AT PRESENT, children under the age of 14 are considered child labourers and employing them in hazardous industries is illegal.
But if the Centre gets its way, employing children below the age of 11 in any establishment could soon be illegal. In October, the government banned child labour and placed hospitality industry and domestic chores on the list of hazardous work places.
The Ministry for Women and Child Development has mooted a proposal to ban the employment of children below 11 years of age in any establishment. The proposal is likely to be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of state labour secretaries. The ministry has proposed to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 to further reduce the age of child labourers from 14 to 11 years.
The proposal is based on recommendations of the Task Force of Women and Children, 2001, which suggested that no child under the age of 11 should be employed in any establishment. "It also implies that children between 11 and 14 years of age can be employed but only in certain 'safe' industries," a government official explained, adding that if the government accepts the recommendation, the definition of child labour will change in labour laws.
However, a decision is expected only after the issue is examined by the state governments, as labour is a state subject, an official said. The ministry has asked the Labour Ministry to seek the comments of state governments on the proposed amendment.
"The views of experts and states are being ascertained. But one should realise that the proposal can have huge implications as a large number of children will loose their jobs," a Labour Ministry official commented.
Another recommendation of the task force, giving the government the power to notify rules to impart education to child labourers, is being examined by the Labour Ministry. So far, the government can notify rules on the health and safety of child labourers. The move finds strength in recent studies which say a large number of out-of-school children are child labourers. Section 13 (1) of the Act will have to be amended to give the government this facility.
The Labour Ministry is examining another proposal of the task force, that women workers should get 135 days of maternity leave. It is formulating final proposals on two task force recommendations - to restrict women from working on moving machineries and prohibit them from performing dangerous operations - for government approval.