Vol. XL No. 31 July 31, 2016

Betrayal of Child Rights

THE bill passed by parliament to prohibit all forms of child labour upto the age of 14 actually does the opposite.  It has legitimised child labour on a large-scale.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill adopted by parliament, despite various objections raised by MPs, is a regressive law.  While it bans the use of children upto the age of 14 for all forms of labour, it has permitted children to be employed in family-based enterprises and to take part in “home-based work” such as in fields and forests.  Family is defined not just as the nuclear family but also the father and mother's sisters and brothers.  Children are permitted to “help” the family after school hours and vacations. 

Allowing children to work in “family enterprises” would legalise at least three-fourths of child work which presently is unlawful.  Family enterprises is a deceptive term. Given the trend of outsourcing, many organised sector industries farm out work to contractors who, in turn, farm out to the families who work at exploitative rates.  Use of children in home-based work will now be legal. This will provide an impetus for children dropping out of school.  Moreover, if children work after school hours, it will take a toll on their health and development by depriving them of rest and recreation.

The other exemption given is for children to work in the audio-visual entertainment industry.  Here again, the long hours of work will be a disincentive to go to school. Worse, it will make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. 

It is the children of the poor who are undernourished and who find it difficult to continue in school that will become victims of this law.  Further, the law will perpetuate caste-based occupations.  Children will be inducted into such caste-bound occupations as pottery, weaving and tanning.

The original 1986 Act has been amended in a retrograde manner as far as the listing of hazardous industries is concerned.  In the 1986 Act, 16 occupations and 65 processes were listed as hazardous.  The amended law has reduced it to just three occupations (mines, inflammable substances, explosives) and 29 processes that are covered in the Factories Act which deals only with the organised sector.  Thus, child labour in hazardous work like tanning, zari work, bangle making, carpet making etc which were earlier considered hazardous will now be allowed. 

Another feature of the amended Act is that it defines children between 14 to 18 years as adolescents and allows them to work in occupations and processes other than those termed hazardous. By whittling down the hazardous occupations to just three, adolescent children can now be put to work in bangle making, zari-making, construction work etc which were earlier defined as hazardous. 

A provision has been included to penalise parents who send their children to work.  This is punishing parents who are themselves victims of the circumstances and not the perpetrators of child labour.  This provision is also liable for arbitrary misuse and will be a source of corruption.

In keeping with the neo-liberal prescription for informalisation of labour, the Act now permits the use of children on a large-scale in the unregulated informal sector.  How this will tie-in with the slogans of skilling India and creating jobs by “Make in India” is something which only the Modi government can explain. 

A bad law which legalises child labour, militates against children’s education, health and perpetuates caste inequalities has been passed. Parliament should have a re-look at this law at the earliest and make necessary corrections.

(July 27, 2016)