Mumbai: At a time when the country is clamouring for women empowerment, gender equality and forest cover, another issue that was never really struck off the list is child labour. While India has recently ratified the core International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s child labour conventions and has a Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (CLPRA) in place, activists claim it needs to be reconsidered. The war for elimination of child labour seems to be a long-drawn-out one.
Several civil society groups in the city had gathered recently under the banner of Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), for a day-long national consultation. They deliberated on the need to revisit the existing list of hazardous, non-hazardous occupations and processes. Moreover, they also discussed the various factors preventing the prohibition of child labour in India.
Last month, six children, forced into bonded labour, were rescued after police raided a Kurla slum and arrested Bhawarlal Vellaram Parihar, 45. He had convinced the minor's parents to send their children to Mumbai for work after meeting them in Udaipur, in exchange for a good sum of money. However, Parihar did not keep his promise and stopped paying the boys any money. They would also not be allowed to speak to their parents, lest they would have complained about their living conditions. A few months ago, when the oldest of the children fell ill, for lack of proper medical attention and nutritious food, his condition deteriorated and he had to be sent back home. After being mum for a while, the boy shared his ordeal.
According to the CLPRA law, the employment of children and adolescents in all hazardous occupations and processes is prohibited, in accordance with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. However, it makes an exception for children below 14 years, where a child is permitted to work only to help the family, in a family enterprise or as a child artist after school hours or during vacations.
The speakers and participants at CACL observed that the list of hazardous works identified in the existing child labour legislation needs a relook. There is an urgent need to strengthen the social welfare schemes, child protection system and educational opportunities for children, so that their rights to play and leisure along with compulsory education are restored.
“The recent amendment in the CLPRA is not essentially child-centric and needs further reconsideration. We need to decipher how our concerns around child labour can be merged with the concerns and efforts by the government, so that the battle against child labour becomes more robust and comprehensive,” said Priti Mahara, director of policy research and advocacy, Child Rights and You (CRY).
“The only way we can change the child labour scenario in India is by working together to ensure children complete their formal education, so that they are not pushed to enter labour. This, however, cannot happen without total eradication of child labour from the country. The recent amendments in CLPRA need a re-look and we are ready to work with government and other stakeholders to find solutions and alternatives for the same,” said Ashok Kumar, National Advocacy Convener at CACL.