The August notification banning child labour comes into effect on October 10. But for over 1.2 crore child workers in India, the ban will mean nothing — they will continue to work at dhabas and slog it out in homes across the country.
The new provision in the Child Labour Protection Act, 1986 makes it mandatory for the government to rescue children from homes and restaurants and produce them before the Child Welfare Committee before they are sent to shelters.
But the government, which is woefully short of men and shelters for children, has not made much progress. "We are not likely to go into an overdrive and rescue more children unless we can accommodate them safely," said Piyush Sharma, joint labour commissioner.
He said the challenge also lies in identifying individual offenders. "When we conduct raids at zari factories, we rescue 50 children at a time. This time, the task will be tougher. There are manpower constraints, too," he said.
On an average, there are about five labour officials in each district but Sharma hopes to rope in officials of some other government departments for the task.
All this simply means that the ground situation may not change after October 10 when the new rules come into force.
The August 1 notification of the Ministry of Labour and Employment said children below 14 cannot be employed in hotels, roadside eateries or as domestic help. The offenders will be penalised under the Child Labour Protection Act, 1986, and face between three months and a year in jail or a fine of up to Rs 20,000 or both.
The officials of the Ministry of Labour are also sceptical about its implementation, considering India has over 1.2 crore child workers. "We need to create awareness about the new provision first so that employers do not dare to recruit children in this sector," a ministry official said.
The ministry has asked state governments to initiate a coordinated effort to enforce the notification. "Joint teams can be constituted for rescue and rehabilitation of the children," the official said. Police have also been asked to assist the teams.
The labour department has prepared a complaint forum for citizens to report instances of child labour to a court of law.
Raj Mangal Singh of Pratidhi, a Delhi Police non-government organisation that works for children, said they had not been told about the government's action plan to implement the notification.
"We have sought information under the Right to Information Act from the ministry on how they plan to enforce the notification," he said. “We also have to ensure that the children get good care in these shelters," he said.
In February this year, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre, the states and union territories, seeking a complete ban on child labour. The petitioner, Shantha Sinha of MV Foundation, had contended that the existing legislations were not enough to check child labour.