Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

Cabinet nod for changes to child labour law

Proposal allows minors to work in safe family enterprises, farms after school hours and during holidays

New Delhi: The cabinet approved a proposal to amend the child labour law to impose stricter punishment on those employing children below the age of 14 but allowed minors to work in non-hazardous family enterprises, a move that has been criticized by child rights activists.

If the amendments to the law are approved by Parliament, children younger than 14 can work in family enterprises and farms after school hours and during holidays. It will also double fines and the jail term for people employing minors.

“While considering a total prohibition on the employment of children, it would be prudent to also keep in mind the country’s social fabric and socioeconomic conditions," the government said in a statement on Wednesday. In a large number of families, children help their parents in occupations such as agriculture and artisanship, and while helping the parents, children also learn the basics of these occupations, it added.

“Therefore, striking a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socioeconomic 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," it added.

The labour ministry had initially proposed a blanket ban on all work by minors but the cabinet returned the proposal last month asking the ministry to rework the amendments keeping in mind India’s socio-economic condition, Mint reported on 27 April citing labour secretary Shankar Agarwal.

Children working as artists in the audio-visual entertainment industry, including advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities, except the circus, have also been granted exemption, provided the work does not affect their school education.

The government has opened a window for child exploitation, said Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, co-founder of non-governmental organization Haq that works in the field of child rights. “Family enterprise has many shades and by allowing children to work there, you have given an excuse to continue with the menace," said Thukral.

Giving legal sanctity for minors to work in television and the entertainment industry should also have been avoided, she said.

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.

“Employment of children below 14 years (is) prohibited in all occupations and processes and age of prohibition of employment linked to age under Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009," the cabinet said in a statement on Wednesday.

The cabinet has also barred the employment of adolescents (14-18 years of age) in hazardous occupations and processes such as chemicals and mines. “These provisions would go a long way in protecting adolescents from employment not suitable to their age," the cabinet said.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill is now in sync with the Right to Education (RTE) Act that guarantees all children between 6 and 14 to go to schools.

Offences under the Child Labour Act have been made a cognizable offence, the cabinet said. Companies deploying child labour shall get stringent punishment ranging from six months in jail to three years, besides fines depending on the magnitude of the offence.

The labour ministry will now table the amendments to the child labour law in the next session of Parliament.