Justifying the perpetuation of exploitation of children
On July 19, 2016 the RajyaSabha passed a Bill to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. With this, the road has been cleared for this amendment to be converted into law, once the Lok Sabha puts its stamp on it. The Act will be called the "Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
The two main features of the amendment are (1) it legalises children upto the age of 14 working in "family enterprises" and (2) it prohibits employment of adolescents between 14 and 18 years of age in work declared to be "hazardous".
According to the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies at J.N.U., home based work surged from 23.3 million (1999-2000) to 37.4 million workers in 2011-2012. Of this, 16 million were women home-based workers. Nearly 32 per cent of total women workers outside agriculture are home-based workers. Around 73 per cent of these women engage in home-based manufacture, in sectors such as apparel, tobacco products and textiles. Once work is undertaken within the four walls of a home, children routinely assist their mothers for long hours to complete and maximise their “piece-work” orders.
Child workers in mica mines: no laws apply here
According to a report published in Hindustan Times children as young as 5 years work alongside adults in illegal (‘ghost’) mica minesin the major mica producing states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. 10-20 children die every month working in these mines, but these deaths are rarely reported. The small hands of children are considered ‘ideal’ to pick and sort the mineral which is widely exported and is in great demand by global monopolies for car and building industries, electronics and cosmetics. India is one of world’s largest producers of mica. State governments grant licences to these illegal mines, while the central government officials declare that “The central government has no machinery to inspect or control the mines”.
India is one of the countries in the world which has thus far refused to sign the ILO Child Labour Convention, prohibiting exploitation of child labour. In fact, official Labour statistics of the government of India acknowledge that there is massive exploitation of child labour in India. As per 2001 census, the total number of working children between the age group 5 - 14 years in the country was 1.26 crore. The government has carried out the amendments to the Child Labour Act with the express purpose of ratifying the ILO convention on Child Labour, while at the same time ensuring that child labour can continue to be freely exploited and no dent is made in the profits of capitalists.
In the name of allowing children to learn traditional skills, the amended law permits children to work in "family enterprises". According to the propagandists of the government, these children are being "skilled" in these enterprises! They are being skilled in home-based work such as bidi rolling, carpet weaving, making of bangles and handicrafts, home-based assembly tasks, domestic work, eateries, roadside garages, street vending, etc.Many of these activities involve long hours of manual labour, strain on the eyes and fingers, poor respiratory environment, etc. and have disastrous effects on the health of the child. Of course, work in such “family enterprises” (not recognised legally as ‘factories’) is not covered under any official schedule of hazardous work.It may be noted that bidi rolling and bangle making have now been deleted from the official schedule of ‘hazardous work’.
The ‘ban’ on hazardous work (for adolescents, i.e. age 14-18) is accompanied by changes in the schedule of hazardous work in the statute, bringing these down from 83 prohibited activities to only 3. Apart from mining and explosives, the law only prohibits processes deemed hazardous under the Factories Act 1948. The amended law does not prohibit labour by children in the age group 14-18, in the numerous sweat shops and small establishments which are not covered under the Factories Act or any other kind of labour law. This is regardless of how hazardous the nature of this work may be, for the health of the child. In other words, this amendment too is merely cosmetic in nature — it changes nothing on the ground in terms of safeguarding the health of adolescent workers.
These amendments must be seen together with the proposed amendments to the Factories Act and Contract Labour Act which at one stroke remove lakhs of enterprises and crores of workers from the purview of these acts. Together with adult workers, children and adolescents working in these enterprises will have virtually no rights.
Far from reducing the vicious exploitation of children, these amendments will only perpetuate the same. When this is seen together with the fact that "family enterprise” work or home-based work usually involves every possible member of the family, men, women and children, working from the crack of dawn to well past midnight, it is not difficult to imagine what this would mean for the prospects of education of the school going child.
Legalising exploitation of child labour is in line with the strategy of the Indian ruling class to maximise their profits through the most savage exploitation of labour. More and more workers are being forced to work in enterprises wherein the laws that define the rights of workers do not apply at all. (See BOX 1 home-based enterprises). Home-based work absolves the owners and managers of the monopoly capitalist chains from any legal obligations related to wages and working conditions, or social security to the actual workers who labour in isolated home-based units. By introducing these amendments to the child labour law, the government is taking one more step in the direction of fulfilling its promise to the biggest monopoly capitalists to create a ‘haven’ for them to invest and “make in India”, where they will have availability of cheap labour, to be exploited to the bone, for fabulous profits, without the hindrance of any laws.
Exploitation of child labour is rampant in India. It is carried on under the eyes of the authorities, with the official child labour laws rarely being applied in practice.In mining, officially declared a ‘hazardous’ work for children below 18, child labour continues to be employed (See BOX 2- Child workers in mica mines). The government has shown that it has no interest in the well being and future of the sons and daughters of workers and peasants. The Communist Ghadar Party condemns the government for its thoroughly callous and cynical approach to a very serious problem affecting the working class and toiling people of our country, and their children.