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The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2016, despite opposition by several MPs.
The Bill, passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 19, was put to a clause-by-clause vote following a five-hour-long discussion in which 37 MPs spoke with several, including BJP MP Varun Gandhi, voicing strong reservation against many of its clauses. “If we pass this Bill, we will be complicit in promoting child labour in India,” said Hisar MP Dushyant Singh Chautala (INLD).
The Bill amends the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 in 83 hazardous occupations and processes. The amendment extends this ban on employment of children under 14 across all sectors, prohibits the employment of adolescents aged 14-18 years in hazardous occupations and introduces more stringent jail term and fines for offenders: a jail term of six months to two years and a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000.
The objection by members was mainly to the fact that children under 14 years will be allowed to work in family businesses, outside of school hours and during holidays, and in entertainment and sports. MPs objected to the definition of family which includes not only parents and siblings but also the siblings of either parent.
Lashing out at the family enterprise clause, Varun Gandhi said, “It is not skilling at all; it is done against their will and it is akin to slavery”. He criticised the Bill for its dilution of penalties against parents and guardians who “force” children into child labour. “This is not leniency… What is going to happen is, when you give repeat offenders psychological immunity, it allows them to go scot-free,” he said, ending his speech with, “We expect a future where a child is holding a book in his hand and not an agricultural implement or a broom.”
The Bill brings down the list of hazardous occupations from the earlier 83 to just three: mining, inflammable substances, and hazardous processes under the Factories Act. Read together, with the family enterprises clause, critics say, children can be made to work in carpet, zari and bidi units, mica or diamond cutting, scavenging, brick kilns, slaughterhouses, handling e-waste or as domestic help. Several MPs objected to the clause that also gives the Centre the right to add to the list of non-hazardous work.
Accusing the NDA government of pandering to “corporate interests”, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, “Any amendment has to be an improvement. If we take a regressive step, we go back. I can’t understand why this (amendment) has been brought. …You are preparing the ground for keeping these children in slavery forever.”
NCP’s Supriya Sule cautioned the government against rushing into passing the Bill at the cost of diluting the original Bill while MPs such as Kalikesh Singh Deo (BJD) and Kalvakuntla Kavitha (TRS) said the Bill should be referred to a select committee of Parliament. Kavitha said that unless the government ensures that children below 14 are not allowed to work, it should do away with its slogan of Beti Bachao Beti Padao. “When this Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha, I was sincerely hoping that at least the Congress would block this Bill. They block all the progressive legislation but they never thought about this Bill dealing with children,” said Kavitha.
Replying to the MPs, MoS (Independent) Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya said, “There is no employee-employer relationship here. For example, in a kirana shop, if there is a mother and child running it and the mother steps out for a moment, who sits there? It’s the child,” he said.