On 13 May 2015, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the Child Labour Prohibition Act of 1986. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, introduced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the Rajya Sabha in November 2012, has proposed a complete ban on the employment of children less than 14 years of age in all commercial enterprises, as opposed to only 18 hazardous industries according to the original act. However, a closer reading of the Bill reveals that children of all ages may in fact, be used for labour in some of the most hazardous industries in the country.
Unquestionably, the decision to restrict the employment of children is a sound one. According to the 2011 census, one in every hundred full-time workers in India is under the age of 14, and a third of those child workers are under the age of nine. One of the reasons cited by both the previous and present governments for the amendment is that it will plug a loophole in the act that allowed children to be employed in home-based workshops. However, these figures may still not decrease with the new bill that will be presented in parliament during the monsoon season, unless the issues raised by the Standing Committee on Labour in its report dated December 2013 are taken into consideration. Going by the response of the Ministry of Labour and Employment on 16 June 2014, a majority of these concerns went unaddressed. This leaves the provisions in their current form vulnerable to misinterpretation, a problem for which the UPA government would be to blame, given the manner in which it first framed the amendments.
The most worrying aspect of the bill is an exemption that the Cabinet has allowed for, to strike a “balance between the need for education for a child and reality of the socio-economic condition and social fabric in the country.” This exemption decrees that a child may work in family enterprises, farmlands and the audio-visual entertainment industry, barring the circus, provided the work is being done after school hours and during vacations.