Plug loopholes in child labour law to prevent misuse
It appears that the road to child labour is paved with good intentions. The new child labour law allows children to be employed in non-hazardous family businesses without affecting the child’s education. On the face of it, it appears pragmatic and in sync with the ground reality in a country like India, with all its inequities and unique low-income families involved in occupations and small businesses. And that precisely is the government’s justification and defence. But those familiar with the other equally important aspect of the Indian reality would be skeptical of, and some even horrified at, the possible outcomes.
There are many unscrupulous people who would impudently violate even stringent laws since they could manipulate the system. Now they would brazenly employ children. The government, despite its good intentions, should heed to the critical voices of activists, prominent among them being Noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi. They are levelling criticism at two levels. One, the definition of families and family businesses is faulty. Two, the government has not taken into account the vulnerabilities of children and the impact of labour on their overall development. Girls face double disadvantage in this regard. Moreover, when adults find it difficult to do two jobs a day, how can a child manage both work, often backbreaking, and also attend school and do homework, especially when he/she comes from a disadvantaged background?
The UNICEF has made some important suggestions — namely, preparation of a comprehensive list of hazardous occupations beyond mines and inflammables, and putting in place a robust monitoring mechanism to curb the potential misuse of law, especially for indirect trafficking of children for labour. Besides UNICEF’s suggestions, the government should also look into the quantum of punishment — fine of `20000-`50,000 and a jail term of six months to two years — would hardly deter anyone.