NEW DELHI: : As 13 year old Rohan sings a Hindi film song with his friends, his voice rings a celebratory tone. Three years ago, he pitched wedding tents for a living, sometimes working 16 hours a day. Though wedding songs were often a part of his working environment, they never had the same effect as they do now.
Today, he is among those children who have got another shot at life through education, after being rescued from child labour. And though his favourite subjects include English and Geography, the boy wants to be a footballer when he grows up.
In an attempt to ensure that children like him do not get trapped in the vicious web of child labour, the government wants to amend The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 and bring in tough new provisions, including prohibition of children under 14 in all vocations and all hazardous industries.
The catch, however, is the new law drastically cuts down on the number of industries that will be considered hazardous, from over 80 to just three broad categories. Activists working against child labour say the change makes it legal for children to work in industries like zari and bangle making, garment work and toy making.
In addition, the govt wants to allow children to work in family-run enterprises. But, that’s exactly what brought 11-year-old Mohan to Delhi from Bihar. A man he calls ‘uncle’ brought him from Samastipur to Delhi, promised to enrol him in school. Instead, he sent him to work in a workshop, where he spent over 12 hours working with metal tools. “My uncle isn’t related to me,” he says. “He stays in a neighbouring village and frequents ours, that’s why we all call him uncle.”
It’s exactly these concerns that were raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour in 2014. In its report, the committee wrote, “The ministry is itself providing loopholes by inserting this proviso since it would be very difficult to make out whether children are merely helping their parents or are working to supplement the family income.”
“Further, allowing children to work after school is detrimental to their health as rest and recreation is important for their physical and cognitive development,” the report said.
But the government did not accept the recommendations. It says the changes it is bringing will help reduce child labour.
Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya told NDTV, “This is an important legislation and I hope all parties support it to reduce child labour in India. We have to take into account the cultural dimensions of the country where children help out their families. But they can do so after school. We are going to ensure and define what a ‘family’ means, so that there will be no exploitation of children.”