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 become illegal.
In October, the government had banned child labour and placed the hospitality industry and domestic chores on the hazardous list.
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 ministry has proposed to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 for this purpose. The proposal is likely to be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of state labour secretaries.
The proposal is based on the recommendations of the Task Force of Women and Children, 2001, which has 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 all 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 the 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 also 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 also examining another proposal of the task force, that women workers should get 135 days of maternity leave. Furthermore, 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.