It seemed like the Alarming cries had fallen to deaf ears until the Parliament intervened by legislating on a long awaited reform (which better be called a Job Half Done). On Pith & Substance Analysis of Bill, one would realize that the Amendment has not been able to do away with the blemish in the Principal Act i.e. Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986. The Principal Act seeks to prohibit the engagement of children in certain types of occupations and regulates the condition of work of children in other occupations.
It is thereby important to look into the Legislative History of this Bill. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 was introduced in Rajya Sabha on December 4, 2012. The Standing Committee on Labour submitted its report on the Bill on December 13, 2013. In May 2015, the Union Cabinet cleared the CLPRA Amendment Bill after making revisions. The Child Labour Amendment Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 19, 2016 and by the Lok Sabha on July 26, 2016.
In the landmark case of M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that children below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in any hazardous industry, mines or other works and has laid down guidelines for the protection of the economic, social and humanitarian rights of millions of children working illegally in public and private sectors.
The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act 2016 bans employment of children below 14 years of age in all occupations and processes. There exists an exception which allows children under the age of 14 to work in non-hazardous family businesses, entertainment and sports activities (except circus) after school hours or during vacations, without compromising their safety and education. Despite recommendation of the Standing Committee to do away with such an exception which can be misused, the Ministry of Labour and Employment instead has expanded the ambit of exceptions to include ‘working of children in the audiovisual entertainment industry (films, TV, etc.) or sports activities.’.
The Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India case dealt with exploitation of Children in Circus, the legislature has seen to it that such nature exploitation is prohibited under the Amendment Act.
The intention behind these exceptions may be promotion and inculcation of Business and entrepreneurship skills in Children; it might end up constituting a slippery slope towards legitimization of child exploitation. To counter the child exploitation argument, Clause 6 has been amended so as to prohibit child labor in any hazardous occupations, including when working with family. The Standing Committee opined widening the scope of hazardous processes to include all those occupations/processes that may jeopardize health, safety and morals of adolescents. Yet the Bill passed by the Parliament reflects no implementation of the same,
Despite power of the central government to specify kinds of non-hazardous occupations and processes in which adolescents may be employed, the Schedule A & B containing Hazardous Processes & Occupations has been limited to only 3 items.
The Clause allowing children to work only outside their school hours and during vacations is a contentious as there exists no specific monitoring mechanism which can supervise practical implementation of the same.
The definition of family enterprise is, “any work, profession, manufacture or business, with the engagement of other persons”. It is pertinent to note that the family member does not have to be the occupier of the family enterprise. The nature of engagement with other persons has also not specified. Thus definition of family and family enterprises is flawed as it can be used as colorable mean for child exploitation and without a monitoring authority to overlook exception the essence of this amendment shall be lost.
As I have rarely been so critical of Modi Government’s Policy Decisions, I would also like to highlight the Provisions which shall genuinely serve the purpose of the Principal Act.
The Amendment Act adds a new category of persons called “adolescent”. An adolescent means a person between 14 and 18 years of age. The Amendment Act prohibits employment of adolescents in hazardous occupations as specified (mines, inflammable substance and hazardous processes).
The Amendment Act aims to enhance the punishment for employing any child in an occupation. It also includes penalty for employing an adolescent in a hazardous occupation.
The penalty for employing a child has been increased to imprisonment between 6 months and two years (from 3 months-one year) or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 (from Rs 10,000-20,000) or both. The penalty for employing an adolescent in hazardous occupation is imprisonment between 6 months and two years or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 or both.
The Amendment Act empowers the government to make periodic inspection of places at which employment of children and adolescents are prohibited. Though in my opinion powers exercised by the central government must have an independent operation with that of a Regulating Authority.
While there was no provision at all in the original Act for rehabilitation of children rescued from prohibited employment, the Amendment Act specifically provides for a Rehabilitation Fund for the benefit of both the children and adolescents. Remittances to this fund which includes fine collected from violators and contribution from States at the rate of Rs.15000/- per child and adolescent will be used for their welfare including education.
Whether this Amendment has Failed their Future ? It would be safe to call it a Rhetorical Question as on date, but effective implementation and control shall decide whether the Legislature & Executive has failed the future of these Children.
The Implications of Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 2016 are inevitable, whether Good or bad as the Bill passed by both the Houses of Parliament has received the assent of the President Pranab Mukherjee and has also been notified. The UNICEF is mounting pressure on the Modi Govt. over wide provisions affecting Child Rights. Kailash Satyarthi – The Nobel Laureate and renowned Child Rights Activist has termed it as “India’s Lost Opportunity”. But what we can surely perceive from this Act is that Protection of Child Rights is going to be at Top of Agenda for quite some time considering Contentious Nature of this Amendment. To End on a Positive Note the Concept of Adolescent Rights shall also gained Recognition due to this Amendment.
 PRS Legislative Research http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-child-labour-prohibition-and-regulation-amendment-act-2012-2553