The ban on child labour in the ‘domestic’ sector will be particularly difficult to enforce, but this should not take away from it being counted as a meaningful measure to free the country’s children. There are 1.2 crore child workers in India. In spite of constitutional provisions and an updated Child Labour Protection Act, 1986, India cannot avoid the shame of being home to 30 per cent of the world’s child workforce. The extended ban is one more step towards beefing up the Children’s Commission Bill enacted in 2006; it also strengthens the National Plan of Action for Children, 2005. Yet, even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh exhorted all to effect the ban, child rights activists murmur that prohibitions are of limited relevance without the means to enforce it effectively. Additionally, any such ban requires rescue and rehabilitation arrangements, which are yet to be put in place.
The routine raids and inspections where officers swoop down on sweatshops and factories have done little to curb the use of child labour. Its prevalence is visible to anyone who cares to walk around almost any part of India — in small shops, factories and even homes. A raid simply means the working children are hidden away. Further, even for occupations exempt from the ban, there is scant inspection of the conditions the children are made to work in. Before the ban can have the desired impact of bringing down the number of working children, much needs to be done. Getting the numbers right may be a beginning. The Government of India claims that there are 12.05 million children employed as labour in the country, while the Human Rights Watch estimates that there are 115 million. Given the stark poverty, which is the key driving force behind child labour, it will be difficult to dent the problem. Denying impoverished families whatever little money a child may bring in, can make the child even more vulnerable to abuse.
The State must do everything it can to mitigate the effects of poverty. It must ensure that special incentives like the mid-day meal scheme are implemented honestly so that poor children are encouraged to attend school. One way to break the chain is to assure better opportunities to the new generation.