Despite new rules put in place, the presence of child labour is undeniable in our midst

If all goes well, the anti-child labour law in the country will no longer be about “regulating” child labour, but abolishing it entirely across sectors.

The Central Labour Ministry has given a new set of recommendations which aims to make the Indian child labour law in tune with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). At present, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 allows employment of children of up to 14 years of age in industries that are not categorised “hazardous”.

The Labour Department has circulated a Cabinet note seeking complete ban on any form of child labour. With the Right to Education Act guaranteeing free and compulsory education to all till 14, amendment to the child labour law to ban it across board is only logical.

Age limit

According to a Labour Department official in Karnataka, the Centre is also holding consultations with stakeholders and State governments on rising the age for defining a child labourer. “Karnataka, like several other states, has suggested that the age be raised to 16,” said the official. Even though the ILO and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights define age of a child as of under 18, the stand of Karnataka and other states is that 16 is more “realistic” at the present juncture.

Low conviction rates

Even as laws are being amended and new rules put in place, the presence of child labour is undeniable in our midst. While one encounters child workers in everyday interactions, the numbers that continue to be found during raids of the Labour Department and non-governmental organisations is an official indicator of the fact.

Between 2001-02 to 2011-12, the Labour Department conducted 3.63 lakh inspections to detect child labourers and identified 1.07 lakh employed children.

While 18,915 prosecutions were filed, the convictions remain an abysmal 1,322, which is another reason why people continue to employ children with impunity. The stories that go untold are of children who are “rescued” but go right back into the labour market because of the dire conditions their families find themselves in, especially among those who migrate because of agrarian distress and keep shifting between the city and the native village. Thirteen-year-old Veeresh, from Andhra Pradesh, is a case in point. He migrated to Bangalore with this family and was persuaded by Giri Prasad Addanki, a volunteer with a child rights organisation, to go to school. However, the family went back to their native village for harvest and with that went Veeresh's education. “He is back in town, but thinks it's difficult to get back and cope. We are still trying to convince him,” said Mr. Addanki.