Bengaluru, Aug 2: Was it a hasty decision on President Pranab Mukherjee's part to give his assent to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016? Did the President, like the members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, fail the working children of the country by allowing regressive amendments to the Child Labour Act?
According to the UNICEF, there are approximately 10.2 million children working in India.
After the President gave his nod on Friday, the law has been notified also, officials told reporters. However, not everyone is happy with the new Act, which aims to give strictest punishment to those employing children for any work. Right from officials of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, the new Child Labour Act has been severely criticised for being "flawed" and "misplaced".
According to the Act, those employing children below 14 years of age for any work, except where a child is helping his family post-school hours or during vacation, can get up to a two-year imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rs 50,000.
The new legislation bars employment of "adolescent" --a person between 14 and 18 years of age-- in hazardous occupations like mining or work related to inflammable substance or explosives. The law, however, is not applicable for a child working in films, advertisement or television industry.
At first glance, especially for those who are not aware about the intricacies involved in the age-old tradition of child labour in various sectors, the law looks child-friendly in its approach. However, critics of the new Act feel how a plethora of state policies and failures were directly contributing to the increasing number of poor children entering child labour.
"Under the new Child Labour Act, some forms of child labour may become invisible and the most vulnerable and marginalised children may end up with irregular school attendance, lower levels of learning and could be forced to drop out of school," Unicef India's Chief of Education Euphrates Gobina said in a statement.
Echoing Gobina's views, Satyarthi said the bill was a "missed opportunity" for India.
"The definition of family and family enterprises is flawed. This Bill uses Indian family values to justify economic exploitation of children. It is misleading the society by blurring the lines between learning in a family and working in a family enterprise," he said in a statement. Satyarthi added that the government had failed its children once again.
In fact, a petition on change.org titled-Don't be #AntiChild, be Anti #ChildLabour!--had requested the President not to give his assent to the Act.
"Since its first tabling, four years ago, the state should have critically reviewed why child labour has remained rampant in the country despite enactments of legislation and how a plethora of state policies and failures were directly contributing to the increasing number of communities eking out a survival in severe poverty and deprivation, compelling more children to enter child labour. Instead, now the state abdicates its duty with just a sweeping ban of labour of children under 14, without a single safety net or rehabilitative process in place," stated the petition.
"The Amendment Bill bans all forms of work by children under the age of 14 years, but makes an exception which allows children under the age of 14 years to work in family based enterprises, and in the audio - visual and entertainment industry.
(Part A; Section 3); an extremely retrograde step as it perpetuates work in family based enterprises - which is where labour of children will be outsourced to insidiously - if a ban is in place and no other alternatives are readily available to children. They will be impossible to monitor and may well provide the cheap labour for the 'make in India' production houses - where children will be totally unprotected," added the petition.