Child Labor: Isn’t Permitting by Law Significant of Encouragement?

Child labour is rampant in most parts of India due to poverty and illiteracy. This has been tried to tackle with by legislative reforms time and again but has failed to give comprehensive guidelines and strict punishments. This is due to the fact that the children working also should be protected and if possible benefitted. This article explores the loopholes in such legislations and suggests further steps.

Child Labor: A Curse

Child Labor refers to the employment of children in activities which are exploitative in nature and deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school and has an adverse effect on them, morally, socially, physically and psychologically. India is not able to free itself from the chains of child labor rather it is known as the home for most of the child laborers in the world. The census done at a wide stretch in India found an increase in the number of child labor from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.66 million in 2001, however, there was a decrease of about 64% in 2011 where the number came down to 4.35 million.

Article 24 of the Indian Constitution deals with Prohibition of children in factories, no child shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment. The Article is being violated a lot of times and children are being subjected to abuse and exploitation. The need to eradicate the social evil of child labor was first realized in the year 1979 with the formation of the Gurupadswami Committee. It was formed in order to locate child labor in length and breadth of Indian society and on the same lines unearth the ways to tackle it.

Legislations for Protection of Children

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is one of the most debated Act for the protection of children in India. It outlines the areas where the children are allowed to work and where their employment is prohibited by the virtue of law. The laws are formed by the legislature keeping in mind the circumstances and situations of that time. Times change and so do the societies. With the change in society, there is a rise in demand for improved and efficient laws. The rising demands for change are met with amendments in the parent Act. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 received the assent of the President on 29 July 2016.

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The amended Act introduces a new term ‘Adolescents’ in Section 2 clause (a), as a person who has attained the age of 14 years but is not 18 years old, whereas a ‘child’ is defined as a person not attaining the age of 14. Additionally, it imposes fine on anyone who permits or employs an adolescent to work.

The amended Act deals with few glitches, the main being quashing of the items of hazardous occupation for children from the list of 83 to only include inflammable substances or explosives, mining, and occupations mentioned in Factories Act, 1948. It means that various hazardous occupations like working in chemical mixing units, battery recycling units, cotton farms, and others, have been dropped. Further, the ones listed as hazardous occupations can be removed by the discretion of the state government as per Section 4 of the Act. The other shortcoming is the allowing of child labor in ‘family or family enterprises’ or allowing a child to be ‘an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry’. The Section 3 Clause 5 also states that children may work after school or during vacations, making it difficult to understand the working hours for children as it does not mention any such duration for ‘after school’ or ‘during vacations’. How will an 11-year-old boy complete his homework and get early for school the next morning if he has to work for his contractor after the school and meet the deadlines?

The Act also contradicts the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Of Children Act of 2016, which makes the employment of a child punishable in a hazardous occupation by anyone. The amendments have also relaxed the penal provision for parents or guardians, who were earlier subjected to the same punishment as the employer of the child.

Is the Act Promoting Child Labour?

It is argued that the Act, to some extent, promotes child labor. Although, widening the scope of the Act by introducing current amendment is being applauded, what is troubling is the legislative attempt to exempt the ‘family enterprises’. Family enterprise is an unorganized sector which makes it all the way more difficult to be governed by law. The acceptance of such an Act will promote the idea of a girl child being appointed as a domestic worker or a Dalit child working out of dire poverty, losing all the joy and happiness of childhood. In Rural India, traditional ‘family business’ can be an industry which manufactures beedi or jute, and hence the Act opens loopholes that will encourage child labour in such ‘family enterprises’.

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The amendment does have certain pros and cons but the Government has been negating its good work by reducing the budget allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The need of the hour is to make the rehabilitation system stronger. The first step would be to ban Child Labour followed by proper rehabilitation of rescued children in order to safeguard their childhood. The government should promote Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, avoid the slashed budgets, elevate the investment in the education sector, re-institute the mid-day meal system and provide employment to the artists who can pass on their art to children by the way of teaching. Thus, the need of the hour is to awaken the people from their deep slumber and join hands with the Government to save the future of the country by abolishing the evil of Child Labour.

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