Supreme Court judge Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Friday said that the 2016 amendment to the Child Labour Act was “a mirage to say the least” and that “the law was inadequate to begin with, now, it is inimical too”.
Explaining this, he said, “The idea of the amendment was to make the child labour law more stringent so as to realise the mandate of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, ie a child (6-14 years) be enabled to receive elementary education… But, I ask myself, is it not a disservice when the amendment on the one hand, formalised employment of children (0-14 years) in “family enterprise” which can be any vocation as long as it is not one of the three prohibited occupations. This list earlier stood at 83 and on the other hand, it penalises employment of adolescents (14-18 years) only in three occupations,”
Justice Gogoi was speaking at the launch of child rights activist and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s book Every Child Matters.
He said, “It will be difficult to say if the new law is in keeping with the pith of the ILO Conventions 138 (concerning minimum age for admission to employment) and 182 (concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of Child Labour) which India ratified in 2017, several decades too late”.
Justice Gogoi also touched on the issue of sex abuse cases. He said he could not say if such cases had become more rampant now, but “I believe if all cases of sexual abuse of children were to get reported, we would be in for a motivating shock”.
The apex court judge said that developments of the last few months had shown the urgency of having an effective deterrent regime. “A tweak here and a tweak there in the law to pacify the agitated mood is just sop justice and then there are the harrowing long-drawn battles in the court. It is no secret that the justice delivery system is begging for a complete overhaul. But when it will come is anybody’s guess.”
He said that child rights jurisprudence is still “grossly underdeveloped” in India because children are not seen as entities that could contribute to governance in a democracy. “The sooner we realise that not empty rhetoric and paper-tiger laws but societal will, political will, both are what it takes to eradicate child abuse, the better places we will be,” he added.
Lauding Satyarthi, Justice Gogoi said, “He has meaningfully changed the lives of millions of children across the world.”
Satyarthi, who won the Nobel prize in 2014, said the award brought more focus on the issue of child rights. Though it took many years for lawmakers to amend the legislation, finally India had a “very good law”, he said. He also referred to India ratifying the two conventions on child labour and attributed this to the awareness post the award.