The realities of India’s socio-economic situation are often cited as the reason for some of our more retrograde laws. The one on child labour is a case in point.
The Union Cabinet has increased penalties for offenders but at the same time allowed children below 14 to work in select family businesses after school hours.
The caveat is that such businesses cannot be hazardous but should be things like entertainment and sports activities. This in reality means the child will have to go to school and also work in his or her family business afterwards.
This means the child gets no time for play and will have to engage in labour-intensive work, even though this may not be termed hazardous. The pressure will fall more on the girl child who is in the first place expected to help in household and farming chores after school, if at all she is permitted to attend.
Many industries are home-based, making it difficult for the law to ascertain how hazardous this may be to the child’s well-being. Family enterprises could mean anything from carpet-weaving, beedi-making or work in metals.
All these are highly unsuitable and dangerous to a child’s health. The fact that entertainment and sports have been excluded could mean that children could be employed in making sports goods, which are labour-intensive.
It is passing strange that despite all amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act over the years, child labour has not gone away. We have the largest number of child labour laws in the world and the largest number of child workers.
The manner in which the law is framed now leaves it open to misuse. If the law had been unambiguous and stated that no child below 14 should work in any industry, whether hazardous or non-hazardous, it might help in easing the problem.
The statistics from the labour ministry for 2013-2014 show that there have been only 1,168 convictions for people employing children in hazardous industries and just a paltry Rs 83 lakh collected in fines. This money was meant for the rehabilitation and welfare of child labourers but shamefully, only Rs 5 lakh was disbursed.
The rights of the child have never figured in election speeches, in fact they hardly figure in any parliamentary discussion. While we basked in the glory of Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in eradicating child labour, when it comes to pitching in with the right legislation, successive governments have shown a very child-unfriendly approach. The current one is no exception.