The Parliament of India has passed amendments to the Child Labour Act which are designed to attack child rights and also to legalize the use of children above 14 years of age in industries hitherto considered hazardous. Passed in the Upper House earlier, it was passed by the Lok Sabha on 26th July 2016. Such a Bill had earlier been designed by the erstwhile UPA Govt. but it had lapsed.
The new amendments deregulate the employment of children under 14 years of age. This is done by stating that children below 14 years can only be employed in ‘family enterprises’ in ‘home based work’ and in forest gathering and in family fields after school hours. The earlier Act prescribed hours of work, time off for school and had other stipulations. Children between the ages of 14 to 18 years will now be termed adolescents and such adolescents can be employed in professions other than hazardous professions. This is while bringing down the list of such hazardous industries from 83 to just 3 (Mines, inflammable substances and hazardous processes). Children (meaning below 14 years) can be made to work in family grocery stores, enterprises and shops after school hours – all this camouflages the real purpose of the Bill, which is deregulating the employment of child labour as it does not specify what is implied by ‘family’. It also authorizes govts. to further prune the list of hazardous industries. The list, worryingly, does not include the growing construction industry where children mostly end up assisting parents.
According to a report of the ILO of 2015, 5.7 million children between the ages of 5 years and 17 years were employed. 7% tribal and 4% lower caste children are employed, though this even at first glance appears a grossly under stated figure. Over half employed children work in agriculture, a large section in various types of manufacturing ranging from carpet weaving, to embroidery, thread cutting, beedi rolling, carpet weaving, matchsticks, glass bangles and fireworks manufacturing sector. A large number are also employed in dhabas, hotels and in domestic work.
Present system does not provide for overwhelming majority of children their right to nutrition, education, conditions for physical and mental development with appalling level of poverty, destitution and backwardness. Even the existing laws are not implemented not only with regard to children but also with regard to adult workers. And now the Govt. which is complicit in this non-implementation, has thrown away all pretense and done away with the safeguards also. This is an attack on the rights of children which in this case is part of attack on the rights of working people at large in the service of foreign and domestic big capital which will take advantage of this sweat and blood of children.
The Amendments have now been sent for Presidential assent. They are essentially in service of corporate. The IFTU urges the President to not give his assent to the Bill. It is an attack on the rights of children.