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As per the 2001 Census data, there were 7,64,075 working children in Maharashtra and 1,26,66,377 across India, in the age group of 5-14 years.
Maharashtra occupied the eighth position among 35 states and Union Territories, with Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan occupying the top three positions in terms of number of child labour.
While there exists a clear contradiction between the Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986, which allows employment of children upto the age of 14 in non-hazardous industries and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which guarantees education to children from 6-14 years, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR) has written to the state, asking it to invoke strict sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 on employers, middlemen and parents, who encourage child labour, so that it acts as a deterrent, adding that Mumbai has now become a hub of child labour. The letter says that despite it being a crime, the problem of child labour is growing alarmingly in the city.
As per the 2001 Census data, there were 7,64,075 working children in Maharashtra and 1,26,66,377 across India, in the age group of 5-14 years. Maharashtra occupied the eighth position among 35 states and Union Territories, with Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan occupying the top three positions in terms of number of child labour.
“Children are being used as domestic help, in factories and shops among others in the city. Children are also being lured from other states into employment in Mumbai, which has become a destination for child labour. The numbers are increasingly unusually, there’s child trafficking and children are being treated as slaves. Even after the children are rescued and anti-child labour laws are applied on owners and masters, the quantum of punishment is very less. Hence, it does not act as an adequate deterrent and there is no fear among people when they employ children,” says the letter, which has been submitted to the state labour department and home department.
Accordingly, says MSCPCR, it is necessary to apply sections 317 (exposure and abandonment of child under 12 years, by parent or person having care of it) and 374 (unlawful compulsory labour) of the IPC, both including jail term or fine or both. The commission’s letter further says that sections 370 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and 370A (1, 2) of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act should also be applied.
Sections 370 (1 to 7) looks at the issue of trafficking and stipulates that whoever, for the purpose of exploitation, recruits, transports, harbours, transfers or receives a person by using threats, force, abduction, practicing fraud, abuse of power or inducement, commits the offence of trafficking, and will be punished with rigorous imprisonment, ranging from seven years to life, and will also be liable to fine. Further, 370A (1, 2) stipulates quantum of punishment for trafficking and sexually exploiting a minor.
“We are urging the state to invoke these sections of IPC and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act on employers, middlemen and parents, who willingly give away their children and such a step could possibly limit child labour,” the letter says.
Prof Asha Bajpai from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said that according to the Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Act, 1986, “children upto to age of 14 can be employed in industries, which are not considered hazardous, with certain regulations. They can work for three hours, take an hour’s break and then again work for three hours; they cannot work after sunset and before sunrise and the work conditions have to be healthy and safe. But the current Child Labour Act contradicts the RTE Act. If children, who are 6-14 years of age are working, how will they study in a school? How then does the RTE Act work at the level of implementation? The Central government had drawn up the Child labour (Abolition and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2006, which debars employment of children below the age of 14, but it’s yet to see the light of the day.”