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Someone Is Employing Children In My Neighbourhood. What Can I Do?

“One in every 11 children in India is working. Eighty percent of working children are based in rural areas and three out of four of these children work in agriculture, as cultivators or in household industries, most of which are home-based employments. More than half of the 5.5 million working children in India are concentrated in five states—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.”

For most of us, childhood is a time of stability. It’s a period when we make mistakes, learn more about ourselves and the world we live in, and slowly develop our social and professional interests. We do this within a security blanket. We don’t need to worry about work, about feeding ourselves or about being responsible for anyone else’s well-being. It’s like a practice match where we fail and learn and are hopefully ready when real-life takes over.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality for a huge number of children in India. While there has been an increased focus on education, healthcare and development of children, the sad reality is that, as per the latest census data, there are 43.5 lakh child labourers (between 5 to 14 years of age) in India.

A lot of them come from families which are too poor to allow them to go to school. When we say ‘allow’, the question is not about affordability. It’s about the contribution of the child’s labour to the family’s financial health. There are cases where whole families may be dependent on wages from the child’s labour for survival. It is a vicious cycle. Denial of education can have a negative effect on the socio-economic development of a person. It particularly affects children of migrant workers, as well as those from other vulnerable communities.

While there are many factors which contribute to the persistent presence of child labour, lack of implementation and awareness of laws is one of them. We hope this guide helps to answer questions that anyone may have on the child labour law, and help to increase awareness regarding the issue and facilitate implementation of the law.

Is It Legal To Employ Children?

  • No, you cannot employ children under 14.

There are exceptions to this – children in family businesses are allowed to work after school and during vacations. Children acting in movies, advertisements and sports are similarly allowed to work.

  • It is lawful to employ children between 14 and 18, as long as the places are not dangerous (explained later in the piece). The term used in the law for children aged between 14 and 18 is ‘adolescents’.

Someone Is Employing Children In My Neighbourhood. What Can I Do?

If you have observed that the law is being violated by someone, you can file a complaint with the police or the magistrate. You can also bring it to the notice of local NGOs who work with children, and who can take further steps. A police officer or a child labour inspector under the law can also file a complaint.

The offence is cognizable, meaning that a police officer can make an arrest or start an investigation without a warrant in case someone is employing a child or adolescent in a hazardous job in violation of the law.

Image Credit: Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

What Is The Punishment For Employing Children In Violation Of The Law?

Any person who employs a child below 14 or a child between 14 and 18 in a hazardous occupation or process can be punished with jail time of between six months and two years and/or fined between ₹20,000 and ₹50,000.

A person can be punished for all other violations (for example, with respect to maintenance of register, work hours, health and safety conditions) with jail time of up to one month and/or a fine of up to ₹10,000. First-time offences can be settled if the person pays a certain sum of money.

There are a number of other laws which also punish employment of children. However, prosecution for the crime of employing children and adolescents will be under the child labour law. The laws include the Factories Act, Mines Act, Merchant Shipping Act and the Motor Transport Workers Act.

What Happens To Children Who Are Rescued Under This Law?

Children who are rescued from situations in which they were being made to work in violation of this law must be rehabilitated under the new law. There is a separate law to deal with children in need of care and protection – Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

Yes, it is legal to make children (below 14) work in the family business. The business could belong to or be run by the child’s immediate family (mother, father, brother or sister) or extended family (father’s sister and brother, or mother’s sister and brother).

It is important that the family business does not involve dangerous substances or processes (the term in law is ‘hazardous’ occupation or process). The law tells us what jobs are considered hazardous. Mines, explosives and processes involved in the coal, power generation industries, etc. are included. For the full list of hazardous occupations or processes, please read the list of industries provided here.

Even though it is lawful to use children in the family business, the child’s education must not be affected. She or he can only be made to do this after school hours or during vacation.

Can Parents Be Punished For Allowing Their Children To Work?

The parents or guardians of the children who are working in violation of this law will generally not be punished for allowing their children to work. However, this immunity does not apply if they make their child (who is under 14) work for commercial purposes or the child (between 14 and 18) work in a hazardous occupation or process. The law does give them a chance to correct their wrong – when they are caught doing this the first time, they can settle it. However, if they make their child work again in violation of the law, they can be punished with a fine of up to ₹10,000.

Yes, it is legal. Children can act in movies and TV serials or be involved in sports activities and be paid for it. They could also do this as a hobby. The government has not yet come out with the full list of allowed entertainment and sporting activities under this exception. Also, the rules regarding the conditions of employment of such children have not yet come out. Again, it is important that the child’s education is not affected.

An exception to this is hiring children in a circus – that is not allowed and is illegal under the law.

What Kind Of Jobs Are Children Between 14 And 18 Allowed To Work In?

The law only tells us what kind of jobs they are not allowed to work in. Adolescents or children between 14 and 18 are generally allowed to work, except in:

  • Hazardous occupations: Mines and inflammable substances or explosives (such as firework factories).
  • Hazardous processes: The list of industries which use hazardous processes is provided in another law (the Factories Act, 1948) and is available here. They include coal, power generation, paper, fertiliser, iron and steel industries, asbestos, etc.
  • The government can make additions or deletions to this list.

Does The Law Regulate Establishments Which Employ Children Between 14 And 18?

While the central law contains some basic rules which must be followed while employing adolescents, different state governments have enacted rules which prescribe additional conditions. Under the central law, the people in control of an establishment or workshop need to ensure that the following minimum rules are followed. These rules do not apply to establishments which are carrying out work with the help of their family and to government funded or recognised schools.

  • Adolescents can only be made to work continuously for a maximum period of three hours at a time. She or he needs to be given a break for an hour.
  • In a single day, the period of work (including break time) cannot exceed six hours. This includes the time they spend in waiting for work.
  • Adolescents cannot be made to work between 7 pm and 8 am.
  • An adolescent has to be given one day off every week.
  • If the adolescent is already working at another place, the occupier cannot make him or her work at their place on the same day.

State governments regulate certain conditions in relation to the maximum number of work hours and conditions regarding health and safety of the establishment/workshop where adolescents are employed. The rules will usually regulate conditions which include:

  • Maximum number of hours that an adolescent can work in a day or week. For example, in Karnataka, the maximum number of hours is five in a day and 20 in a week.
  • The person in charge needs to make drinking water (of a certain quantity and quality) available for each child.
  • There must be proper lighting, ventilation, and temperature at the workplace. The workplace must also be clean and there need to be proper systems for disposal of solid or liquid waste.
  • Toilets and spittoons should be available.
  • The machines in motion must be safe to use and trained people should be supervising the adolescents’ use of these machines. Adolescents should generally not use dangerous machines.
  • The floors and stairs must be safe to use and there must be emergency exits.
  • Children should not have to carry very heavy things. In Bihar, for example, the limit is 14 kg for male children and 12 for female children.

Please check the relevant rules issued in each state under the child labour law to ensure that the conditions are being followed.

How Will The Government Know If There Are Adolescents Working At A Particular Workplace?

The person in-charge has a duty to maintain a register which must be made open for checking by the government inspector during office hours. The register should contain the following details of all adolescent employees:

  • Name and date of birth.
  • Working hours and periods of work as well as the periods of rest.
  • The type of work.

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