Government's Historic Amendment to Child Labour Act Will Fuel Exploitation, Say Activists

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New Delhi:  Twelve-year-old Pushpa and her sister Baby are in-charge of their family-run dhaba in New Delhi's Okhla in the absence of their parents who are away for a month. Asked how they juggle work and studies, they said it is an everyday affair.

"We do this every day. We work through the day," said Baby. "We go to school too," added Pushpa, agreeing that studies suffer due to the work.

On Wednesday, the government passed an amendment to Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act that will allow children below the age of 14 years to work in family enterprises if it does not interfere with their education. The government says this will help strike a balance between the need of education and the reality of their socio-economic conditions.

"This is a historic decision. We have also made it illegal for adolescents to work in any hazardous industry, which wasn't done earlier," said Bandaru Dattatreya, Union Minister of State for Labour (independent charge).

The sisters also said the neighboring dhaba employs a child who does not go to school. Asked about it, Mohammad Ayub, the owner of the dhaba said, "No, no. He just comes to help out. You know, everyone in the family helps."

The amendment is in direct conflict with the Right to Education, argue activists, who believe that this will reverse the gains of years of fighting for the rights of children.

"This means we are comfortable with different destinies for children depending on where they are born. So we are comfortable with the fact that children of the poor will work after school? An artisans child will be an artisan, the children of ragpickers will be ragpickers, and children will continue to do agricultural labour. If that's not the idea of caste, I don't know what is!" said Child Rights activist Harsh Mander.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel also said in a tweet, "Govt's move to partially legitimise Child Labour is a retrograde step. It violates RTE & defeats our aspiration to be a just society."

Under the act, children below the age of 18 cannot be employed in hazardous industries. Punishment for first-time offenders is jail for 6 months to 2 years, and/or fine between Rs.20,000 to Rs.50,000.

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