Cabinet alters Child Labour Act
The Cabinet today prohibited all forms of child labor below the age of 14 years making exceptions for children helping families or working in family-based enterprises after school hours and during holidays and for children employed in the entertainment industry and sports barring circus.
Child activists slammed the amendments saying majority children were working in home-based occupations in India and by making exceptions, the government had eliminated a vast section of child labor from guardianship. According to Census 2011, India has 12.6 million child labors.
Another amendment the Cabinet allowed today to the existing Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2012 is banning employment of (14 to 18 year olds) in hazardous occupations which have been distinctly described. Also, fines for exploiting adolescents in violation of the law stand doubled.
The current legislation prohibits child labor below 14 years in 18 listed hazardous occupations and 65 hazardous professions. It permits employment of 14 to 18 year olds.
Cabinet revisions were required because the Right to Education Act 2009 mandates free and compulsory elementary education for 6 to 14 year olds and if the children under 14 years are allowed to work they can’t be at school.
“The RTE Act says all six to 14 year old must be in school but the child labor law allows children under 14 to work in non-dangerous tasks. Changes made today, once passed by Parliament, will lead to social agreement of purpose between the two legislations. No child below 14 years can be exploited except if he is helping his family or working in a family enterprise like agriculture and artisanship after school and during holidays or if he works for TV,” said a government official. Though the government protected allowing home-based work for children citing “social matters”, child activists refused the amendments as “regressive”.
Bharti Ali of HAQ Centre of Child Rights said, “Most children work in family enterprises such as agarbatti making; agriculture, carpet weaving, etc. You have excluded all of them and diluted your commitment to banning child labor.”
Another worry around amendments is dilution of the dangerous occupations. As against 83 hazardous profession previously noted, new changed list just three hazardous categories– explosives, mining and risky work in factories. Ali said, “Now you have reduced the definition of dangerous occupations from 83 to three, excluding earlier listed works like coir manufacturing, detergent making, handling of chromite, fabrication workshops, etc.”
Penalties for employment of child labor have been doubled through today’s revisions — imprisonment for not less than six months up to two years and fine of Rs 20,000 up to Rs 50,000 upon first offence. Upon second or subsequent violation, minimum imprisonment would be one year up to three as against six months up to two years earlier.