NEW DELHI (TIP): The Cabinet on May 13 approved a ban on employment of children below 14 years, with a caveat that children can pursue family businesses, entertainment and sports activities after school or in vacations. The penalty provisions for employing a child have been increased to jail term of three years and fine of up to Rs 50000.

Children can be employed only in non-hazardous family enterprises, TV serials, films, advertisements and sporting activities (except circus) with a condition that they would be made to do these jobs after school hours.

The decision has been slammed by child rights activists as retrograde advocating a complete ban saying it was in contravention with the Right to Education Act.

Activist lawyer Vrinda Grover described the cabinet decision as “regressive” impacting the most vulnerable people in the country. “It goes against the RTE law that says equal opportunity must be provided to children. The provision home based industries will be used for exploitation of children and betrays the real intent of this government. We are legalizing a horrible reality instead of banning it.”

A new definition of adolescent has also been introduced to further prohibit employment of those aged 14-18 years in hazardous jobs, a government statement said.

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The amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act has, however, relaxed the penal provisions for parents or guardians, who were earlier subjected to same punishment as applicable to the employer of the child.

The amendment bill, approved by the Union Cabinet chaired by PM Narendra Modi, provides that there would be no punishment for parents or guardians in case of first offence, while a maximum penalty of Rs 10,000 can be levied in case of the second and subsequent offences.

Under the existing law, any violation attracts imprisonment of a minimum three months to a maximum of one year for the first offence, while the fine is Rs 10,000- 20,000. This has been enhanced to imprisonment of six months to two years and fine of Rs 20,000-50,000 for the first offence. For the second offence, the jail provision has been increased from 6-24 months to 12-36 months.

The current law prohibits employment of children, aged below 14 years, only in 18 specified occupations and 65 processes and regulates the conditions of working of children in other occupations/processes.

The new bill provides that employment of children below 14 years will be prohibited in all occupations and processes. Besides, the age of prohibition of employment will be linked to age under Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

The new provisions are part of the official amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012.

The bill also provides for constitution of Child and Adolescent Labour Rehabilitation FUND for one or more districts for the rehabilitation of the child or adolescent rescued. Thus, the Act itself will provide for a fund to carry out rehabilitation activities, said the official statement.

On the exceptions made in the new laws proposed, it said: “While considering a total prohibition on the employment of child, it would be prudent to also keep in mind the country’s social fabric and socio-economic conditions.”

It added: “In a large number of families, children help their parents in their occupations like agriculture, artisanship etc. While helping the parents, children also learn the basics of occupations.”

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