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Child Labour In India

Written by: Sachin Mehta, law student
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The child labour is not a recent phenomenon and that too not confined to any particular state. The main thrust of the ILO conventions have been on:
1) minimum age for employment of children and
2) prohibition of night work for children.

In order to safeguard interest of the children, the U.N general assembly on November 20,1989 adopted The Convention On The Rights Of The Child, which was termed by the general assembly president Joseph N.Garba as a binding piece of international legislation. With India accession to the convention on December, 1992 it has become obligatory for the government of India to undertake measures effectively to eliminate the scourge of child labour which has assumed serious proportions on recent days. The Supreme Court in many cases has emphatically stated that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been playing an important role in the process of gradual elimination of child labour and to protect the child from industrial exploitation including prohibition of child labour, protecting child labour at work, attacking the basic causes of child labour, helping children to adapt to future work and protecting the children of working parents. Till now the ILO in the interest of working children all over the world has adopted 18 conventions and 16 recommendations.

The constitutional mandates and call on the subject are contained in certain articles in the constitution including most notably Article 24 which deals with the prohibition of employment of children in factories etc. it states that No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. There are also certain directive principles that have been interpreted by the court to safeguard the interest of the children in India including Article 45 which provides for provision for free and compulsory education for children till the age of fourteen. Thus the constitution recognizes and acknowledges the fact that the abolition of child labour is unquestionably a matter of great public concern and significance.

The Royal Commission established in 1929 had observed the conditions of child labour in different industries and had found that children had been obliged to work any number of hours per day as required by their masters. The recommendations of the commission came to be discussed in the legislative assembly and the Children (Pledging of labour) Act, 1933 came to be passes, which maybe is said to be the first statutory enactment dealing with child labour. As in today, several legislative enactment are in force, which prohibit employment of child labour in different occupations.

The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986

expresses the strong desire of the legislature of prohibiting child labour. As its preamble points out it has a twin objective; it intends to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children other employments where children are allowed to work.

Although there are may Acts which prohibit the employment of children below 14 years and 15 years in certain specified employments or processes, but there is no procedure laid down in any law for deciding in which employments or processes the employment of children should be banned. There is no law to regulate the working conditions of children in most of the employments where they are not prohibited to work and consequently are working under exploitative conditions.

Therefore, the Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986 intends to ban the employment of children i.e. those who have-not completed there fourteenth year of age in specified occupations and processes, regulate the conditions of work of children in employments where they are not prohibited from working, lay down enhanced penalties for employment of children in violation of the provisions of this Act and other Acts which forbid the employment of children etc. In our country, Sivaski was once taken as the worst offender in the matter of violating prohibition of employing child labour. As the situation there had become intolerable a public- spirited lawyer, Shri M.C.Mehta thought it necessary to invoke this court power under Article 32 as after all the fundamental right of the children guaranteed by Article 24 was being grossly violated and hence he filed a petition in the court. The court then noted that the manufacturing process of matches and fireworks (for the manufacturing of which also Sivaski is a traditional centre.) is hazardous giving rise to accidents including fatal cases.

Subsequently suo moto cognizance was taken in the present case itself when news about an unfortunate accident in one of the Sivaski cracker factories was published.

At the direction of the Tamil Nadu government filed a detailed counter stating, inter alia that number of persons who died was 39. The court gave certain directions regarding the payment of compensation and thought that an advocates committee should visit the area and make a comprehensive report relating to the various aspects of the matter, as mentioned in the order passed by the court on 14-8-1991.Keeping in view the provisions contained in article 39(f) and 45 of the constitution, it gave certain directions as to how the quality of life of children employed in the factories could be improved. The court also felt the need of constituting a committee to oversee the directions given. The committee has submitted its report on 11-11-1991, and the Supreme Court appreciated the commendable work of the committee and gave certain directions to be followed by the states to preserve the interest of children in India.

These directions include that a survey would be made by the states on the type of child labour, which would be completed within 6 months from the date of passing of the order. The court further stated that work could be taken up regarding those employments which have been mentioned in Article 24, which may be regarded as core sector, to determine which hazardous aspect of the employment would be taken as criterion. The hazardous employment may rank first in priority to be followed by comparatively less hazardous and so on. The welfare scheme envisaged by the Supreme Court enshrined in the judgment is really the need of the time. It can be concluded by saying that The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act is an Act, which has been passed to adopt all the international principles as regards child labour, which have been approved by the United Nations. Further, the elucidation and analysis given by the Supreme Court as well as other courts have made the Act an important legislation, which has helped in restricting the evil of child labour to its minimal.

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