In a much needed and awaited reforms the Rajaya Sabha finally passed the Child labour Amendment bill, 2012 clearing the road for child labour reforms in the country. The bill was unanimously passed by voice votes in the upper house. The bill also helps India in ratifying two key ILO conventions namely, C-138 Minimum age convention, 1973 and C- 182 Worst form of Child Labour convention, 1999.
The 2001 census counted 12.6 million child workers between the ages of five and 14 in India. In 2011, this number fell to 4.35 million. The National Sample Survey Office’s survey of 2009-10 put the number at 4.98 million.
The bill was introduced in the house of parliament in 2012 at the time when the UPA government was in power but due to disagreements over certain key points, the bill was referred back to the standing committee recommendations. However, the newly formed NDA government took a long-standing look at the bill resolving key issues and the cabinet gave a green lit to the bill last year in the month of March.
The passed legislation prohibits children under the age of 14 years from working in any form of industry and terming the age cap of 15-18 as ‘adolescent’ prohibits them from working in any form of hazardous industry or process, also keeping in mind certain exceptions.
The act recognizes employment of such individuals would be a cognizable offence and attract imprisonment between 6 months to 2years (In comparison from the earlier 1 month to 1 year) or a fine of INR 20,000-50,000 (From the earlier INR 10,000-20,000) or both. If the second time the offence is being committed, it will attract 1 to 3 years of imprisonment.
The legislation further extends to parents where if the parents are found to be guilty, a liability of INR 5,000 and further imprisonment for a term not less then 6 months but not more then a year will be imposed.
The bill also laid down certain key exceptions, where the age cap will not apply. Now, children below the age of 14 years will be able to be employed in Family business and agriculture industry after school hours. Similarly, children working in the media industry such as films, TV serials, audio-visuals, sports leaving out circus and other entertainment industry have also been exempted, provided that it does not affect their school hours. The exception also caters harmonious construction with Right to Children to free and compulsory Education act, 2009 or RTE act, 2009.
Calling it a historic move and ‘total abolition of Child Labour’ even after drawing criticism against the family business exception Union Law minister Bandaru Dattatreya stated that, “In a family the Employer-Employee relationship does not exists.” Further added, “Law should be framed on ground realities as well as ensuring that it is implementable.”
Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi in a statement said, “The amendment in child labour law may have good intent and moves gradually towards our destination, but I cannot say I am happy for the millions of child labourers in our country. This day has come after a long struggle, which began in 1986 when the child labour law was enacted.”
He further added, “A weak law on child labour may have severe implications on economic, social, human rights and moral well-being of society. It seems to me that a political scene has been set to fail our children once again due to the existing apathy, complacency and old-age mind set.” However he was dissatisfied with the exceptions given in Family businesses and enterprises.
The legislation will now be laid in the Lok Sabha and if passed will require presidential ascent to be implement as a Law.