The Union cabinet has moved ahead bringing amendments to the existing Child Labour law. Though the move has attracted skepticism by the activists working in the sphere of child rights, the government claims that the changes in the bill will go a long way to safeguard the rights of the children.
The cabinet’s proposal allowing children below 14 years of age to work only in family enterprises or entertainment industry with certain conditions has been accepted by the government. Also, as per the new provisions, employment of children below 14 years of age has been banned completely.
The original child labour law, on the other hand, had banned the employment of children below 14 years in only 18 hazardous industries. But now after the amendments, children between 14 and 18 years cannot be employed in hazardous industries.
Justifying amendments, the government told in its release, “striking a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socio-economic condition and social fabric in the country, the Cabinet has approved that a child can help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupation or process, after his school hours or during vacation.”
The amendment in the law has also proposed stricter punishment for the employers indulging in the violation of the law. While no penalty has been proposed for the parents on their first offence, the employer would be liable for punishment even for the first violation. In case of parents, the repeat offenders may be penalised with a monetary fine up to Rs 10,000.
In case of first offence, the penalty for employers has been increased from an existing Rs. 20 thousand to up to Rs 50,000 now, an increase of up to two and half times. In case of a second or subsequent offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the law, the minimum imprisonment would be one year which may extend to three years. Earlier, the penalty for second or subsequent offence of employing any child in contravention of the law was imprisonment for a minimum term of six months which may extend to two years.
After the Cabinet nod, Government will move official amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 in Parliament.
While child rights activists were opposed to the dilution saying it will promote child labour, those involved in business maintained that children need to be trained in traditional arts at an early stage or they will not be able to acquire the required skills like weaving and stitching.
The amendments to the law has also lent exemption to the audio-visual entertainment industry, including advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities except the circus. This exemption is also conditional and stipulates taking up prescribed safety measures.
Besides a new definition of adolescent has been introduced in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and employment of adolescents (14 to 18 years of age) has been prohibited in hazardous occupations and processes.
“These provisions would go a long way in protecting adolescents from the employment not suitable to their age,” the government claimed in its release.