It has been more than five years since the government banned employment of children through an amendment in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986. But the situation today is far from inspiring.
Why this evil is not declining? The answer is not difficult to comprehend. The conviction rate under the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 is abysmally low. This fails to act as a deterrent for employers. Enforcement figures of the Ministry of Labour and Employment states that 23,53,098 inspections were conducted between 1997-98 and 2004-2005. Of these, 1,43,804 violations were detected and 59,026 prosecutions launched. The prosecutions resulted in 21,481 convictions and 5,505 acquittals.
One of the reasons for poor conviction in the country is due to lack of action against violators by the government officials. Instead of taking criminal actions, the officials make all efforts to save the violators from all types of criminal actions. This only encourages the violators. Even when the officials are identified they are given state protection.
A case of child labour, registered by the National Human Rights Commission in August 2000 in Bihar is a testimony. Two officials mandated to stop child labour were found responsible for inaction in saving children employed with dye and colour manufacturing factories in Lakhisarai district. The NHRC asked the state government to provide detailed information such as whether any fine was recovered from the employers or the action taken against the erring officers and the hazardous substance manufacturing companies which employed those children.
However, the state government failed to provide any information despite repeated reminders from the NHRC. Recently, the state government finally agreed to start departmental proceedings against the two guilty officers. In one of its proceedings in the case, the NHRC observed “it is a glaring case where the government officers/officials in connivance with the factory owner made all efforts to save the factory owners from all types of criminal actions.”
Child labour is thriving only due to lack of seriousness of the state governments to take action against the violators including its officials who connive with them.
Unless enforcement mechanism is strengthened little could be done to arrest child labour. There is also the need to buttress the provisions for rehabilitation apart from the need to add more in the list of prohibited employments for children.
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