As a major policy change, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government has come forward (backward in reality) in allowing children below 14 years in certain categories of business activities. The Union Cabinet has approved as a process to facilitate official amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition& Regulation) Act 1986. At present, employment of children below 14 years is prohibited in all occupations and processes.

In 2009, the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government enacted Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act that makes schooling compulsory for all in the age group of six to 14 years. The move of the Union Cabinet at present is weakening the provisions of RTE Act enabling the parents to engage their children of such groups in family enterprises. Besides, the move towards the amendment will allow children of below the age of 14 years in the audio- visual entertainment industry like cinema, TV serials and sporting activities. The approval by the Union Cabinet is being opposed widely by many social activists as ‘move to allow child labour in family business regressive’. The move is in contradiction with Art 21 of the Indian Constitution. The spirit behind the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Bill 2012 is prohibiting all sorts of deployment of child labour. Relaxation in them will dilute the spirit of the Act.

What does the Amendment Bill say?

Exemption has been extended to deploy child labour in hereditary profession, family enterprises and traditional business activities and in entertainment industries like cinema, television serials, advertisements and in sporting activities excluding the employment in circus with certain conditions. Children below the age group of 14 years may be deployed after their schooling hours, in holidays and during the vacation periods. The deployment is allowed in agriculture and artisanship which is the hereditary profession of the major population.  

The school going children, after returning home, should not get diverted from the studies. They have to involve themselves in studies at home with deep concentration which only will enable them to become well educated and knowledgeable to be fit for their employment accordingly. If they are allowed to do family occupations during off schooling hours, naturally their inclination would be towards such occupations. The poor and economic conditions of the family may compel the children to leave their study at a particular stage to get involved in their family occupations as a full time job. This situation which is warranted by the forthcoming amendment will drive the country to the old ages system wherein, the children have to succeed their fathers’ profession which is the core point of varnashra dharama.  The same family profession will be inherited by the children from their parents. Only now many members have come out of their hereditary profession through education under reservation, guaranteed by Indian Constitution. It is not mere admission in schools that would enable the children to study, but the social environment outside the school hours play vital part in deciding the future of pursuing study further effectively.            

When similar move was implemented  as ‘Half day School and Half day Hereditary Profession’ (Kula Kalvi Thittam)  as the New Elementary Education Scheme in 1952 in the then Madras Province (presently Tamil Nadu) under the leadership of its Premier Rajaji, it was opposed aggressively  through mass agitation led by Periyar E.V.Ramasamy with his clarion call, “Keep Petrol and Fire Torch Ready!” Rajaji had to step down from the political governance of the province. Never such move was brought back by successive governments in the State irrespective of the political parties which came to power.

The approval, given by the present Union Cabinet reflects the Hindutva agenda to bring back the varnashra dharma, sustaining professional discrimination based on birth in neoliberal fashion.  When the 1986 Act itself requires regulating the adolescent labour at the age group 14-18 as mandated by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 138 and 182, the present move of the Union Cabinet is retrograde.

The approval by the Union Cabinet is not casual but it is due to the deliberate inadequate attention to the cause of welfare of children and eradication of child labour. It is proved by the substantial reduction in budget allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development.  Taking care of the welfare of the children and grooming them ideally through education is the prime need to bring knowledgeable citizens to safeguard the democratic polity of the country in meaningful manner.

Let the Union Government revert its approval and not to proceed with the Amendment in the Child Labour Act! Failing on this count will invite stiff and collective opposition from social activists and reformative organisations. The move of the Government in this regard is not like the one that aims at  aligning with others. It will cause serious repercussions in the society.  We appeal to the Central rulers to reverse their retrograde move!

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