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Home » Current Affairs » The New Child Labour Law

The New Child Labour Law


“The child is father of the man”
- William Wordsworth

Child is a bundle of joys a flower incarnate in person. A flickering smile of the child pleases everyone. The brightness and future welfare of the society is closely interwoven with the brightness of the child and its careful upbringing. Childhood is the most important period of life, as it shapes adulthood. The very initiation of life-making starts at childhood. The early lesson of the child starts from the cradle. Parents adopt different methods to rear up the child in different ages, to make it a happy man or woman later. The mother being closer, has a greater responsibility to train up the child well from the very infancy.

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If one desires to know a nation, he should look for it into its children. Child is not only the future of the nation and its aspirations but also, and mainly, its strength in reserve. The future of nation is best insured if its children are healthy and active, educated and informed, disciplined and trained, as well as free from social prejudices, having a scientific outlook. It is, therefore a duty cast on the society at large to protest this crop of nation from the damaging effects of excessive exposure to vagaries of climate, as well as, from social oppression and injustice.

Talking all the aspects as a whole, the childhood is the most significant period of one’s life. It is considered, and rightly so, to be the very foundation of life on which depends the entire structure the whole personality as such child the father of man – is the natural future leader of the nation in every walk of life, may it be industry, education, politics, social services, administration defence, civil services or anything else. It is during this formative period of moulding that the life begins to acquire shape and substance, and the attitudes, behaviours, manners and emotions do get developed.


CONCEPT OF CHILD LABOUR The term ‘Child Labour‘ is, at times, used as a synonym for ‘employed child’ or ‘working child’. In this sense it is co-extensive with any work done by a child for profit or reward. But more commonly than not, the term ‘child labour’ is used in a derogatory sense. It suggests something which is hateful and exploitative.

Thus, child labour is recognized by the sociologists, development workers, educationists and medical professionals as hazardous and injurious to the child, both physically and mentally.

According to Shri. V.V.Giri, former president of India, has thus distinguished the two concepts of the ‘child labour’s: the term ‘child labour’ is commonly interpreted in two different ways: first, as an economic practice and secondly, as a social evil. In the first context it signifies employed of the children in gainful occupations with a view to adding to the labour income of the family. It is in the second context that the term child labour is now more generally used. In assessing the nature and extent of the social evil, it is necessary to take into account the character of the jobs on which the children are engaged, the dangers to which they are exposed and the opportunities of development which they have been denied.”

The term ‘child labour’ applies to children engaged in all types of activities whether these be industrial or non-industrial but which are determined to their physical, mental, moral and social well being and development. The brain of a child develops anatomically till the age of ten, the lungs till the age of fourteen and the muscles till the age of seventeen. Anything which obstructs the natural growth of any or all of these vital organs should be considered as determinate to natural physical growth, or even hazardous.

SOME HISTORICAL ASPECT ON CHILD LABOUR IN INDIA In ancient India it was the duty of the king to educate every girl and boy and parents could be punished for not sending their children to school called ashrams, which were really residential schools under a guru (a learned sage). Child labour existed only in the form of child slaves children, sometimes even less than 8 years of age, were purchased, to do so-called low and dishonorable work. Kautilya (4th century B.C) considered it degrading to make children work on such jobs and hence prohibited the purchase and sale of slave children below 8 years.

Children, however, helped their parents in household activities and family crafts. They learnt the skills by observing and participating in such activities. A predominantly rural society is inevitably characterized by small and marginal economic units. India, through its medieval period, was no exception. Increasing pressure on land led to fragmentation of holdings. Growing families had to look beyond personal cultivation for subsistence. A class of landless labourers came into existence, often bonded to the large landowners. These labourers used their children to help in their economic activities. The rural artism rarely worked alone. Infact the entire family was a work unit with the ‘pater familia’ being the master craftsman. Occupations were determined largely on the basis of heredity, and children were introduced to their traditional craft at a young age.

NATURE OF CHILD WORK From time immemorial it has been the practice that children were to engage themselves in some sort of work or the other, both in home and in the field. In olden days, children of tender age performed even toilsome work alongwith adult agricultural and other workers. In the medieval period, children used to be engaged as trainees under the guidance of their parents to learn traditional crafts of the family.

In agriculture, children are employed not on agricultural operations but in non-agricultural operations also. They are employed in such diverse agricultural operations as ploughing, sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting threshing and guarding the crops, etc.

In plantations, child labour is a part of family labour. They assist their parents in plucking of leaves and coffee berries, or collecting of latex, or they do some secondary jobs, such as, weeding, spreading of fertilizers, the care of nurseries, digging of drains, etc. they are also employed to pick out stalks and coarse leaves of tea spread over the green leaves in the shadow.

There is also an increasing concern about the accident and disease incident among child agricultural workers, controls on hazardous insecticides and pesticides are deficient and neither the children nor their parents receive any instruction as how to use them safely. The same is true of mechanical operations.

