Making employment of children below the age of 14 a cognisable offence, the Cabinet at its meeting cleared a proposal to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 to put a total ban on employment of children below 14 years in any industry--hazardous or non-hazardous.
The amendment cleared at the meeting presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also approved a blanket ban on employing children below 18 years in hazardous industries like mining.
At present children under the age of 14 years are prohibited from employment only in hazardous industry.
According to Census 2001, there were 12.6 million economically active children in the age-group of 5-14 years while the National Sample Survey data said the child workforce during 2004-05 was estimated at 9.07 million.
Labour and Employment Ministry officials said the amendments would ensure that all the children are compulsorily admitted in schools as per the mandate Right to Education Act, 2009 instead of being employed at workplaces.
It would also enable India to ratify ILO Convention 138 (minimum age for entry to employment) and Convention 182 (prohibition of employment of persons below 18 years in hazardous occupations).
The officials said maximum punishment for offences under the Act has been increased from one year imprisonment to two year imprisonment and from Rs 20,000 fine to Rs 50,000 fine or both.
For repeated offences, they added, the punishment has been raised to a three-year jail term.
Employment of persons below 18 years will be prohibited in hazardous occupations like in Mines, Explosives and hazardous occupations set forth in the Factories Act, 1948.
The overall responsibility for implementation of the act shall be vested with the district magistrate and the monitoring and inspection is to be done by the labour department in the state concerned.