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Child Labour Act: Reading between the lines

The proposed amendments that were cleared by the Union Cabinet in May this year seek to completely bar children less than 14 years from working in any sector, barring entertainment industry.

Written by Surabhi | Updated: August 25, 2015 3:41:41 am
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The government is unlikely to review proposed amendments to the Child Labour Act (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 despite an ongoing controversy over some of its key provisions.

The proposed amendments that were cleared by the Union Cabinet in May this year seek to completely bar children less than 14 years from working in any sector, barring entertainment industry. It also includes a provision that would allow children between 5 and 14 years of age to help in family enterprises after school hours or during vacation.

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“The objective is only to allow children to help in family enterprises and not work. It will be strictly monitored and there is no re-thinking on this provision,” said Shankar Agarwal, secretary, ministry of labour and employment. The labour ministry believes that the provision is in keeping with the country’s social fabric and socioeconomic conditions where in a large number of families, children help their parents in their occupations like agriculture and artisanship. “While helping the parents, children also learn the basics of occupations,” it said.

The Bill, waiting to be introduced in Parliament, has led to continued concerns on how working of children in family enterprises would be regulated and monitored.

However, arguing against the proposal, civil society and NGOs have said it could derail efforts to eradicate child labour.

Data from Census 2011 reveals that nearly half a crore children less than 14 years of age are estimated to be working in India, despite legislation barring their employment.

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According to Census 2011, the total number of working children in the age group of 5-14 years in the country is estimated at 43.53 lakh from 1.26 crore in Census 2011.

“This proviso could be misused by employers saying that the children working as labourers belong to the employers’ families. Though innocuous in its wording it will lead to promoting caste based occupations of their parents among children,” said Alex George, knowledge head leader (child rights focus), Action Aid. Experts have also called for a clarification of the term “family-owned enterprise” to ensure that it is only the immediate family where the child helps.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour in an earlier report on the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 too had questioned the need to include a similar provision.

“A child, however, cannot help where there is subordinate relationship of labour or works which are outsourced and carried out in home. The Committee are not able to understand as to how the ministry proposes to keep a check on children working in their homes,” it had said in its report tabled in December 2013, adding that the ministry was providing loopholes.

Meanwhile, the CPI (M) too is planning to move amendments to the Child Labour Act in the next session of Parliament. “We are opposing the Bill as we have many concerns. A household enterprise is nothing but an exit route to allow children to work. Also there is need for rehabilitation of adolescent workers,” said Tapan Sen, MP (CPI-M) and general secretary, CITU.

The International Labour Organisation ( ILO) too had said that the clause needs to be further debated. “The proviso is very crucial as not only education but also health and welfare of children is important. But it is a clause that should be further debated. How do you monitor it? So the child labour law has to be set in the context,” Tomoko Nishimoto, ADG and regional director for Asia and Pacific, ILO had said recently.

According to the labour ministry, the Centre is responsible for enforcement of the Act while states implement it and also appoint inspectors to ensure that children are not employed.

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