Children in cities perform much larger varieties of activities than those in villages because of the extensively diversified structure of urban economics. Often, children are employed for packing, labeling, etc., in the factories. Other industries in which children are engaged are match factories, bidi manufacturing, mica cutting, wood and cork, furniture and fixture, printing, publishing and allied trades, leather products, rubber and rubber products, machinery, transport equipment, lock factories, gem cutting and polishing, potteries, glass bangle industries, brass work, carpet industries and personal services like laundaries, deying and cleaning.

Millions of small boys and girls are engaged in the unorganized sector, comprising hotels, restaurants, canteens, wayside ‘dhabas’, shops, repair workshop, and establishments of various types. They also work as hawkers, coolies, shoe-shine boys and venders. In big cities, children can be seen cleaning and washing automobiles just for a trip. The bigger the city, the higher is the persistent demand for teenagers to work as domestic servants and it is there that they are often subjected to worst types of exploitation without any means of protections-legal or social on the kitchen floor and are, as a rule, not permitted to attend school. Sexual abuse is also reported to be frequent.

In a good number of occupations child worker is invariably exposed to risks of various nature because of his tender age. For instance, he is likely to suffer burn injuries while working round about big ovens, or while carrying hot beverages; the newspaper hawkers and shoe-shine boys are exposed to the risk of road accident; rag-pickers may get cut injuries from glass pieces or broken tin cans; or the child working on construction sites alongwith his parents may sustain injuries while carrying brick or stone loads.

Interestingly, children are sometimes also employed as performing artists. They are given roles in films, and in circus they perform acrobatic feats, Magicians and jugglers use them as ‘Jamura’ (the helping boy) and they are also used by them for arousing public sympathy at wayside shows for alms.

Some writers and social workers are of the view that begging is a major field of operations where children are put to work. Mrs. Sengupta has observed.:
“Our seething millions where child employment is rife and has become a various form of exploitation ….. begging is becoming a real profession and there are scaring rumours that gangsters and syndicates of inhuman beings trade in human babies and children. Certainly the mother clad in a rag and clutching a baby in her arms is a sight that is shameful. Children are drugged or even, one hears, tortured. To see pavement dwellers in all their horrors living in filth, children picking up rejected and popping food mixed with filth into their mouths makes one feel desperate: but no one seem to do prevent from flaunting drugged babies or little tots on the road and to use them for employment purposes.”

Curiously, some well to do urban families, having connections in the country-side, take in some child of a poor relative, ostensibly, for supporting the child out of sympathy for the for the poor relatives, but he or she eds up as a domestic servant with no opportunity for education.

It has been also discovered that a sizable number of children ranging between 5 to 12 years of age had actually been kidnapped from different places to weave carpets and were forced to work for as long as 22 hours a day. These children treated like virtual slaves, were found to bear scar marks of torture. They were, reportedly, severely beaten even with iron rods, if they were deficient in work or committed errors in weaving.

The most nefarious rather barbarian form of child exploitation is the practice of bonded labour. The child is handed over by the loaner as security or collateral security against small sums of loan obtained at an exorbitant rate of interest. The bonded child usually gets only a handful of coarse grain for his subsistence. He has to toil very hard and exists at the mercy of his lord for the whole of life without the least hope of redemption. The mortgagee is usually some big landlord, money –lender or the village businessman and the mortgager is the poor landless labourer. Through this practice is prevalent in many parts of rural India, it is predominant in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu but with a distinguishing feature that there the bonded child is allowed to stay with his parents on the condition that he must present him self at work daily at 8 a.m. The practice of bounded labour is still prevalent dispite stringent laws against it which provide for imprisonment of, and imprisonment of, and imposition of fine on, the guilty.

CAUSES OF CHILD LABOUR Child labour is a socio-economic phenomenon. It is generally concerned that illiteracy, ignorance, low wages, unemployment, poor standard of living, stark poverty, deep social prejudices and appalling backwardness of the country-side are all, severally and collectively, the root causes of child labour. Mr Madan, Deputy Director, Ministry of Labour, is of the view that “the children are required to seek employment either to augment the income of their families or to have a gainful occupation in the absence of availability of school going facilities at various places.”

It has been officially stated that, “child labour is no longer a medium of economic exploitation but is necessitated by economic necessity of the parents and in many cases that of the child himself.” Prof. Gangrade believes that child labour is a product of such factors as customs, traditional attitude, lack of school or reluctance of parents to send their children to school, urbanization, industrialization, migration and so on.

AGE LIMIT The Indian constitution in its article 24 lays down that, “No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.” The abuse of the tender age can be stopped by bringing these vast unorganized sectors under legislative control. We see that children employed in different occupations and different states are subject to different set of regulations and treatment. But our primary interest is to save the tender aged children from health risks, hazardous and other forms of exploitation. The complex socio-economic conditions in different social milieu may not advocate the uniform age limit. But this should not rule out the possibility of acceptance of age uniformity, though child labour (Prohibitions and Regulation) Act has brought about much needed uniformity in certain cases. Not only in our country, but also in almost all other countries of the world the non-uniformity of age regulation is still in existence. The most widely covered and most strictly regulated sector is industry. Fifty-four of the member countries for which such information is available, have fixed the minimum age for industrial employment at 14. A higher age – 15 or 16 is the general rule in another forty-five and a lower one -12 or 13 – in just over a dozen. In case of non-industrial employment national laws and regulations are naturally extremely diverse. The majority of countries have, in principle, a uniform minimum age of 14, 15 or 16 years for all employment (disregarding agriculture for the moment).

