In 2008, the state government assured the Bombay High Court that child labour in Maharashtra would be eradicated by 2010.
Almost two years later, one day before World No Child Labour Day (May 1), the state has admitted it promised more than it could deliver. Kavita Gupta, Maharashtra labour secretary said it is not practically possible to eradicate child labour completely, but claimed the state has managed a significant reduction in the number of children working in hazardous industries in Mumbai.
“Even if we eradicate child labour from the state, it can only be for a certain duration, because over time, children from other states keep adding to the child labour pool in our state,” said Gupta. “Task forces have been set up to raid places and rescue child labour whenever they get complaints,” Gupta added.
NGOs fighting child labour have rejected the state’s claim, saying there has been no improvement in the numbers. “The state prohibits children under 14 from working in hazardous conditions, but has no regulatory authority implementing it,” said Nitish Kumar, head of communication and strategy at Childline, which works against child labour and abuse.
The Child Labour Prevention Act, 1986, says children below 18 cannot work in hazardous industries. Amended in October 2006, it also bans children under 14 from working as domestic help, and in dhabas, restaurants, hotels and other hospitality sectors.
Unofficial estimates say India has more than 120 million child labourers, with around 25,000 in Mumbai — and that doesn’t include the thousands working in the city as domestic help, because they’re not accounted for in such surveys. Mumbai reportedly has more than one lakh child labourers aged 14-18.
Santosh Shinde, child rights activist and member of the Child Welfare Committee said the state’s integrated child protection scheme makes protection of children a government priority.
“It started with five states taking responsibility, but soon, 21 states will join the scheme. That will put protection of children in the government’s hands,” said Shinde, adding that more citizen support for the issue was needed.