Child labour has been a contentious issue in India considering more than 35 per cent of the country’s total population constitute children.
The 2011 Census says that more than 33 million children are employed as labourers.
The menace of child labour once again made news as Rajya Sabha approved amendments to the Child Labour Prohibition Bill, introduced by minister of state for labour and employment, Bandaru Dattatreya.
It was on July 19 that Rajya Sabha passed the Bill that restricts employment of children below the age of 14 in all occupations and enterprises. But there’s an exception. It is not applicable to the enterprises run by a child's own family.
The amended Child Labour Bill might give the first impression that the government is taking a stringent measure to end child labour. But a closer scrutiny reveals that it is hardly the case.
Of course, there are some relevant measures in the new bill, such as a jail term of up to two years for those who employ children below the age of 14 for labour activities.
|Minister of state for labour and employment, Bandaru Dattatreya.|
However, the Child Labour Bill, which has been amended after 30 years, does not protect children from the dangers of child labour. The Union Cabinet approved the draft bill in May 2015.
Activists who have been fighting for the rights of children are critical of the amended Bill. The government has made the amendments based on the premise that education and work for children can go hand in hand, but this defeats the very purpose of protecting children from exploitation.
"Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far-reaching implications on children’s overall development and health. In reality, children who combine school with economic roles often work for long hours after school, or may drop out of school temporarily for extended periods of work," laments a report by CRY (Child Rights and You), an NGO fighting for the cause of underprivileged children since 1979, on the tabled Child Labour Act.
According to the statistics made available by CRY, only 33 out of 100 children are completing Class 12. The amendments to the Child Labour Act make the situation more grim.
Children's rights activist and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi also expressed his displeasure and concern regarding the bill.
"Even though it is a good first step, I am unhappy about letting children work in family occupations and enterprises," Satyarthi said.
"Government justifies that the children working in the family set up will not be in an 'employer-employee' relationship. However, by allowing children to work in family set up opens a window for exploitation which comes along with contracting and sub-contracting of work. Currently, there is no mechanism to monitor if the child is working for the family enterprise, within the family set up and/or after school hours," reads a CRY statement released after Rajya Sabha passed the Bill.
"While the government has assured that list of hazardous occupations and processes for children will be revised, there is no clarity on the basis on which the government will arrive at the new list. Ministry has not taken efforts to identify hazardous occupations and has taken the current list from the Factories Act," the CRY statement pointed out.
Activists are critical of the new amendments by saying that aligning labour legislations rather than social legislations will dilute the spirit of the Act and adversely impact children.