The child will labour no more
In the utterly difficult climate when the Indian government has been under repeated attacks on a variety of issues, especially the allotment of coal blocks, the union cabinet has taken the bold and necessary step of imposing a total ban on child labour under 14 years of age. Till date, children were prevented from being employed only in hazardous industries. And in other industries, mere awareness was considered enough to act as deterrence towards child labour employability. Now, the government has realised that awareness achieves little in a country like India and only a total legal ban and the attendant threat of fine or imprisonment or both could achieve the target of country becoming totally free of child labour in near future. By making amendment to the Child Labour [Prohibition and Regulation] Act, 1986, the employment of children below the age of 14 will now become a cognisable offence in any industry – hazardous or non-hazardous. The cabinet also approved a blanket ban on employing children below 18 years in hazardous industries. As per the Census of 2001, there were 12.6 million children employed in the age-group of 5-14 years, while the National Sample Survey data estimated the child workforce during 2004-2005 to be a whopping 9.07 million. The maximum punishment for acts in violation of the newly amended act has been increased from one year imprisonment to two year imprisonment and from Rs 20,000 fine to Rs 50,000 fine or both.
This ban, say officials from the Labour and Employment Ministry, will also help ensure that children are compulsorily admitted in schools as per the mandate of the Right to Education Act, 2009. Internationally, too, the ban will boost India’s image as it will enable India to ratify the ILO Convention 138 [minimum age for entry to employment] and Convention 182 [prohibition of employment of persons below 18 years in hazardous occupations]. India is now in a position to leave the group of seven countries which still permit some kind of child labour officially. This is a welcome move by all means. Now that the government has taken the last legal step of total ban, it should take the first step in ensuring that the ban is executed to the last tee. The government should not have any excuses for not doing this, nor should there be any laxity. It will take some time to convince those who are forced to put their child into labour of the long term gains of child education but the government cannot shy away from this commitment. It must put its best foot forward.