News is doing rounds regarding the amendments of the present Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which the centre has approved recently. The new amendment is made in the Child Labour Act so as to align it with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which is a fundamental right of all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years to have education.
First of all, let us know the latest amendments made in the bill and how they differ from the original.
- The original child labour law had banned employment of children below 14 years in only 18 hazardous industries or occupations. According to the latest amendment, all children aged below 14 years, cannot be employed anywhere, in any occupations and processes, but they have the right to work in non-hazardous family enterprises or the entertainment industry. This is mainly in consideration of the involvement of children in TV and Film industry, participation of children in advertisements or any other entertainment or sports activities, leaving aside the circus. The new bill will allow a child to work in a non-hazardous family enterprise only after school hours.
- The proposed amendment has also relaxed the penalty for parents or guardians. Earlier, they were subjected to the same punishment as the employer. But, if parents are offenders repeatedly, according to the new law, they will have to give a penalty of Rs 10,000.
- Employers are subjected to penalty even for the first offence. The present fine of first time offence on the part of the employer is up to Rs. 20,000. According to the latest amendment, the penalty has been increased to up to Rs 50,000 now. It also includes a jail term for not less than 6 months to 2 years. For subsequent offenses by the employer, the imprisonment can extend from 1 year to 3 years. The new bill has also given every right to police to arrest an employer without a warrant if found guilty.
- The period from 14 to 18 years is termed as adolescence in the new bill according to which employment of adolescents has been prohibited in hazardous occupations and processes.
- The amendment has also put forward a proposal of setting up of a Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund in various districts for carrying out rehabilitation activities of children rescued.
What the critics say?
According to the opposition parties and other experts and various NGOs, the proposed amendments have actually legitimised child labour partially. According to many social activists, while the employers will be given stricter punishments, allowing children to work in non-hazardous occupations and the entertainment industry are not being conceived logically. The new amendment is quite contrary to the central government’s policy of total elimination of the bonded child labour system.
The new amendment will lead to further child exploitation in the name of involving them in family enterprises. Under the garb of legal protection, the exploitation will continue. Some say that though the proposed amendment is good for encouraging budding talents in the entertainment industry, paying them for their performance is itself a form of child labour.
Many say that these amendments will further aggravate the child labour system in the society. And the dream of total abolition of child labour by 2020 in India will remain a distant dream.
What should be done?
It is to be noted that the various laws and acts introduced in the past few years like the Child Labour Act, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), Right to Education Act, 2009, have improved the education scenario in India and there has been a growth in the enrolment of children in schools, particularly at the elementary level. The number of children not attending school decreased from 32 million in 2001 to 2.2 million in 2012-13. The number of children in paid occupations has also reduced due to the Child Labour Act. The new amendment by allowing children to work after school hours will help the rural families.
Although, the Amendment in the Child Labour Act is in the right direction, steps must also be taken to ensure that children who are working in family enterprises must not avoid schools. They should be given ample time and space to attend school regularly and should also be encouraged to study after school as well. Also, steps must be taken to keep a track of the number of schools, the enrollment, drop-outs and infrastructure in schools on a regular basis. Also the term “family enterprise” should be clearly defined as it falls under the unorganised sector.
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