Major triumph for advocacy groups seeking abolition of child labour

In a far-reaching decision, the Rajasthan government has announced that a person below 18 years will be considered as a child labourer if he or she is employed.

Accepting the long-pending demand of child rights groups, the government announced a comprehensive standard operating procedure (SOP) for identification, rescue, protection and rehabilitation of children employed in various occupations.

The decision has come as a major triumph for advocacy groups seeking the abolition of all forms of child labour, with the demand for revision in the definition of working children, so as to bring uniformity in all legislations, to prohibit the engagement of children up to the age of 18, in both hazardous and non-hazardous works.

The State government’s Social Justice & Empowerment Department issued a notification earlier this week, clarifying that the subject of child labour will henceforth be dealt with under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, coming up with an SOP for all departments concerned for handling the issue of child labour.

Chief Secretary C.K. Mathew and Additional Chief Secretary (Social Justice & Empowerment) Aditi Mehta have signed the notification.

Banswara-based non-governmental organisation Vaagdhara has been leading the combined efforts for bringing in uniformity in the “official approach” to the age of child labourers for quite some time. Vaagdhara also released a draft plan of action for elimination of child labour in February this year, after preparing it in collaboration with an aid agency, Plan India.

The draft document, along with a report on the child labour situation and region-specific strategies in the State, was given to three State Ministers at a function here in February. The two documents were prepared after painstaking efforts spread across the past one year, involving a series of multi-stakeholder consultations.

Vaagdhara secretary Jayesh Joshi welcomed the government’s decision, and said here on Saturday that it would provide a better future for all children, and make Rajasthan a child labour-free State in the near future. “We hope for many more such accomplishments as a result of our sustained campaign for protecting children’s rights,” he said.

The unusually-long, six-page notification has made some important remarks on the prevalence of labour among children below 18. It says a large number of children below 18 years are working in occupations such as gem polishing, ‘Aari Tari’, carpet manufacturing, brick kilns, domestic chores, begging, bidi industry, mines, agriculture, tea kiosks, dhabas, etc., and a large number of them were being trafficked out of the State for labour in Bt cotton fields, where they work for 10 to 16 hours a day.

Besides the local children, a large number of child labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi and West Bengal are working under difficult circumstances in Rajasthan.

The notification said child labour was also hampering the government’s efforts to provide free and compulsory education to every child. Though the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, is in force in the State, it treats work by children below 14 years in certain occupations as valid, and doesn’t facilitate rehabilitation of rescued children. The notification holds the Juvenile Justice Act, which defines a child’s age as 18, as the basis for taking action against child labour.

“Under no circumstances can the jurisdiction of the Child Welfare Committee be ignored. The subject of child labour has to be viewed in the context of child protection,” stated the notification, while spelling out the responsibilities of different departments under the SOP. It also cited a judgment of the Supreme Court and guidelines of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights for effective implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act.

The SOP has specified the responsibilities of the police, the Labour Department, Child Welfare Committees, district child protection units, the district administration and task forces, which were appointed earlier. The task force in each district will meet once every fortnight and prepare action plans for the rescue of child labourers, while the Collector will be responsible for protecting children.

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