As the government brings in changes in the Child Labour Act, allowing children below the age of 14 to work in select non-hazardous industries, there are apprehensions that child labour might become norm in sectors such as agriculture, followed by some labour intensive industries like footwear, carpet weaving and garments industries.
The Union Cabinet yesterday cleared amendments to the child labour law banning all forms of child labour below the age of 14, but allowing children below the age of 14 to work in select 'non-hazardous' family enterprises.
"Today, close to 70 per cent of child labourers are in the farm sector. Now, definitely, there will be more incidences of child labour in the farm sector. The move might also lead to more child trafficking. In a study at NCPCR we found that children from Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are being trafficked to Gujarat for working in BT farms," said Vinod Tikoo, Formers member of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
According to the Census 2001, In India there were 12.6 million working children in the age group of 5-14 as compared to the total child population of 252 million. As per Census 2011, the number of working children in the age group of 5-14 years reduced to 4.35 million.
Agriculture in India roughly employees 69.5 per cent of child labour (5-14 age) in India, according to a 2013 report called, Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, by the US department of labour.
The report further said that, "In 2013, India made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor."
"Children engaged in the manufacturing of goods, many in the informal economy and increasingly in home-based production," according to the report.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is the key law governing and preventing child labour in India. The Act prohibited the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous industries. Quite glaringly, it provided a scope for employment of these children in non-hazardous industries. However, the act has narrowed down the scope of employment of children in select 'non-hazardous' family enterprises.
"We only partially welcome the new legislation. While the government accepted our pending demand to ban all forms of child labour below the age of 14, it will encourage child labour in farmlands," said Yogesh Dube, chairman, Bhartiya Vikas Sansthan, and a former member NCPCR.
Notably, the post of a permanent chairperson and nearly six member has been lying vacant at NCPCR for more than a year.
"Industries like rice mills, bidi factories and coir making, to mention a few, will now see more child labourers. The government is taking us to pre industrialization era," said Sujata Mody, President, For Garment and Fashion Workers' Union.
The slow pace of reforms in child labour laws can be assessed from the fact that it was as late as 2006, when the government included working in households and roadside eateries and motels under the prohibited list of hazardous occupations, and it was only in 2008 that employment involving exposure to excessive heat and cold, stone mining and stone quarries were added to the list of prohibited occupations.