Child Labour Amendment Bill puts kids at risk: Activists write to President
The Bill, if it becomes an Act, will have devastating physical and mental health consequences for the children of India.
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Activists Ruchira Gupta, Harsh Mander, Malini Bhattacharya, Kirti Singh, Vimal Thorat, Mainoona Mollah, Colin Gozalves, Chitra Sircar, Tinku Khanna and others have submitted a letter to the President of India asking him to send back Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2016 passed on July 26, 2016 in Parliament for review.
Here's a copy of the letter:
Mr Pranab Mukherjee,
The Honorable President of India,
Subject: Request for review of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill
On July 26, 2016, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill was passed. The Bill, if it becomes an Act, will have devastating physical and mental health consequences for the children of India. We urgently call on you to send the Bill back for review.
Section 3 of the Bill outlines the circumstances under which child labour is legal. This section permits children to work in order to help their family, or their "family enterprises" or "as an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry".
This amendment is in contradiction with article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as it would put children at risk of sexual exploitation, long hours of work, and would effectively deny them a childhood as prescribed under the principles of human rights and children’s rights.
While the Bill appears to increase the minimum age for employment to 14, in reality it has no age limit for children in "families and family-based enterprises" and "audio-visual entertainment". This is not in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Minimum Age Convention.This Bill instead of protecting children in need and ensuring their right to education makes it harder for poor children to study.
The shortened schedule of hazardous occupations proposed in Section 22 omits many occupations that have devastating effects on the physical and mental health of the child.
Children of any age can now work in brick-kilns, slaughter-houses, electronic units, velding, beedi making, agriculture, slaughter-houses, orchestra parties, pornographic movies in the guise of so-called entertainment, stitching, sowing, cooking, packaging, garbage recycling, toy-making, mixing drugs for pharmaceuticals, home-based brothels… the list is endless.
Section 22, along with Section 3a, will lead to serious violations of the CRC. Section 18 of this Bill calls for the penalisation of parents, who are often not the perpetrators or profiteers in instances of child labour.
Criminalising parents who are already trapped in poverty is not in the best interest of their children.
There are 44 lakh child labourers in our country as per the census of India. 80 per cent of them are Dalits and the other 20 per cent of them are from backwards castes. Many of these children work with families who are in debt bondage, enslaved by contractors and unscrupulous landlords.
They have no bargaining power to keep children at home or send them to school. Imposing fines will only punish low-caste parents further.
Three quarters of child labour in India is in caste-based "family and family-based enterprises".
Including such a provision would serve to restrict children in traditional caste-based occupations and would consequently perpetuate social injustice. The Bill places a discriminatory burden placed upon low-caste impoverished children and their parents — as it is unlikely that children whose parents have economic means would be required to work.
This is in contradiction of Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. The Bill seemingly ensures that child labourers get an education by saying that children can work "as long as this work occurs outside of school hours or during vacations".
However, it does not define the hours of work or the site of work in the so-called "family enterprises". This can only increase drop outs as no child can work after school hours and keep up with school.
This Bill instead of protecting children in need and ensuring their right to education makes it harder for poor children to study. Since the site of work in "family and family-based enterprises" is not defined, this could range from a construction site, to a plastic sheet near a garbage dump or a home-based brothel.
As it stands the Bill is in contradiction of India’s Constitutional amendment on the Right to Education as well as the Juvenile Justice Act, which promises protection to children in need.
The future of our country lies in the future of our children. If the Bill intended to preserve traditional art and craft of India by enabling parents with traditional knowledge and skills to pass them on to their children, this should be done through a reform and investment in education.
We need to restore the 28 per cent budget cuts in education and the 50 per cent for women and children so that mid-day meals are re-instituted for starving children, secure housing provided through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan boarding schools and artisans hired as teachers to pass on traditional knowledge and skills to the next generation.
Gandhiji’s Buniyadi Shiksha and Maulana Azad’s Nai Taleem both recommend teaching traditional art, craft and agriculture, along with reading, writing, mathematics, history, science and geography in school. We are therefore urging you to send the Bill back to the Standing Committee of Parliament for review.
We request the following amendments:
1. In clause 5 of the Bill, the proviso to the amended section 3 should be deleted. After deletion, clause 5 will read as under:
"No child shall be employed or permitted to work in any occupation or process."
2. Delete section 18 to ensure that parents are not put under penal provisions.
Ruchira Gupta, Apne Aap Women Worldwide and The Last Girl campaign
Tinku Khanna, Apne Aap Women Worldwide
Harsh Mander, Aman Biradari
Kirti Singh, AIDWA
Malini Bhattacharya, AIDWA
Chitra Sarkar, All India Women’s Conference
Vimal Thorat, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch
Colin Gonsalves, HRLN