Progressive move

Progressive move

The amendments proposed for the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, approved by the Union cabinet this week, will bring the law in conformity with the provisions of the right to education legislation and the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on child labour.

Though the law on child labour has been in place for long its implementation has been tardy. But the problem was not only with implementation.

Even the definition of child labour has not been satisfactory and has left loopholes which are exploited. This became clear with the implementation of the RTE Act, which provides for free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14.

The existing law had only banned the employment of children under 14 in hazardous areas of work and regulated their working conditions in non-hazardous areas.
The proposed law provides for a ban on employment of children under 14 in any area, hazardous or non-hazardous.

The mandate for compulsory education under the RTE Act would be meaningless otherwise. There is still a loophole here because the ban is only on commercial employment of children.

They may continue to be employed in farms and homes if there is no payment of wages. This is in acceptance of the reality that children work for parents in houses and shops and on farms.

It must be ensured that the provision is not misused through misrepresentation. The regulatory provision has been shifted to the 14-18 age group. Children in this age group are prohibited from employment in hazardous areas of work.

Those in this age group are considered adolescents by the new law. The UN convention on child rights considers all under the age of 18 as children. It would have been simpler if the new law also had accepted this.

Considering the difficulties in proving the age of children and even in deciding the nature of hazard at work a complete ban on employment of all children under 18 would have been better.


While the proposed law is an improvement on the existing one, the lesson from the past is that effective implementation is all-important for its success. Unfortunately child labour is still considered normal in society.

The economic compulsions of many families which drive children to  the work place will not easily go away. The responsibility of the police machinery, bodies like the commission on child rights and of social organisations are clear in the enforcement of the law.

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