Right to have a childhood

The Union Cabinet’s >approval of a set of amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 raises serious doubts and concerns. One of these proposes to ban the employment of children below 14 years in all occupations except family enterprises and the audio-visual entertainment industry, on condition that such work does not interfere with their education. One amendment proposes to regulate “adolescents” in the 14-18 age group by prohibiting their employment in hazardous occupations unsuitable to their age. There is no doubt that the 1986 Act itself needs to be amended. First, the law has proved to be weak and ineffective in curbing child labour. Second, it is in contradiction with Article 21-A of the Constitution and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 that makes schooling compulsory for all in the age group of six to 14 years. Third, the 1986 Act does not regulate adolescent labour as mandated by ILO Conventions 138 and 182.

Although the government’s intention to amend the Act is to be appreciated, what is deeply problematic is its intention to exempt from the ban employment in family enterprises. It is suggested that poverty and socio-economic conditions in India justify children helping their families in certain occupations where the possibility of any harm coming upon them does not exist, provided that they balance the work with schooling. This may sound reasonable but may prove unworkable. The law potentially opens loopholes that will sustain or even encourage child labour, creating a regulatory nightmare. Here the government fails to recognise that family enterprises can also prove to be exploitative and oppressive for children. ‘Family enterprises’ fall in the unorganised sector, making them an amorphous legal category that is hard to govern. Such a law will adversely affect girl children who are often forced into domestic work, or Dalits and those from the minorities who work out of dire poverty but are ultimately denied the joys of childhood. Moreover, instead of just tinkering with the 1986 Act, the government needs to comprehensively overhaul it, focussing on the rehabilitation of children rescued from traumatic working conditions. This requires an interlinking of ‘rescue, rehabilitation and schooling’ through greater coordination among Ministries and organisations, and the inter-locking of the provisions of existing laws such as the RTE Act, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976; the Factories Act, 1948; the Beedi and Cigar Workers Act, 1996 and so on. It is meanwhile also disheartening that the budget allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development has been reduced from Rs.18,588 crore to Rs.10,382 crore.

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 2:53:55 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Editorial-on-approval-of-amendments-to-Child-Labour-Prohibition-and-Regulation-Act-1986/article59784202.ece