According to the child welfare committee, the Kerala High Court order clearly mentions that employing children under 18 in hazardous jobs is punishable

The Thursday night drama where police smelled a bid to traffic 50 underage persons has brought to the fore the absence of coordination between the agencies concerned.

A group of 56 persons, including 40 young women, believed to be from Uttar Pradesh, was spotted on board Hapa-Tirunelveli Super Express. On the basis of a tip-off received by the anti-human trafficking cell, a search was done when the train reached Palakkad station on Thursday night. However, almost all the members of the group produced documents proving they were not juveniles and the group was allowed to proceed to Aluva. Two policemen accompanied the group from Palakkad.

K.P. Philip, Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural, said details of each member of the group were collected when the train arrived at Ernakulam, along with those who are bringing them over. A detailed report will be filed with the Child Welfare Committee.

However, the Child Welfare Committee is not sure on what grounds the police officers present at the railway station and the District Labour Officer released the group. They should clarify, said the committee.

The committee is planning to write to the police asking why the group was shifted to the workplace, a major textile manufacturing unit near Aluva, before having all details.

The committee will also write to the Department of Labour on whether any member under 18 years was being employed there. Those aged below 18 years were being employed at present citing the recent Kerala High Court order that those aged above 14 could be employed, provided it was not hazardous job or their pay was not withheld. Textile industry, however, falls within the bracket of hazardous employment conditions.

“We are awaiting details from the police before initiating action on this,” said Padmaja Nair, chairperson of the committee here. Section 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act on exploitation of juvenile or child employee says: “Whoever ostensibly procures a juvenile or the child for the purpose of any hazardous employment, keeps him in bondage and withholds his earnings or uses such earning for his own purposes shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

According to the child welfare committee, the Kerala High Court order clearly mentions that employing children under 18 in hazardous jobs is punishable. And in the schedule of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, handloom and powerloom industries, construction sector, domestic labour and hotel industries are listed as hazardous labour.

The State has been a hot market for underaged labour. There were unconfirmed reports that nearly 300 children from Odisha have been engaged as domestic helps in the district. But in the absence of specific information and support from other agencies, the CWC is often rendered helpless.

S. Sreejith, Deputy Inspector General of Police and director of Police Academy, said the anti-human trafficking cell would be on the lookout for any violation and strict action would be initiated. During his tenure as the nodal office of the cell, more than 1,000 cases were registered on charges of trafficking women and children.

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