Amendments to child labour law: opposition mounts

A LONG WAY TO GO:A sand sculpture that was created on the Marina to mark World Child Labour Day. —Photo: R. Ragu  

D. Mala started working when she was 10 years old. She worked as a maid in a house in T. Nagar, and earned Rs. 100 a month for her efforts. Every morning, she would begin her chores at 8 a.m., wash dishes, cut vegetables, finish some kitchen work and go to school. When she got done with school in the evening, she would go back to the house she worked in and get home only by 8 p.m.

“Although the work I did is not considered hazardous, and I continued to attend school, I was psychologically not inclined to study until I received support from Arunodhaya. There are a number of children who do not have this support, and with the new amendments to the Child Labour Act, they will now have no legal recourse either,” she said.

Mala now works as a social worker with the same NGO and is one of the city’s activists who are struggling against the amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The new amendment, which was cleared by the Cabinet in 2015, has a number of issues, which could be detrimental to the development of children, activists say.

“Out of 18 hazardous occupations, only four are considered hazardous – foundries, mines, plastic units and fibre glass, handling of toxic, inflammable and explosives. This means occupations like elephant caring, diving, slaughter house, handloom, power loom, fire cracker workshop are non-hazardous if they are run by the family,” Varsha Pillai, Senior Manager, CRY said, adding that now, more invisible forms of child labour will be encouraged, leading to more exploitation.

There is also no monitoring mechanism to check the working hours of children, migration, outsourced work like gem polishing and beedi rolling, school attendance and rag picking, she added.

Members of the Campaign Against Child Labour, too, have raised their voice against the new Act, saying there is no protection for children.

“An eight hour work day is considered normal for adults, but now, children are forced to attend seven hours of school, and then are allowed to be engaged in labour, which will stunt their development in several areas,” V. Vasanthi Devi, child rights activist said.

The division into hazardous and non-hazardous industries itself is a problem, Girija Kumarbabu from ICCW said.

“Factors like physiological, psychological and emotional health should also be taken into consideration. The new amendments are discriminatory, allowing some children to enjoy the right to not work, while others do not enjoy that privilege,” she said, adding that for the past 30 years, activists have been telling parents to keep their children away from work, but now, they did not have any legal backing.