Child Labour in India

Published on 05 Jul 2016 by Team

Child labour perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems- Kailash Satyarthi

Being a resident of India, we all have experienced some form of child labour around us and as responsible citizens, it becomes our duty to be informed about such social evils and help our children in need.

What is Child Labour?

Child Labour, as defined by the International Labour Organization, refers to work that leads to the deprivation of one’s childhood and education opportunities. Effects include a loss of potential and dignity in self, which is harmful to a child’s physical and mental development.

Child Labour is conventionally defined as a working child between the age of 5-14 who are doing labour or engaged in economic activity either paid or unpaid. The definition of a child as given under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 defines child means a person who has not completed his fourteen years of age.

Causes of Child Labour

Children are not only led to labour due to poor school infrastructure but also find themselves 'caught in the crossfire' of India's poverty problem. In many cases, it is parents and relatives who force children into labour. Child labour also becomes a means of survival for children who find themselves homeless or abandoned as a result of adverse circumstances.

Poverty has and will always remain one of the primary reasons behind child labour. In a developing economy like ours, the poor people always consider the children of the family as an extra source of income. And thus, they are often forced to work in order to financially support their family.

Laws Which Protect Children from Child Labour

The Indian Parliament time and again has passed Laws and Acts to ensure the protection of children from child labour.

Constitutional Mandate: The Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution prohibit child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment under Article 24. Notably, Constitution of India prohibits child labour in hazardous industries (but not in non-hazardous industries) as a Fundamental Right under Article 24. Apart from this, it is also provided under Article 21-A that State shall provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education for children of the age six up to 14 years.

Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986

This the most comprehensive Act which elaborates where and how children can work and where they cannot. It’s an Act which sets the scope of the prohibition of the engagement of children in certain employments and goes on to regulate the conditions of working of children in certain other employment and extends to the whole of India.

Part II of the Child Labour Act act prohibits children from working in any occupation listed in Part A of the Schedule of the Act. These occupations include (but are not limited to): Catering at railway establishments, construction work on the railway or anywhere nears the tracks, plastics factories, automobile garages and others. The Act also makes the provisions to prevent children working at places where certain processes are being undertaken such as beedi making, tanning, soap manufacture, brick kilns and roof tile making.

The part III of The Child Labour Act of 1986 declares regulations of conditions of work of Children as follows:

Hours and Periods of Work

Children should not be working for more than three hours at a stretch and once three hours are completed, then the children must be given an hour break. In total, children are not to work for more than six-hour stretches (their break interval inclusive). Also, they cannot work in the hours falling between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. At the same time, a child is entitled to one holiday per week.

Other Legislation Enacted To Check Child Labour

The Factories Act of 1948: This act states all such activities as illegal and against the law which involve children below the age of 14 years being employed in any factory.

The Mines Act of 1952:Mines are considered amongst the most unsafe environments to work in, this act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.

The Children Act, 1960: This is also important legislation which prohibits employment of children for begging and exploitation of child employee.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: According to this act, an employee who employs a child below the age of 18 years in a hazardous environment or under bondage is considered a criminal, and who so ever indulges in such activities, would be trialed and punished with a prison term.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law necessities and mandates free and compulsory education for all children aged 6-14 years. This act also mandates a total of 25 percent of seats in each private school be reserved and allocated to children belonging to disadvantaged groups and to physically challenged children.

Recent Amendments

Last year, significant amendments were made to the Child Labour Act. These amendments, proposed a few years ago, were cleared by the Union Cabinet in May last year (2016). These amendments seek to completely bar children less than 14 years from working in any sector except entertainment industry and non-hazardous family enterprises. Another major provision of this amendment which allowed children between 5 and 14 years of age to help in family enterprises after school hours or during vacation, met with great resentment by child rights activists and NGOs.

It would be apt to state that at first glance the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, seems progressive. However, on careful reading, it can be found that the new act suffers from many problems. Amendment Act per se negates the effect of this blanket ban on child labour in all occupations by introducing a provision under subsection (2) of Section 3 wherein it provides that “where the child helps his family or family enterprise after school hours or during vacations”, the ban would be rendered ineffective.

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