Banned: the exploitation of children
Published on: Thursday, 3rd August, 2006 7DAYS UAE
Employing children under 14 in households, roadside eateries and hotels will be illegal in India from October, the government has announced, saying it hopes to improve the plight of millions. But rights activists held out little hope that the lot of child labourers would change. A labour ministry statement late on Tuesday said the ban had been imposed under the 1986 Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act and would take effect on October 10.
It warned that anyone employing children in homes, roadside eateries, restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts, spas or in other recreational centres will be liable to prosecution. Penalties range from a prison term of up to two years and/or a fine of between 10,000 rupees and 20,000 rupees (212 and 424 US dollars). The ban is expected to “ameliorate” the sufferings of millions of working children, said the labour ministry, estimating that there are some 12.6 million child labourers in India.
Describing the employment of children as domestic helps or in the hospitality industry as “hazardous,” the statement said that in most cases they were subject to physical violence, psychological trauma and sexual abuse. Those working in highway eateries were identified as the “most vulnerable” and “easy prey to sex and drug abuse.” These abuses went unnoticed and unreported as they took place in the close confines of the households or restaurants, the government said.
“Children are made to work for long hours and are made to undertake various hazardous activities severely affecting their health and psyche,” it added. India has already banned children from working in hazardous industries like making fire crackers and glass factories under a parliamentary act passed in 1986. But many children continue to work in such establishments because of lax enforcement of laws.
Activists said the new ban would not make much difference eliminating child labour. “I wonder how successful this move is going to be? How many people has the government penalised so far (under existing laws)? Do they have any records of that?” asked social anthropologist Neera Burra, an author of a book on child labour. “I want to know how the government plans to enforce the ban.” she said.
Burra also asked the government to spell out plans for the rehabilitation of children rescued from such places. “We need workable plans for rehabilitation. After the children are rescued they need to be sent to school. Do we have adequate schools to cater to the need?” she said. “Most are housed in observation homes that are very much like prisons.” Rishi Kant, an activist with Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organisation working with children, also questioned the effectiveness of the ban.
“It is a welcome step no doubt but the government should follow it up with practical alternatives,” Kant said. “For instance, vocational training as well as sensitising parents will go a long way,” he said.
Parents, for instance, were diffident about sending children to schools two or three kilometres away from their villages but when it came to sending them off to work in another state they did not seem to mind, he said. The rescue of children had to be coupled with “overall economic development as well as incentives to parents and children to wean them away from child labour,” he added.