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A total ban on child labour is a must: Satyarthi

April,19,2015: The law should be made more deterrent, he says

Kailash Satyarthi
Kailash Satyarthi

When the Constitution of India was adopted in 1950, it promised to safeguard the rights of children, and protect them from economic exploitation.

However, 65 years later, it is still perfectly legal to employ a six-year-old child as a helper in an agricultural field. As per the Census 2011, India has over four million working children in the age group of 5-14.

In an exclusive interaction with The Hindu, joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Kailash Satyarthi, spoke about the urgency of passing the Child Labour (Amendment) Bill, 2012 in the coming parliamentary session.

Six key demands

Mr. Satyarthi said: “Between 2010 and 2012, my team and I undertook a study to understand the quality of convictions in crimes against children. Of the 45,269 cases of child labour reported between 2008 and 2012, only 3,394 cases, i.e., seven per cent, reached conviction. What that shows is laws to protect the rights of children, which are already weak, are not enforced at all.”

Keeping this in mind, Mr. Satyarthi has made the following demands to be incorporated in the amended law:

First, all forms of child labour should be prohibited up to the age of 14.

As of today, child labour is prohibited only in select industries identified as hazardous.

Second, up to the age of 18, no child should be employed in the worst forms of child labour, such as begging.

Third, the law should be made more deterrent by increasing the fine amount and period of imprisonment.

Fourth, the law must address the accountability of those employed in enforcement agencies, such as factory inspectors and labour inspectors, and if children are found working within their jurisdiction, they must be held responsible. It is not the employer alone who is culpable.

Fifth, child labour must be made a cognisable and non-bailable offence, so that even the common man can report such cases and action can be taken immediately.

Sixth, rehabilitation should be made an integral part of law on child labour. Rehabilitation measures should be included in government schemes, and must address economic rehabilitation of parents where necessary.

Failure of RTE

Expressing concern over the commercialisation and privatisation of education in India, Mr. Satyarthi identified it as a hurdle to realising children’s right to education. “The RTE Act of 2009 may have helped improve school enrolment rates, but we have to aim at improving the quality of education,” he said.

He drew attention to the bureaucratic hurdles presented by multiple agencies handling RTE.

“While the Education Ministry implements the law, monitoring its enforcement is the responsibility of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights [NCPCR]. And the NCPCR doesn’t have the wherewithal to get cracking on violations of the law … .”

JJ Act and concerns

Expressing concern over the recent debate to make juvenile crime punishable for serious offences such as rape, he said the enabling aspects of the law, premised on care and protection for children under 18, have been ignored. “Next time when you see a child begging on the street, remember that under the Juvenile Justice Act they are eligible for rescue and protection. But how many of us even know that?”

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