Child labour: Govt to expand list of hazardous jobs, amend law
The Union Labour Ministry is about to notify a significant expansion of the list of hazardous processes and occupations where the employment of children below 18 years of age is strictly prohibited, even as it is working towards comprehensively reviewing and amending the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. A detailed protocol is also being put in place for the rehabilitation and repatriation of rescued migrant and bonded child labourers.
Just last week, Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan rued that protective laws for children were not being properly implemented and child labour continues to be a major problem in the country. He also cited a report that 5,000 children still eked out a living on the streets of the Capital itself.
While disputable ‘sting’ operations by foreign dailies and NGOs have alleged the use of children by Indian suppliers to global retailers like GAP, children are reportedly being used in the cottonseeds business in some states. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights wrote to the Gujarat Government last month enquiring into the death of a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old at a plastic factory in the state.
At a meeting held on Thursday, the Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee headed by the Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research recommended that nine more processes be added to the list of hazardous occupations under the law where children cannot be employed. The list includes 15 occupations and 57 processes and will now be expanded to cover processes involving excessive heat and cold, mechanised fishing, timber handling and loading, food processing, beverages industry, diving and mechanical lumbering.
A senior Labour Ministry official said that consultations had already taken place with the states on the issue and a notification would be issued soon. Also on the anvil is a detailed protocol that lays down procedures for repatriating migrant child workers to their homes and rehabilitating them, so that rescued children do not drift back into the workforce.
“The roles and responsibilities of the different agencies involved would be spelt out clearly. The state where children are found working and the state where they belong to and are to be sent back to, will have to work in co-ordination,” the official said. The key states where the origin and incidence of such child labour is high — Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — are on board and the new protocol is expected to become the norm by the end of this month, the official added.
Along with these incremental steps, the Government is also working on a complete overhaul of the 1986 Act to bring it in line with evolving ground realities. States and Ministries have been making several suggestions to the Centre for amending the law. The Central Monitoring Committee for the law’s implementation has also backed the need for changing the law during its last annual meeting in June 2007. States’ views on the various proposals have already been received.
A Working Group set up by the Centre in November to finalise the amendments has already met twice and is expected to submit its report shortly. The key suggestions and proposals being examined by the group include bringing more clarity on home-based child workers as well as agricultural workers.
But the group’s task isn’t easy. For instance, agriculture in India is a group activity in the family, so it’s tricky to bar children from helping on the farm.
Meanwhile, on the recent reports of children being used in cottonseeds in some states, the Centre has written to the concerned states — Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat — asking them if they could put the occupation on the hazardous list under the law. Since labour is a concurrent subject under the Constitution, the Centre cannot amend laws unilaterally.