The Union Cabinet approved to move official amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012, which could seriously impact the state of child rights in the country.
While the amendment strictly prohibits employment of children under the age of 14 in all occupations and processes, it makes one crucial exception. Children under 14 can help their “family or family enterprises, which is other than any hazardous occupations or processes set forth in the schedule, after his school hours or during vacations”, according to the ministry of labour and employment.
The lack of any clear definition of “family” has child rights activists worried. If the law doesn’t clearly define ‘family’ then the fear is this exception being used as a loophole. Children can be employed by people on the pretense of being related without any way to confirm.
Activist Shireen Vakil Miller, formerly with Save the Children, pointed out that the Cabinet has given this approval without any consultation with civil society groups, and that there is huge pressure for such a loophole from many lobbies.
There are currently 18 occupations and 65 processes mandated under the current child labour legislation labelled as hazardous.
Post the Cabinet’s approval, the amendments have to go to the Parliament and then the President to become law, but as Miller says, “Since the government has such a majority, one worries what opposition there will be to the Cabinet’s approval. This is a shocking step and takes us several years backwards.
The new amendments do have some reasons to celebrate – banning employment of children from 14-18 years of age in hazardous occupations and processes, making employment of children in contravention of the Act a cognizable offence, constitution of Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund for rescued children and adolescents.