The Centre is planning to increase the age bar from 14 years to 18 years to end a disparity in child labour laws and juvenile justice laws. The Labour Ministry is now examining a proposal to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition) Act to increase the age to 18 in consonance with other laws and United Nations Convention on Child Rights, to which India is a signatory.
Even Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury and the chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has asked the Labour ministry to define child labourers as those who are below 18 years of age. In the existing Act, those below 14 years of age are considered child labourers but the Juvenile Justice Act considers 18 as the age bar.
The Labour ministry has now constituted a working group to consider a set of amendments in the law prohibiting child labour. "The group has been constituted following recommendations from several states and child right organizations," a ministry official said. The working group is expected to submit a list of amendments in three to six months, the official added.
Changing the age could have major implications for 13 industrial sectors and 52 types of works enlisted in the Act, where child labour is not allowed. It would mean that these sectors would not be able to employ children between the age group of 14 and 18 years, if the amendment comes through. NGOs claims lakhs of children are employed in hazardous industries listed in the Act.
The ministry also wants to ensure that the labour department officials will have more power to check domestic child labour. "State governments like the Delhi government have sought amendment in the Act saying that in absence of power of the labour department to conduct raids, it is not possible to enforce the law in case of domestic child labour," a ministry official said.
The officials, however, added that the ministry wants to ensure that, if such a power is granted, it should not be misused. The working group will examine the requests of the states and will come up with an appropriate proposal, the official said.