On September 26, when a team formed by the Ludhiana sub-divisional magistrate raided Rinku Hosiery Works in the city, Mahant Kumar quoted his age as 12. On September 30, the medical report sent by the Ludhiana civil surgeon mentioned his age to be around 10. The medical report also found "13-year-old" Raju to be 11 and "15-year-old" Sunny to be 13. Suresh Kumar, who cited his age as 16, was medically 12 and Gandhi Kumar was four years younger than 18, the age mentioned by him to the raiding team.
Twelve children working in the factory were found to be under 14 -- prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 -- and 21 were found to be below 18 -- a cognizable offence under the Juvenile Justice Act. Another raid at SP Hosiery Works in Ludhiana the same day found 10 workers below 18, just one was found above 18 by the medical report.
Intriguingly, a few children in the two factories were found to be above the age stated by them. Ten-year-old Rajiv Ram, working at Rinku Hosiery Works, was found to be above 12 while the medical report of two children who cited their age as eight put them above 13.
The Punjab labour department has carried out similar raids in knitwear and woollen factories in Amritsar.
Stating that a large number of child labour is working in Ludhiana and Amritsar's knitwear industry, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has written to the Punjab chief secretary that a team of the commission will visit the two industrial hubs on October 16 and 17 to take stock of compliance of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
The letter dated October 9, 2013, states that the NCPCR team will also discuss strategies to curb child labour in the two districts after reviewing surveys, scrutinising rescue operations done by the state labour department and rehabilitation and repatriation of children after rescue. The team led by NCPCR member Yogesh Dubey will also explore the possibility of holding a public hearing on child labour and Right to Education with NGOs at Amritsar during its visit on October 16. The child rights body will also discuss child trafficking, condition of children of migrant labour and use of child labour in agriculture.
While an amendment to the Child Labour Act is pending to classify children between the age of 14 and 18 as "adolescents" who cannot be employed in hazardous industries, the Juvenile Justice Act classifies all children under 18 as working children and makes employing them as a cognizable offence, says Rajmangal Prasad, former chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Delhi. "The Juvenile Justice Act is more comprehensive and has stringent provisions to deal with child labour below 18. The amendment to the Child Labour Act will harmonise it with the Juvenile Justice Act, which deals with overall care and protection of children," he said.
Under the new amendment, employing a child under 14 for any work will be a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of up to two years or a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both, an increase from the current one-year jail or Rs 20,000 fine. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to three years.