Forty five signatures and one demand – end all forms of child labour to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act in letter and spirit. This was the content of a petition addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The government should ensure that millions of children engaged in child labour were included in the implementation of the RTE Act. With this historic piece of legislation, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation Act) must be amended immediately, the petition said.

The petition, an initiative of the Save the Children – an independent child rights organisation – had asked 45 eminent members of society to endorse the petition at the end of a 45-day campaign.

“You cannot have one law that promises elementary education to all children and another one regulating child labour. Children cannot be both working and in school at the same time – let's ensure that it is only the latter,” the petition said.

The RTE Act, which came into force on April 1, 2010 guarantees the right to every child between the ages of 6 and 14 to free and compulsory elementary education whereas the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act makes a distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous categories of work for children under 14 years.

“There cannot be any distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous labour for children below 14 years. And in any case, child labour in any form is detrimental to the physical, mental and cognitive growth and development of the child. By allowing children below 14 years to work, we stand morally diminished. We rob them of their childhood,” Harpal Singh of Save the Children said.

The signatories include N.C. Saxena, Harsh Mander, Anu Agha (members of the newly constituted National Advisory Council); Syeda Hameed, Arun Maira (members of the Planning Commission); Shantha Sinha (chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights); several MPsand heads of many business houses among others.

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