CHENNAI: Even as the Central government on Wednesday gave its approval to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012, child rights activists and lawyers have expressed concern that the amended bill may still end up encouraging child labour.
While the amended bill clearly prohibits employing children below 14 years in all occupations, it exempts employing children in family enterprises after school hours or during vacations. Further, it exempts children working in the entertainment industry, excluding the circus. The Cabinet has used the ‘social fabric’ of India as an exception to allow this work in home industries and farmlands, but activists and lawyers believe in no distinction, terming the Act as regressive.
“Enabling child labour within the family is absurd. If traditional skills like weaving or handicrafts needs to be made available to children, make it a part of school curriculum, not a form of labour,” emphasises V Geetha, advocate, Madras High Court, who has worked to draft an alternative child labour bill. “Will any minister send his/her child to work in order to learn a skill? Then why this discrimination?” she questions.
There are no set principles to regulate ‘family business’ or prescribed regulations that entertainment industry had to abide by, says P Joseph Victor Raj, national convenor of Campaign Against Child Labour. “The amended bill denies the right to education to poor children. An agricultural labourer or an artisan might end up employing his kids in his business and it would still be legal,” Victor says. “This move has created loopholes even before bringing out the legislation.”
The Act states that employment under 14 should be “... provided such that work does not affect school education of the child”. However, activists say that it would be contradictory to the Right to Education (RTE) guaranteed in the Constitution. Vidyasagar Ramamurthy, retired child protection specialist with UNICEF, says children will find it tough to work in a family enterprise and at the same time attend school. He stresses that part-time bondage relaxes the bill instead of strengthening it, and this could encourage employing children in hazardous industries claiming that it is family occupation.
“There is no set definition of family business. Would the family extend to uncles working in brick kilns and unorganised sectors too,” questions Andal Damodaran, president, Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW), Tamil Nadu. This was the case with the 1986 judgement as well, adds Thomas Jayaraj, director, Centre for Child Rights and Development, where factory-based industries became home-based industries. “Monitoring becomes an issue, and in the end it is the child who suffers, especially girls.”
On the issue of exemption from entertainment industry, activists are hoping for stricter guidelines to prevent exploitation and possible sexual abuse. “Children do have a right to participation. There need to be norms in place. But while this cannot be ignored, the numbers are comparatively much lesser,” Thomas says.
ACT TO SAVE KIDS
The amended Child Labour Act exempts employing children in family businesses and entertainment industry, except circus What Activists Say
There is no set definition of ‘family business’ and a child can be employed in any industry, with the employer claiming that it is a family business
Specifying the sectors where children below 14 years of age can be employed might actually end up encouraging child labour
Entertainment industry has no set rules to abide by when it comes to employing kids, leading to a rise in child abuse cases
The Bill in its amended form nullifies the Right to Education Act enshrined in the constitution