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India ratifies two international ILO conventions against child labour

ICN, April 6, 2017

On March 31, 2017, the Indian government ratified two conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on child labour. It concerns Convention 138 which determines the minimum age for employment. Normally that is 15 years, but countries can also opt for 14 years. The other treaty, ILO Convention 182, stipulates that children under the age of 18 should not be allowed to do hazardous work or any work that is detrimental to their morals and physical or mental health.

India belonged to the small group of countries that had not yet ratified these conventions. Convention 138 has been ratified by 169 countries and Convention 182 by 180 countries. The ratification implies, among other things, that India should regularly report to the ILO on the progress of the elimination of child labour. This progress is assessed by an ILO expert committee. There are no real hard penalties, but a negative review will cause loss of face.
The Indian government also relates the ratification of the child labour conventions and the new law with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including the elimination of child labour by 2030.

ILO welcomes ratification of child labour conventions
The ILO writes on the issue:

The ILO welcomes the decision of the Indian Government to ratify the two key international conventions on child labour. The Ministry of Labour and Employment placed it before the parliament on April 10.

Once it has deposited the instrument of ratification of the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), India will have ratified six out of eight ILO fundamental conventions.

“India is taking a major step forward on minimum age for employment starting at the age of 14 in line with the ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’. India is also firm on eliminating worst forms of child labour for children up to age 18 and younger. The ratification will provide opportunities to step up the fight against child labour,” said Panudda Boonpala, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India.

Labour in family companies still permitted
According to the Indian newspaper Asian Age, the Indian government has to re-think the existing Child Labour Act, which was thoroughly renewed in 2016. In general, this act is more in line with the ILO Conventions, but the Indian law leaves a lot of room for children to work after school in family companies or on farms. Also children who work in the entertainment industry (advertising, TV, movies, sports and the like) may continue to do so after school without any time limit.

Child rights activists fear that this will be at the expense of the educational results of those children who both learn and work. Within ILO Convention 138, there is much less space for work after school for children aged 13 to 15 years – only up to two hours – but it is the question whether the ILO will address India on this matter.

However, the most important issue is how the government will implement the new child labour law. The pressure of Indian non-governmental civil and of international organizations is increasing, and ratification of the ILO Child Labour Conventions also contributes to this. Yet, there is still a lot of skepticism with Indian child rights organizations as long as the government does not spend much more attention and money on better primary education, especially for the poor, and does not uphold even the present law much more firmly.
India is one of the founders of the ILO in 1919. Currently, 187 countries are member of the ILO. An important goal of the ILO is to develop international labour standards in the form of conventions, recommendations and protocols and to ensure that member states comply with these conventions. India has now ratified 45 ILO conventions.

Gerard Oonk
director India Committee of the Netherlands

Also read
Cabinet approves 2 ILO conventions on prohibiting child labour (Indian Express, March 31, 2017)
ILO welcomes major step to end child labour in India - India will have ratified six out of eight ILO fundamental conventions (ILO, April 13, 2017)

India Committee of the Netherlands - May 3, 2017