A hundred rupees is all it takes for an employer to go scot-free after putting a child through wretched work conditions in the State. That is the cost of one lost childhood, nowadays.
A penalty not exceeding Rs.100 has been the only ‘punishment’ imposed on nearly 12,000 employers of child labour across Andhra Pradesh over the past 16 years.
Despite the presence of a rigorous ‘Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation’ (CLPR) Act, authorities have prosecuted majority offenders under the feeble ‘A.P. Shops and Establishments’ (APSE) Act which stipulates a pittance as penalty.
While CLPR Act imposes a fine of Rs.10, 000 along with a month-long imprisonment on violators, APSE Act imposes a fine of merely Rs.100 for first-time employers of child labour. Those are caught a second time are fined between Rs.250 and Rs.500 under APSE Act.
Yet 15,054 employers have been booked under APSE Act as against a meagre 2,659 under CLPR Act.
Even as CLPR only prohibits certain ‘hazardous’ employment among children and regulates others, the punishment imposed on violators of the stringent regulations is far higher than that under APSE Act which prohibits all employment among children.
Hence, of the 11,447 employers convicted from 1996 to 2010, a penalty of only Rs.12 lakh has been collected.
Moreover, despite the APSE Act stipulating a three-month imprisonment for employers of child labour who have been caught a third time, few have been sent to imprisonment in over a decade. “Only a handful of nearly 12,000 convicted employers have been imprisoned so far as there is no proper track of repeat offenders,” confess officials.
When contacted, officials admitted that cases could have been booked under CLPR Act which stipulates stringent punishment as against a fine of Rs.100 which is barely a deterrent to employing child labour. The cases, however, had been booked under APSE as it completely prohibits employment rather than only regulating it, they added.
Minimum Wages Act
“To overcome the huge lacuna in APSE Act we are punishing offenders under the Minimum Wages Act which imposes heavy penalty,” they said.