Yaseen Tamboli, 13, left his small village Ainpur, in Jalgaon district, last year to earn a living in Mumbai. Tamboli now washes teacups and serves tea at a roadside stall in Kharghar, not far from Mumbai, at a tender age when he should have been at school or playing.
He is one of the 43.53 lakh kids in the country forced to work early on because of poverty. He is also an example of the lakhs of children who are unaware of the fact that India’s lawmakers plan to approve a legislation to ban child labour in this session of Parliament. A Bill proposes to ban employment of children below 14 in any kind of work except acting and family occupations.
Maharashtra has the second highest number of child labourers in the country. For many children in the state, Mumbai, with its glitz and glamour, is like a magnet and many of them who have fled their homes end up working on the city’s streets.
In response to a query raised by Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare in the Lok Sabha, the labour ministry has said that at 4.96 lakh, Maharashtra had the second highest number of child labourers with only Uttar Pradesh, which has 8.96 lakh child workers, racing ahead.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which is now being enforced, prohibits the employment of children below 14 years of age. It specifically prohibits the employment of all children under the age 14 in specified hazardous occupations and processes. It prohibits employment of children in 16 occupations and 65 processes considered hazardous to the health and psyche of the child. These include areas such as transport, domestic labour, slaughterhouses, automobile repair, construction work, handling of inflammable substances, eateries, beedi making and the cement industry.
The Act also regulates industries where children are permitted to be employed with monetary fines and punishment such as imprisonment for employers violating the law. Family units and training centres are not included in the purview of the Act. Penalty for violation of the Act could range from three months to one year of imprisonment with a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 2 lakh.
While the old law allows the scope of employing children outside the banned list of jobs, the new Bill seeks to stop every form of child labour. The amendment, however, does not bar employment of children in family occupations after school hours or during vacations.
Inspite of the law and the high number of child labourers in the country, the total number of prosecutions under the Act during the last three years have only been 12,970.
An analysis of Census data by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) had revealed that contrary to popular perception, child labour has been declining at a tardy 2.2 per cent per year over the last decade. The report had claimed that at this rate it would take more than a century to get existing working children out of labour. The report had also stated that child labour in urban areas in the country rose by 53 per cent over 2001-2011.
“This is of utmost concern especially since enforcement machinery is primarily based in urban regions and the implementation of child protection structures is stronger in urban India. This increase in urban child labour could be attributed to increased migration, including seasonal migration for employment as well as trafficking of unaccompanied minors,” Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy & Research, CRY, said in the report.
The government has, however, claimed it is working to stop child labour. Apart from moving an amendment to the existing bill it will also create a Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund for rehabilitation of child and adolescent.
“Considering the nature of the problem of child labour, government is following a multi-pronged strategy. It comprises of statutory and legislative measures, rehabilitation of children withdrawn from work through specific scheme and universal elementary education along with convergence with other schemes for socio-economic development,” said Minister of state for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya.
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