New Delhi, Aug. 1: The Centre has finally outlawed an inescapable home truth 21st century India has learnt to live with: child labour in houses and dhabas.
From August 10, employing children under 14 in houses and eateries will invite punishment ranging from imprisonment to fine or both.
If you are wondering whether child labour was not already banned, the government would say with a sheepish grin: No. Children were kept out of hazardous jobs but household chores and the sweatshop dhabas did not fall in that category.
Now the Centre has issued an order widening the definition of hazardous occupations, bringing into its purview household and dhaba work. According to the definition in the labour ministry notification, dhabas will include roadside eateries, restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts, spas and other recreational centres.
If the new rule is enforced, countless Indian homes could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
The record so far on enforcement is dismal, which has ensured that the country now has 75-90 million child workers who contribute to 20 per cent of the gross national product. Unicef estimates that one of every five children under 14 working outside the family is a domestic worker in India.
Four years ago, the Centre had amended the civil service conduct rules to bar civil servants from employing children under 14. The Maharashtra government also has the same rule for its government employees. But little has been done on the ground to ensure that the rule is being followed by civil servants.
The new bar, however, throws up the tantalising possibility of conscientious neighbours or diners summoning courage to file a complaint if houses in the vicinity and dhabas employ child helps.
If a complaint is filed, the local police station is supposed to take action under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
The National Domestic Workers’ Movement, working with child workers, lists an incident where neighbours played a crucial rule. When the organisation took up the case of 15-year-old Radha in Mumbai, who was brutalised with knives and pens, neighbours testified against her employers.
Radha’s case also drives home the point that the cut-off age of 14 is arbitrary, though a step forward has been taken.
The reach of the act was widened on the recommendation of a committee headed by N.K. Ganguly, the director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).
The committee said the employment of children in domestic households and dhabas is hazardous and these two sectors should be clubbed with other occupations where the ban is in place. Most of these are in manufacturing, including glass, firecrackers, beedis, cement, detergents, pottery, ceramics and carpet weaving.
Child workers are abused physically, sexually and emotionally in the “close confines” of households and dhabas, the committee added.