The Minister of Labour and Employment, Bandaru Dattatreya, announced in early April that the government planned to introduce amendments to the Child Labour Prohibition Act in the current session of Parliament. The proposed amendments have been sent to the Cabinet for approval.
The ostensible aim of the amendments, as well as the Child Labour Prohibition Act, is to curb child labour. It is well known that millions of children work in backbreaking conditions in factories all over the countries, and many of the occupations they work in are extremely hazardous. The trafficking of children to ensure supply of child labour to factories and shops in different parts of the country is itself a regular industry.
The proposed amendment is aimed at legalizing child labour. It takes the form of saying that child labour will not be prohibited in family enterprises so as to “help nurture a spirit of entrepreneurship”. In other words, such children, who have to work for a living below the age of 14, are being enabled to become businessmen! According to the claims of the ministry, this will particularly help families currently living at the subsistence level.
While the propaganda is made that it is aimed at ensuring that children in rural areas help their families in their farms, the real target is different. The real target is the millions of child workers who are forced to work in horrible conditions, almost as bonded labour, far away from their homes. The sweatshops all across our country bear witness to this. Already, the government has moved to ensure that factories and enterprises employing less than 40 workers need not register under the Factories Act. Now these factories and enterprises that employ children, below the age of 14 can get away with this by declaring themselves as family enterprises, and the bonded labour as their “family”!
It is well known that “family enterprises” is a euphemism for a wide variety of industries including carpet weaving, beedi rolling, gem polishing, lock making, and matchbox making.
Activists engaged in the struggle against bonded child labour have condemned the proposed amendments. This will greatly increase the use of child labour, as it will enable the capitalists to make massive profits by exploiting children for much longer hours than adult workers, and paying them a pittance in comparison. Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh are already in the records for the huge number of children working as bonded labour in most terrible conditions in factories.
The proposed amendment to the Child Labour Act is integral part of the Make in India campaign of the bourgeoisie. Indian and foreign capitalists who invest in India are being guaranteed most favorable conditions to exploit the labour of our people to the maximum. Increased child labour will contribute to depressing the general level of wages, which is in the interest of the capitalist class.
The seriousness of the government about ending exploitation of children can be seen in the fact that in the period 2004-2014, there were only 1,168 convictions for children employed in hazardous industries. The Child Labor Prohibition Bill 2012 was prepared by the UPA government allegedly to restrict the rampant resort to Child Labour, which had become an issue with which the imperialists tried to pressurize the Indian bourgeoisie in international fora. But, it was deliberately not passed. Now that same bill is being amended to ensure that capitalists can freely exploit child labour in precisely those sectors they have already been working in.
The working class and all those concerned with human rights must resolutely oppose this anti social attack of the bourgeoisie on our people.