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Co-Written by Leena Prasad & Vikram Srivastava

The Social Consciousness of Law Makers and Politicians at large when it comes to Rights of Children is missing, leading to the rise in violations against children. The recent passing of the bill in the Rajya Sabha with less than 25% of its member being present and conspicuous silence and ignorance of the middle class only reflects the larger design to maintain the status quo. It suits the industry, it suits the economy and finally the family both employing and those sending. With State becoming part of the larger controversy – voiceless children with no political or economic say are left helpless. Lets acknowledge that State in its role of Parens Patriae has failed miserably to provide a robust legal and institutional mechanism, when it comes to Children.

Last night, when the most watched Anchor of Indian Television, asked a straight question (with a rider of being devils advocate) – “Will you advocate for criminal proceedings against a poor parents of a child who is asked to help in the agricultural field?” to the CEO of the most known organization – almost a household name on child rights in India – but without the patience to give a proper hearing to the complexity of the problem. He didn’t understand that he is reflecting the exact mindset which is the reason for the situation of child labour prevailing in India. The fact that we don’t have time, concern or priority for issues of children – which reflected when the Rajya Sabha passed the bill with less 100 Members of Parliament sitting.

In child’s defence, lets ask a counter – Why shouldn’t parents or anyone for that matter be charged for acting against the Best Interest? When the framers of the Constitution, deliberately didn’t mention “family” in Part III of the Constitution – dealing with Fundamental Rights – making State directly responsible for children as an individual citizen in their own right – who are we to keep bring this melodrama argument and camouflage of family. Let’s recognize the fact that State in its role of Parens Patriae has failed miserably to provide a robust legal and institutional mechanism, when it comes to Children.

The issue of children and especially child labour is far beyond the law and has moved beyond the Social Consciousness, of a civilized society. Parliamentarians as law makers and peoples representatives are just reflection of the rotting social mindset, who don’t see children, beyond ours and in most cases now even ours too. We are all violators, while eating at the Dhaba, while getting our cars washed, getting the newspaper delivered and at top of it if one can afford, employing one as a domestic labour. The mindset is to accept and ignore if they are “not our children” and “somebody else’s child”.

The newly passed bill on child labour by the Rajya Sabha of India[1] is a bad piece of legislation because it allows by law the working of children below 14 years in family enterprises or entertainment industry with certain conditions. While it proposes a complete ban on employment of children below 14 years anywhere else, it says child labour after school hours or during vacation is allowed for children below 14 years in family businesses and similar ventures. The proposed new law goes completely against to what the Standing Committee on Labour (2013-14) of the fifteenth Lok Sabha has categorically stated that employment should be prohibited in all occupations where there is a subordinate relationship of work and labour.

The other dent the new law makes is the complete replacement of the earlier Schedule with a new one which contains only three categories under prohibited list, namely (1) Mines. (2) Inflammable substances or explosives. (3) Hazardous process. Hopefully in the India’s development model based on Make in India and Skilled India, where outsourcing will be a reality the argument to allow children learn traditional skills at the right age before it gets too late – that children need to be trained in traditional arts at an early stage or they will not be able to acquire the required skills like weaving and stitching – are all part of the larger design.

Garment industry is one of the biggest outsourcing enterprises. One of the studies conducted by us on home-based outsourcing of garment industries in Delhi, where the payments are made on piece basis – at very low rates of payments it obvious that all hands in the economically weak family have to contribute to make both ends meet. Extreme poverty and other socio-economic conditions in the country will become ground for further exploiting their rights and making them extremely vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation. This law will in fact legitimize children as small as 10 and 8 years to work in such industries and rampantly violate their basic human rights on a day to day basis.

This amendment violates the spirit of child rights and the UNCRC to which India is a party and committed to respect. If children below 14 are allowed to work in family settings, they will be never sent to school and more and more children will be pushed to working in bidi making, zari, carpets, leather, plastic, metal, slaughter houses under the so called garb of “family business”. Ensuring that they get their right to education, play and leisure is more important for their learnings rather than making a law to violate and take away their rights.

