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Employing child below 14 can now land you in jail for 2 years

The Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha on Tuesday, defines children between 14-18 years as adolescents and lays down that they should not be employed in any hazardous occupations and processes.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
Updated: July 26, 2016 9:31:10 pm
child labour, illegal child labour, child labor, child labour bill, child labour bill rajya sabha, rajya sabha, monsoon session, rajya sabha child labour, latest india news File Photo: Baggers girls selling national flag at traffic signal, in Gurgaon, India, on January 23, 2016. (Express Photo by Manoj Kumar)

Employing a child below 14 years of age in any occupation or processes except where the child helps his family will now invite a imprisonment of up to two years as Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill in this regard.

‘The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill’ makes employment of children below 14 years as cognizable offence for employers and provides for penalty for parents.

The Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha on Tuesday, defines children between 14-18 years as adolescents and lays down that they should not be employed in any hazardous occupations and processes. This bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on July 19.

It provides for enhanced punishment for violators. The penalty for employing a child has been increased to imprisonment between 6 months and two years (from 3 months to one year) or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 (from Rs 10,000-20,000) or both.

The second time offence will attract imprisonment of one year to three years from the earlier 6 months and two years.

According to provisions of the Bill, no child should be employed in any occupation or process except where he or she helps his family after school hours or helps his family in fields, home based work, forest gathering or attends technical institutions during vacations for the purpose of learning.

Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said the bill is a “historic” and “landmark” legislation which seeks to totally prohibit children below 14 years to indulge in all occupation and processes except where the child helps his family after school hours.

The Bill has proposed stricter punishment and higher monetary penalty, he said, adding it is going to be deterrent and violation would be made a cognisable offence. In the bill, the number of ‘occupations’ and ‘processes’ where child labour is banned has been reduced from 83 to 31.

Underlining that the Act will be applicable for both organised and unorganised sectors, Dattatreya said, “Awareness (about the law) is more important. Participation of NGOs and trade unions are also necessary.”

Defending exemptions provided in the legislation for the entertainment industry, the minister said they have been put in place to ensure that the law can be more practical. “We have also linked the provisions with the RTI Act… The Bill also aims to ensure that children go to school,” he added. “I have taken a balanced approach… Safeguards are also in place,” he added. Responding to members’ concern about the definition of ‘family’ in the Bill, the Minister said it has been done to ensure that no child is exploited.

Emphasising that enforcement activities are good, Dattatreya said in the last five years, as many as 10 lakh inspections have been conducted under the Act and around 26,000 violations were caught. He said he had discussions with various entities, including the organisation of Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi while preparing the bill.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the Bill brought by the previous government in 2012 was fine and the present one has diluted many provisions, which he termed as “derogatory”.

Taking a dig, he said Dattatreya is bringing such a bill by falling into the “web” of RSS and BJP. Kharge demanded that certain clauses in the Bill, including those related to government having powers for deciding hazardous industries, should be deleted. “If amendments are brought, those should be for improvement… If there are regressive steps, then why are they being brought,” he wondered.

Just before the Bill was passed, Left party members walked out. Saying that the Bill was against children, BJD member Tathagata Satpathy said he was also walking out. Dattatreya said, “We have made provision for constitution of rehabilitation fund.”

Expressing reservation over the exception made in the Bill, Ranjeet Rajan of Congress said this provides loophole for surreptitiously pushing child into exploitation. The Bill covers only organised sector and leaves out the entire unorganised sector which employs maximum number of child labour, she said. The government has to address the root cause of this which is poverty, she said.

“How to take take child labour out of the business is an important issue and the government has to seriously think over it. Why this government is not thinking of increasing Minimum Support Price and raising the wages of labour,” she said.

“If poor are empowered, they would not push their children to work,” she said. Virender Kumar (BJP) said the government should consider raising monetary penalty from the proposed Rs 50,000. Besides, Kumar said, there is need to have greater coordination among various ministries on the issue of child labour.

Two members Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo (BJD) and K Kavitha (TRS) wanted the bill to be sent to a Select Committee of Parliament for further consideration. Deo said this is the most “ill-prepared” bill as “this bill neither prohibits, neither it regulates child labour.”

Through clause 5 of the bill “you are actually legitimising the child labour in the name of family enterprises,” he said, adding this provision will now block the hands of civil society that are working to save children from child labour.

There is no clause which talks about their wages and working environment, Deo said, adding “it is not the law, it is the implementation which is at fault.”

“My request to the minister is that do not in a hurry to pass this bill. Follow the norms of ILO and send this bill to a Select Committee. Let the House examine it correctly, he said. Expressing “disappointment”,, K Kavitha (TRS) too demanded for sending the bill to a select committee. “It reverses the hard work done by civil society,’ she said, adding this bill negates the objectives of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” slogan of the government.

She wondered as to why Congress did not block the bill in Rajya Sabha. “This legislation is of no use and I do not support this bill,” she added.

Vinayak Raut (SS) said child labour is a big problem of India and it needs special attention. He said that due to poverty, children are getting into child labour, so government needs to focus on poverty eliviation. He said the definition of ‘family’ needs to defined clearly.

Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) said the clause 5 of this bill gives a backdoor entry for child labour.

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In India, percentage of child labour is 23 per cent and “we are the highest and this is a great sorrow for us,” he said. He also said that although there are lot of rules and laws to protect children from child labour, the implementation is not good. “We have Acts, constitutional provisions but unfortunately it has not been implemented…agencies have failed in that,” he said.

Opposing the bill, CPI-M member P K Biju said it was aimed at helping the corporates by ensuring cheap labour for them.

“It will legalise three-fourth of the child labour in the country,” he said. Renuka Butta (YSRCP) said child labour was a complex issue and government should try address the problem of poverty which was the main reason for the malice.

Supriya Sule (NCP) regretted that Parliament has to debate on issue of child labour, “a national shame”, in the 21st century and demanded a uniform age limit in different acts dealing with children. Akshay Yadav (SP) demanded that Aadhar number should be made mandatory for all children as it would help in tracking them and also booking those who exploit them.

Shailesh Kumar (RJD) said it would not be possible to eliminate child labour without removing poverty which is the main reason for the ill plaguing the society. BJP member Gopal Chinayya Shetty said ‘Bal Kendras’ should be set up in all cities for providing housing and other facilities for rescued children. Varaprasad Rao (YSR Cong) said poverty is the main reason for child labour in the country.

Among others who participated in the discussion included Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF), Jose K Mani (KC), Prem Das Rai (SDF), Sher Singh Ghubaya (SAD), C N Jayadevan (CPI), N K Premachandran (RSP), Dharamveer Gandhi (AAP), Kaushlendra Kumar (JDU), E T Mohammad Basheer (IUML), Dushyant Chautala (INLD), Jugal Kishore Sharma, Jayshreeben Patel, Ravindra Kumr Ray and Rekha Verma (all BJP).

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