Are we ready to protect our children from the spectre of Child Labour?

The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act (CLPRA) enacted in 1986 was based on the recommendations of various committees and prohibits employment of children less than 14 years in certain specified hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the working conditions in others.
In 1992 India ratified the United Nation Convention on Rights of Children (UNCRC), a reservation on Article 32 of the Convention was made, wherein the Government of India articulated that it will ban all forms of child labour in a progressive manner and in accordance to the resources available.
In 2009, the right to free and compulsory act said that children between 6-14 years should have access to free and compulsory education and since then there has been a need to re-look at the CLPRA and amend it. The 2012 Amendment Bill was introduced in the Parliament and was subsequently referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2013. The Standing Committee in its report on December 13, 2013 laid down certain observations and recommendations on the Amendment Bill.
Are we ready to protect our children from the spectre of Child Labour?
What is worrisome is that the amendment proposal limiting the hazardous employments is a blatant attempt at aligning it to the existing list that falls in the Factories Act of 1948.
The Ministry of Labour on June 16, 2014 uploaded their comments to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and is soon set to re-introduce the bill in the Parliament. The bill is not presently available in the public domain and therefore this stance is based on information provided in media reports.
Defining Children
Internationally children are defined as those in the 0-18 age group, but in India, the definition of child is different as per different laws. The provisions of the bill bans all forms of employment for children up to 14 years but bans only a small set of employments including that of in factories, mines and explosives for children in the age group of 14 - 18 years.
Our experience tells us that children between the age group of 15 to 18 years are equally if not more vulnerable to exploitative and abusive situations and need to be treated as children. Children in the age group of 14-18 are employed as labourers in multiple sectors, including construction work, at motor garages, transport sector, agricultural fields, domestic labour, leather units, bangle making etc that render them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and hazards. Hence there was an insistence towards a complete child labour ban up to the age of 18 years.
Hazardous and non hazardous occupations
In the 1986 CLPRA, the list of hazardous employments includes 18 occupations and 66 processes listed in the schedule. This list was arrived at by recommendation of the Central technical Advisory committee over the years and various Supreme Court Judgements. Although the bill bans the employment of children in the age group of 14-18 in hazardous employment but the list of hazardous employments is re-drawn and restricted to include employment in Mines, Explosives and factories only, which remains a very narrow interpretation of the term hazardous.
In reality there are no specific parameters or standards used to derive this interpretation of hazardous and therefore many employments like construction labour, domestic labour, working at brick kilns and all other forms of unorganized labour could technically and in reality employ children in the age group of 14-18 years.
What is worrisome is that the amendment proposal limiting the hazardous employments is a blatant attempt at aligning it to the existing list that falls in the Factories Act of 1948. Do labour legislations take prominence over our social obligations to our children? CRY strongly recommends that the list of hazardous occupations be looked at comprehensively.
There needs to be a clear consensus on the fact that the Factories Act is essentially regulatory in nature while the Child Labour Act is protection oriented and has greater social implications. We advocate for a scientific, evidenced based process of determining hazardous labour. It is vital that the additions of the Central Technical Advisory Committee as well as the Supreme Court judgments which were based on evidence and discourse be taken into account and included in the proposal.
Work of children below 14 years not prohibited in family based employments
The bill allows that children below 14 years be allowed to engage in home based work (as part of the assistance child may provide to his or her family). This becomes a clear violation of the child's right to protection as well as development specially children from the poor and marginalized sections who may end up taking up economic roles very early in life. How will the state ensure that children will 'assist' only after school hours? It is hard to miss the irony here! Are we ok with the fact India will then be a country that implicitly allows for Child labour to remain alive covertly in homes?
Provision for Rescue and Rehabilitation of children
A CRY study done in Mumbai along with DCPCR (Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights) reveal major concerns about rescue procedures and reflect that most rescued children are restored to families but not rehabilitated and therefore continue to remain vulnerable to be employed again. The Parliamentary Standing Committee had recommended that the act should be comprehensive to cover all the aspects viz. identifying child labour or adolescents in hazardous occupations, rescuing them, rehabilitating and retaining them in schools till the completion of elementary education.
Given that this is the primary legislation that covers rescue and rehabilitation of child labour, there needs to be explicit reference to the roles of the labour department beyond inspection. There is a need to strengthen the role and accountability of the enforcement machinery (labour department) in rescue, post rescue processes, interstate coordination for restoration and rehabilitation.
The framework of rehabilitation is presently based on the recommendation of the Judgement of the Supreme Court in the MC Mehta case. According to the judgement a sum of Rs 20,000 is recovered from the employers of rescued child labour. This amount along with additional Rs 5000 from the state government is deposited in the district child labour fund for each rescued child and the said fund is supposed to be used for rehabilitation of the rescued children. Experiences in many states reveal that money has been recovered and deposited in these funds but in most cases the benefit has not reached children.
For instance, the study conducted by DCPCR in Delhi revealed that rescued children were restored to their families in the other states by the Child Welfare Committees under the Juvenile Justice System and the recovered money was transferred by the Labour department to respective states/ district but there was no coordination. The benefit of this fund was never channelized to the children. Mechanisms of interstate transfer and the disbursal process need to be spelt out along with the setting up of specific mandates on the responsibilities of different stakeholders.
Article in www.ibnlive.com by Komal Ganotra is Director-Policy, Research, Advocacy at CRY