If we look at this law in alignment with the Right to Education Act of 2009 (RTE) and the fact that it has been poorly implemented over the last 5 to 6 years, it is evident that this amendment to the child labour law is determined to fail the RTE Act further. As recently as 2015, UNESCO[2] in its report has counted as many as 124 million children and adolescents worldwide are out of school, 17.7 million – or 14 per cent – of whom are Indians. The child labour proposed amendment if made a law will only facilitate more children being pushed out of school and this is seriously a worrying evidence for all in the country.

The other argument of not having the employee – employer relationship in family businesses does not help in a country that is struggling with poverty and where rights of children are the most de-prioritized. There is no law that punishes parents or their legal guardians for violating the rights of children in India. Children are voiceless and without support in situations where they are abused by their own intimate family members. The child labour proposed amendment allows further sanctity to family members to violate the rights of children, knowingly or unknowingly, by not sending them to school and pushing them towards child labour under the garb of being involved in family business. This indeed is a sad situation where more and more parents and families in the rural setting will choose not to get their children below 14 years enrolled in school so that they can be pushed to child labour to grow the family business.

Activists working on the ground know that often employers in tea stalls and small eating joints pose as “uncles” of children to push them to child labour. Under the present law, they at=least have the fear of the law and do it in hiding. But with this proposed amendment, they will have legal legitimacy to exploit such children. This one single proposed amendment takes away all the other better changes being proposed in this draft such as the setting up of the Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation Fund in one or more districts for rehabilitation of children or adolescents rescued or the increased penalties for violations.

The need is to the government before notifying and making this law real is to urgently consult the children themselves. Can we have a round of national workshops with such children and gather their views in terms of what they would like this law to be. After all their voice and their views are as important as those of the ill informed law makers of today! Making such bad laws that lead to increased victimization of children for poverty needs to stop in this country. If this does not happen, we ned to be prepared to see more children on the streets, on the red lights, in the tea stalls, in shops, selling vegetables, as also in industries such as the bidi making, zari, carpets, leather, plastic, metal, slaughter houses. There is just no end to this category of “family business”. And children under 14 years will be made to labour hard, be paid nothing and be exploited by their uncles, aunts, families and guardians.

The Social Consciousness of Law Makers and Politicians at large when it comes to Rights of Children is missing, leading to the rise in violations against children. The recent passing of the bill in the Rajya Sabha with less than 25% of its member being present and conspicuous silence and ignorance of the middle class only reflects the larger design to maintain the status quo. It suits the industry, it suits the economy and finally the family both employing and those sending. With State becoming part of the larger controversy – voiceless children with no political or economic say are left helpless.

[1] http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/rajya-sabha-passes-child-labour-bill-that-allows-work-in-family-businesses-1434074

[2] http://thewire.in/5671/the-un-report-on-out-of-school-kids-is-bad-news-for-india-but-the-real-picture-is-worse/

Leena Prasad, is a Delhi based Advocate and Head, Gender Justice Unit, Independent Thought (www.ithought.in) She works as a litigating lawyer for several women and children’s rights organization.

Vikram Srivastava, is a Delhi based Advocate and Founder, Independent Thought (www.ithought.in). He is member, Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee and previously been with Child Welfare Committee.

3 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The legal framework on child labour reflects the extent of capitalism and ‘ corporatism’ in the society. By robbing child right to education and play time, the family and industry want to churn out profits for themselves. Not only the children are under-paid, they are forced to work way beyond normal working hours with extreme work burden. It is a shame that the parliamentary does not discuss such an important issue while it has time to waste for frivolous topics and senseless walkouts. Media too is mostly silent. There is a need to oppose snatching of child rights vehemently by the civil society and child protection groups.

    • Vikram Srivastava says:

      So true. Media and Politicians are reflection of public sentiments and sadly somewhere the middle-class is pro-child labour

    • Very rightly said K. Sheshu Babu!

      Lets keep the fight going…