news Friday, May 15, 2015 - 05:30
In terms of child labour, the Indian government believes a lot has improved since its Census in 2001 where 1.26 crore children in the 5-14 age group were found working. Since then, the numbers have drastically come down to 43.53 lakh according to the 2011 Census.   In the government’s words, “it shows that the efforts of the Government have borne the desired fruits”.   However, the Cabinet’s approval this week amending the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) amendment Bill, 2012 has been met with criticism and suspicion from different quarters of the country.   A complete ban on employment of children under 14 years of age has been announced which is seen as a welcome sign. However, certain exceptions have been made that allow children to help in the family business, audio-visual entertainment industry like films, TV serials and other sports except circus after school hours or during vacations.   Though overall on a good note, punishment for offenders has been increased for first time offenders from less than three months to a period not less than six months with an increase in fine not less than Rs. 20,000, the proposed law guarantees no punishment for parents or guardians in case of first offence. Earlier, there was no discrimination in terms of punishment – all violations were dealt with an imprisonment of atleast three months.   Does this go against the spirit of the Right to Education Act?   Some activists believe that the proposed laws allowing children to work went against the government’s stand on their right to education.   “There’s no right or wrong here. We do want all rights for all our children. But when I want to implement the RTE where I want children to study, then I will want them not to be working”, said Komal Ganotra, the Director, Policy, Research, Advocacy and Documentation at Child Rights and You (CRY).   “If children are made to represent an economic role, they will lose the opportunity to study and a chance for development, “ she said, discussing the new provisions by the Cabinet that allowed family businesses after school hours or during vacations.   DMK president, M Karunanidhi made his point quite clear as he said that the proposed amendments letting children below 14 years of age work in the family or entertainment business “will make a mockery of the Right to Education Act (RTE).” The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, has made it every child’s right to “free and compulsory” access to elementary education for children from 6 to 14 years of age.   Will government redefine hazardous?   However, what’s debatable is the allowance made by the Centre allowing children below 14 years of age to “help” out family businesses or enterprises – a situation if legalised could be misused to allow children to work in the labour sector at lower wages and faster rates.   As of now, the law is clear, that no child upto 18 can be employed in any hazardous activity.    Sarah Farooqui, editor of Pragati argues here that in India, it is extremely hard to empirically define what is "hazardous" and what is "non-hazardous".   "Industries work on the basis of procurement, production and supply. If a child works in the supply side of a hazardous industry (selling), or on the production side (say, with heavy machinery) in a non-hazardous industry - how would it be tackled, unless the industry is explicitly defined as one of the two? Earlier, only 18 industries were defined as hazardous. Now, the definitions will need to be expanded to all, with details and precision for each", she says.