India’s law on child labour proposed to be revamped
In a move to overhaul the existing child labour law of India, the Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 (“Child Labour Bill”)1 on May 13, 2015. The objective of the proposed amendments is to ensure that (i) education of children between the age group of 6 - 14 years is not compromised and (ii) the law is brought in line with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (“Right to Education Act”).
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (“Child Labour Act”), once amended by the Child Labour Bill, will be titled as the ‘Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986’ to reflect the expanded scope. For the Child Labour Bill to become law, it will have to be passed by both the houses of the Parliament and receive the assent of the President of India.
The important features of the Child Labour Bill (as amended by the Union Cabinet) include:
1. Definition of ‘child’: The Child Labour Bill proposes to sync the law on child labour with the Right to Education Act by amending the definition of ‘child’ to mean a person who has not completed 14 years or such age as specified under the Right to Education Act, whichever is higher. This definition however continues to remain different from the definition of ‘child’ as per the Factories Act, 1948.
2. Definition of ‘adolescent’ introduced: ‘Adolescent’ has been defined to mean a person who has completed his 14th year but not completed his 18th year. This definition is however slightly different from the definition of ‘adolescent’ as per the Factories Act, 1948.
3. Prohibition of child labour: The Child Labour Bill imposes a complete ban on employing children, except in the following two cases:
4. Prohibition on employment of adolescents: New provision prohibiting employment of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes introduced.
5. Child labour made a cognizable offence: Offence of employing a child or adolescent in contravention of the law by an employer to be made a cognizable offence. Accordingly, the authorities can file a first information report and commence investigations into the offence without a court order and can arrest without a warrant.
6. Punishments for contravention enhanced: While the punishment for employers has been significantly enhanced, the punishment for parents / guardians has been relaxed. Please see the table below for a comparative on the punishment under the Child Labour Act and the Child Labour Bill:
7. Punishment for parents/guardians relaxed: There shall not be any punishment in case of a first offence by parents/guardians. In case of a second and subsequent offence, the penalty prescribed is a maximum fine of Rs. 10,000 (approx. USD 150).
8. Powers of District Magistrate: Powers to be vested with the District Magistrate to ensure that the provisions of the amended law are properly enforced.
9. Constitution of Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund: A special fund has been proposed to be created for rehabilitation of rescued children and adolescents.
For the first time, India is moving towards a complete ban on employment of children below 14 years in all occupations. The current law prohibits employment of a child in 18 occupations and 65 processes, and regulates the conditions of work of children in other occupations and processes. The Right to Education Act was legislated to ensure free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6 - 14 years. The amendments have been proposed after recognizing the possible inconsistency between the Child Labour Act and the Right to Education Act and the deviation from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on the subject.
However, it appears that in a move to strike a balance between the need for education of children and the reality of socio-economic conditions prevailing in India, the Union Cabinet has carved out certain exceptions by allowing children to help their family or family enterprise and permitting children to work in the entertainment industry and sports (except circus); with the pre-condition that they may be employed to do such jobs only after the regular school hours or during vacations. The proposed amendments do not address the possible exploitation of children in industries where the activities may be outsourced to home-based units.