Lok Sabha has passed Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 to allow child labour below the age of 14 years in family enterprises is a regressive move. RTE Forum, a coalition of ten thousand grass-root organizations, people’s movement, educationists and teachers organizations, has said that “Today is black day for the millions of Indian children; they will now be deprived from all their rights which they have achieved after the decades long struggles, like, right to education, equal opportunity for quality learning, play, protection and enjoyment of their childhood.”
The Labour Ministry and the Government have completely negated the voice of Child Rights Activists of this country and also the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour. There are 1,01,28,663 child labourers in the country between the age group of 5 to 14 years as per 2011 census. The amended Bill might give a first impression that the Government is taking a stringent measure to end child labour upto 14 years. But a closer look at this reveals that it is hardly the case. Of course there are some relevant measures in the new bill such as a jail term of up to 2 years for those employing children below the age of 14 for labour activities. Activists who have been fighting for rights of children have been critical of the bill.
The Government has made an exemption that the child can help his family or family enterprise after his school hours or during vacations. The government has made the amendments on the hypothesis that education and work for children can go hand in hand but this defeats the very purpose of protecting the children from exploitation and also the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act.
Ambarish Rai National Convener of RTE Forum has expressed his deep concerns about the insensitive approach of ruling party towards children of this country and said that this is a clear violation of existing Fundamental right to Education (Article 21A). RTE Act, which is guaranteeing right to education up to 14 years, is now planning to move as a legal entitlement towards secondary education. This amendment will affect the retention rate of children in schools and increase drop outs of marginalized especially girl children. Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) declared by United Nations is also pushing for the universalization of education till the secondary level.
Mr Rai said that employers and contractors will be benefited by this amendment and children are now forced to be exploited through this amendment. `Family’ has been defined as child’s mother, father, brother, sister and father’s sister and brother and mother’s sister and brother; `Family enterprise’ has been defined as any work, profession, manufacture or business which is performed by the members of the family with the engagement of other persons. This means a child can work in any manufacturing or business unit if it is owned by his / her relative.
Several Parliamentarians have also criticized the bill saying “we should not do to other children what we do not do to our own”. Some of the members in the opposition have said strongly that none of them would like their children to do labour, family business or not, apart from studies.
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