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Ahead of World Day Against Child Labour, activists in India slam Government’s proposed amendments to existing legislation

A number of civil society groups, parliamentarians, trade unionists, child rights activists and child leaders gathered today - a day before the World Day against Child Labour -- and urged the government to remove the provision to legitimise children working as child labour in family enterprises out of school hours and during vacation, which is now included in the proposed amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, approved by the Cabinet.  

The proposed amendment will allow employment of children under 14 years of age in family enterprises, including agriculture and home based work, forest gathering etc. The amendment also allows children to work in the audio-visual and entertainment industry, including advertisements, films, television serials or any other entertainment, which can include traumatic and hazardous situations, without specifying on the regulation required for this.

Civil society groups have strongly objected to this proposal and expressed concern that it will lead to the dilution of the objective of the Child Labour legislation to ban child labour up to 14 years of age and align it with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.  They also point out that the proposed amendment legitimise the economic exploitation of children and rob them of their childhood and their rights.

"These changes are against all of our efforts in the past 20 years to ban all forms of child labour up to 18 years, and not in the best interest of children," said P. Joseph Victor Raj,  National Convener of  Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL).  "We are not here to oppose the Government, but we need to be united today as the rights of our children are in jeopardy," he said.

Swamy Agnivesh, who chaired the consultation raised pertinent questions. “Who do you think will return from school and go for labour? It will of course be the children of  Dalits,  Adivasis, and children from most excluded backgrounds - most often the girls. Do these children not have a right to a proper childhood? We are taking away rights of children won after long and persistent struggles. Dr. Ambedkar's vision of ensuring education to the most marginalised sections by including the provision for education up to 14 years in the constitution is also under question, with an amendment like this.  We are taking the country back by decades. Is this called development?" he asked.

A.V Swamy, Independent MP from Rajya Sabha, Baishnab Parida BJD's MP at Rajya Sabha and Oscar Fernades who was the former Union Minister for Labour also joined the consultation to listen to the demands of the civil society members and express their solidarity. K C Tyagi, JDU MP from Rajya Sabha and Jawaharullah, MLA from TMMK Tamil Nadu were also part of the consultation.

"Let me assure you. I am against this proposed amendment. I also support your demand to raise the cut-off age of child to 18 years, in line with the UNCRC, which was ratified by the Government of India", said Baishnab Parida, MP Rajya Sabha, BJD

"The objective of this amendment is only to bring in more unskilled labourers. When you have adopted a National Child Policy in 2013, which speaks of keeping the cut-off age at 18 years, how can you bring an amendment that counters the whole spirit of that policy?", asked Jawaharullah TMMK MLA from Tamil Nadu.

Gautam Mody from New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), extended the union's support to children's rights and demanded that the Government should relook at the proposed amendments.

"We are already seeing labour laws being diluted and being opened up for misuse. This is yet another example - of legitimising child labour under the guise of 'family enterprise' in order to informalise labour and provide cheap labour for industries. Everyone knows that it will expose children of poor to more abuse", Mody added.

Ossie Fernandes from Human Rights Advocacy Foundation noted that all forms of work or labour is hazardous because it affects a child’s health, affects their education and takes away their childhood. "Why is the government so scared to increase the age limit to 18 years, for child labour legislation, when India has ratified the UNCRC?” he asked.

"I believe that all of us are of the view that allowing children to work after school would be detrimental to their health as they won't get time for rest and recreation which is important for the fullest physical and mental development in the formative years. It would also adversely affect their studies," Ossie Fernandes added.

"We from the Civil Society are of the view that as mentioned in the 40th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour there is no need to insert an explicit section or clause to permit children to help in families during out of school hours. It is likely to lead to misuse by employers saying that the children working as labourers belong to their families and will defeat the purpose of the proposed amendment," said Alex George, Child Rights Focus, ActionAid India.

The logic that working in family at an early age helps children to learn skills at an early age runs against the process of social mobility through education to occupations outside the traditional ones, which is a normal process in any modernising society.

Enakshy Ganguly from HAQ - Centre for Child Rights asked, "Why is it that the burden of carrying forward of social fabric is always on women and children? The Parliamentary Standing Committee did point out that including family enterprises could lead to exploitation. It was the same even while amending the Juvenile Justice Act. Why are people's voice being ignored again and again?"

The move to give written legal sanction to employ children in family occupations will lead to reinforcing adherence to caste based occupations, which will be regressive in 21st century India, aspiring to be a developed country. The bogey that parents would be penalised do not hold because the amendment clearly mentions labour as work involving a subordinate relationship of labour and work. 

The participants of the round table have made the following recommendations to the Government:

  • Removal of Section 5 of the CLPRA Amendment Bill 2012 and avoiding the insertion of any equivalent section or clause in the amendment.
  • Formulation of Regulatory laws governing employment of children 5-14 and 15-18 years in the entertainment and audiovisual industry, with particular emphasis on prohibiting employment in hazardous tasks and traumatic situations.
  • Reinstating the original longer list of hazardous occupations with regard to the 15-18 year old children and including more hazardous occupations based on an assessment of the newly emerging occupations.

For further query please contact:

Joseph Victor Raj @ +91 9994447687, Email: campaignagainstchildlabour@gmail.com

Alex George -  09968293621. Email - Alex.George@actionaid.org

About the Roundtable Consultation

The Roundtable consultation on child labour prohibition legislation was organized by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) in association with ActionAid India, Centre for Social Equitable and Inclusion (CSEI), HAQ - Centre for Child Rights, Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF), India Alliance for Child Rights (IACR), National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), RTE Forum.

Editor notes

  • The total number of child labour up to 18 years of age in India amounts to as high as 2.38 crores, of them 1.01 crores are children aged between 5 and 14 years. About 1.37 crores are children in the age group 15-17 years.  Source: Census of India 2011.
  • Children up to 18 years constitute 5 per cent of the total work force. Children up to 14 years in work force being 2.1 per cent and children up to 18 years amounting to 2.83 per cent.
  • While this itself is a very high proportion of the child work force the actual figures would be still higher as migrant children and children of migrant families are unlikely to be included in full measure in the census as they do not have a clear household base on which census mostly records its information.

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