But in our country where dire poverty is manifest in every walk of life what will be the minimum age for child labour? The International Labour Organization in its Convention No. 138 (1973), in Article 3 had clearly stated, “The minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardise the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.” If India ratifies this convention, millions of children will be thrown out of employment. In the present socio-economic condition in the country it is difficult to prescribe the minimum age. It will make the problem of unemployment and poverty more acute. But for the sake of uplifting the future standards of employment as well as to protect the children from such abuse of their tender age, at least we can appeal to our government to provide free and compulsory education to every child up to the age of 14 years. The law –makers must keep in mind the recommendation of the Convention No. 138. age limits should be gradually raised to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental growth and development of child workers as recommended by the International Labour Organization to save the children from the clutches of social injustice and deprivation and to ensure for them a happy normal growth in the national interest of every country.

HOURS OF WORK The health and efficiency of the workers depend mostly on the hours of work. Long hours of work are harmful not only for moral and physical development, but also retard efficiency. Considering our climate and geophysical conditions the hours of work should be lowered. The long working days minimize the working life. So it is less productive in the long run. Shorter working days are also less productive, but it provides more employment. The socio-economic conditions of India demands shorter working hours. The tender age of the working children should be protected from the onslaught of rigorous working hours. The environment of the working places, such as, hotels, restaurants, tea-stalls, and sweet-shops is most uncongenial to the development of the child. But the working children devote 16 to 20 hours daily to serve the clients.

According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, no child shall be permitted to work more than a period of 6 hours inclusive one hours rest in one day. Moreover short working hours, with rest intervals would enable the child workers to perform their duties efficiently and happily. The most surprising thing is that the employer hardly takes any care to make a difference between the child and the adult worker. Naturally working children become the victim of exploitation. Working hour should be restricted in such a way that they may be permitted to part time education. The most striking thing is that no special provision have been made regarding the condition of work, conservancy services whole- some drinking water, medical facilities, accident benefits, rest, etc., for the child workers. They should enjoy the same facilities like the adult workers.

IMPLEMENTATION OF SCHEMES Our constitution provides, as a fundamental right, that no child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed in any factory, or mine, or be engaged in any other hazardous occupation. Once Dr. Rajendra Prasad had remarked, “We might search our hearts and ask ourselves whether we have done everything possible to implement this directive.”

According to the report of the National Commission on Labour, the employment of children in factories, mines, plantations or in other organized sectors has been decreasing. However, this report adds that it continues to persist in varying degrees in the unorganized sector, such as, small plantations, restaurants, hotels, cotton ginning and weaving, carpet weaving, stone breaking, brick kiln, handicrafts and road building, etc. Employment of children, who are below the prescribed age, was also reported to be continuing at far off places and in rural areas where enforcement of statutory provisions was all the more difficult.

The real enforcement lies in the implementation. The positive side of implementation is that law should have and validity. The greedy employers do not care the existing laws. Like all other countries several industrial activities such as manufacturing, mines, construction and various kind of transport are dealt with by separate laws and regulations. On the other hand the immature children are in the dark about legal protection. Like all laws should be properly administered. The essential feature of the administration of labour law is inspection. A peculiar feature is that the employer always tries to draw a screen before the inspector. Inspector hardly gets any opportunity to identify the child for verify his age and the other working conditions. Children do not come openly to the inspector to report about their grievances.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION AND CHILD LABOUR The basic aim of the ILO to abolish Child Labour altogether is yet a distant goal in view of the present economic setup of the World. It has taken measures to protect the working children and to ameliorate their working and living conditions and to impart job-based education. The United Nations declaration of the rights of the child says:

The child shall enjoy special protection and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.”

It further states that: “the child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form. The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to be engaged in any occupations or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development.”

Best blessings on those
Little, innocent lives
Bloomed on earth,
Who have brought the message
Of joy from heavenly garden
- Rabindra Nath Tagore

It is the bounded duty of the country to provide for atleast free primary education for all children. One must remember that the industrialization can wait but youth does not last long. This right to primary education must be for all the present time, and not a dubious or ambiguous must be for the present for some defined future. The basic guarantees of our Constitutional must be fulfilled here and now.

Therefore, so far as the projects for development of human resources are concerned, the programme for welfare of children must be given top priority. It is only in this way that children can be trained to be good future citizen, mentally alert and prosperous. We should aim at providing proper and equal opportunities for development to all children in the light of the above mentioned constitutional directives. It is only then that we can fulfill our aspirations and achieve our objectives of social justice and equality enshrined in our constitution.

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