New Delhi: In a major overhaul of child labour laws, the Cabinet today approved a complete ban on employment of children below 14 years, except for some family businesses, entertainment and sports activities, while raising the punishment for violations to up to three years of jail.
Making child labour a cognizable offence, the fine has also been increased to up to Rs 50,000 for the employers.
The 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.
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.
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 punishments as applicable to the employer of the child.
The amendment bill, approved by the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister 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 3 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 6 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 and while helping the parents, children also learn the basics of occupations."
Therefore, it said, striking a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of the socio- economic condition and social fabric in the country, the Cabinet has approved that "a child can help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupation or process, after his school hours or during vacation".
As for the punishments, the bill provides that in case of first offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the Act, penalty would be imprisonment for a term not less than six months but which may extend to two years or with fine not less than Rs 20,000, but which may extend to Rs 50,000 or with both.
As per the bill, in case of a second or subsequent offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the Act, the minimum imprisonment would be one year which may extend to three years.
The existing law provides that the penalty for second or subsequent offence of employing any child is an imprisonment for a minimum term of six months which may extend to two years.
The bill also provides that the offence of employing any child or adolescent in contravention of the Act by an employer will be cognizable. That means that an offender can be arrested without warrant by an officer.