The changes were necessitated after the Right to Education Act came into effect promising free and compulsory education to all children aged between six and 14. The age of the prohibition would be linked to the age under Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act which means that the age of entry to employment would automatically increase if the age of compulsory free education increases, sources said.
According to the amended Bill,cleared by the Cabinet,there would be no bar on children helping their families in fields and home-based work after school hours. Parents and guardians of children would be punishable under the Act only when they permit engagement of their children for commercial purposes, the Act said.
Sources said the responsibility for implementation of the Act will be vested with district magistrates while its monitoring would be done by state labour departments.