By Karthik Navayan
The employment of child labour within households, hotels, Dhabas, restaurants etc., has been banned by the Govt. of India, through Ministry of Labour and Employment, by recognizing these places as hazardous occupations and included them in the Part A of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986. This amendment has been made effective from 10th October 2006. This gesture hopefully rekindles the 1986 Act, though, after 20 long years.
Is this law and its amendment enough to secure our children’s future and prevent their becoming slaves?
The ‘impact’ of the Act and its ‘implementation’ can be vouched from the fact that even today after almost three years of amendment that banned child labourers in hotels one can easily located.
Nearly 50 children working in different hotels that are located within the premises of various city courts in Hyderabad like at Ranga Reddy District Court, City Civil Court premises in Nampally and even within the premises of the Andhra Pradesh High court itself! There are about 40 child workers toiling within the various mess premises of residential colleges run by Sri Chaithanya in the city.
To make the ban effective, the government must initiate several measures and start working on implementing the same. But if we look back, right from the day of our Independence to the very day of conceiving the 1986 Act, for 40 long years, we have not done anything either to formulate or to enact a Law to ban the child labour. What little we had was a hope that remained in paper, as per our Constitution, that guarantees a universal and free education.
The Act of 1986 divided the nature of child-labour work places as hazardous and non- hazardous. It concluded that the hazardous ones exist very fewer in number, thereby permitting 90 % of the work places to engage and employ young children as laborers. This has resulted in the continuous employment/ enforcement of child labour in both the banned and hazardous and non-hazardous occupations and work places entirely to the extent of cent percent. Therefore, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, sans the recent amendment, was of little use to the laboring children in India.
India’s failure in its expressed objective of prohibiting child labour led many NGOs to take initiatives towards building a movement against its prevalence, highlighting the plight of child labourer. The likes of NDWM (National Domestic Workers’ Movement) then, came up in alliance with the domestic workers, child domestic workers and migrant workers. Together with many other such initiatives they were able to create pressure on the Government and the Labour Ministry for a better legislation against the rampant practice of child labour in India.
The cumulative campaigning and advocacy efforts of the NGO community, together with the all-round efforts of domestic, child domestic and migrant workers finally paid dividends and the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, GOI was forced to make amendments in the Part A of the 1986 Act, under the heading ‘Occupations’.
After item (13) and the entry relating thereto, the following items were added as banned in the 1986 Act –
(14) Employment of child as domestic workers or servants;
(15) Employment of children in Dhabas (road-side eateries), restaurants, hotels, motels, tea-shops, resorts, spas or other recreational centers”.
Such a violation now would attract conviction with a jail term of not less than 6 months together with the imposition of penalty up to Rs. 25,000. However, the truth is that, till date, no offender has been ever subjected to such a conviction. In the cases of torture and violence against child labour, by the employers, the police had been merely registering such cases only under IPC 324 and 506 (inflicting injury with a criminal intent). Since both the IPC sections are bailable the culprits are going scot-free.
Among the children engaged in the domestic work, almost 90% of them are girls and are compelled to work for 14 to 16 hours, without a break. The nature of their work ranges from sweeping the floors, washing the cloths, cleaning the dishes, baby sitting and preparing food for the entire household. Apart from the inhuman workload the children are more often then not are subjected to severe physical violence from employer family members. More over, the children have to cope up with the wild gestures and sexual abuses and harassment.
The problems of Child Labourers in Hyderabad
According to the recent estimates, there are around 40,000 such households in the city of Hyderabad only that employ children as domestic workers. You take any multi storied apartment in the city and can easily find 15-20 child domestic servants who are otherwise completely invisible to the outside world. As the employers go out to their offices these child labourers are locked inside the apartments with no hope of dreaming about their own future.
Most of these children hail from drought affected rural areas and are from the families that are subjected there to severe oppression and exploitation. These are then exported to the urban areas by many gangs that indulge in human trafficking for the purpose of providing child-slaves to these city apartments. These cannibals target mostly the girl child, hailing from the poorest of the poor in the drought prone rural areas, promising their parents good money and excellent food and clothing for the children.
However, once bringing the child as domestic servant they turn them into slaves of rich families and are left to face inhuman work load, torture, rape, sometimes even murder. After a period of time these children often go ‘missing’ or many are even find in jails on false theft charges.
Among the type of families that seek and employ the hapless girls as child labour are mostly hailing from middle class with secure Government jobs. And the kind of wages and salaries they dole out to the toiling girls is a monthly paltry sum of mere Rs. 200 or on occasion Rs. 300/- a month.
The Act although bans the child labour and restraining hotels and restaurants from employing children. But the purpose of such legislation would all be futile if it is not implemented as envisaged and there is a strong need to devise some proactive means to sensitize the society about the law as well as the problems of child labourers. Some of these immediate proactive steps are –
– To inform the masses that child labour is an offence, all news papers, TV channels and Radio stations must undertake serious publicity for about an year.
– All the State and Central Government employees shall have to be ordered to refrain from employing children in their households and other places.
– The child labour employed within the premises of any government establishments or offices must be liberated with immediate effect and to be rehabilitated through providing them with education and other help.
– Conduct raids and liberate all the child labourers from all the city based hotels and establishments and accord them rehabilitation coupled with their education.
– All hotels and apartments must be under constant scrutiny and monitoring.
– A police officer in every police station shall undergo training classes to build awareness about the Child Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act 1986.
Yes. The Act is great for all those persons who oppose child labour and believe that instead of working, a child needs education and recreation for his/her mental and physical development. Yet the battle is far from over. Apart from raising voices against its faulty implementation at ground level, many civil society organizations are demanding another amendment in the act with respect to government’s definition of child labourer as those who are 14 years old and lower.
This is a big loophole in the Act and makes the Act futile. A Child, according to the Juvenile Justice (the care and protection of children) Act 2000, is defined as below the 18 years of age. It is the same with the International Child Rights Convention too. India as a country has accepted it and is one of the signatories. So now it is imperative to undertake struggle declaring any 18 year old child doing any work shall have to be treated as child labour. The Child Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act needs another amendment and for which we have to fight. Child labour is child labour whether the age is 16 or 18 it is still an offence. The future of our children is the future of our country. Hence we have to fight for another amendment in the child labour Act.