The lower house of Indian Parliament Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill after a heated discussion and debate on the seventh day of the monsoon session of the Parliament.
The Child Labour Amendment Bill will make it an offence to employ children below the age of 14 years and parents will be penalised.
The law, which will now define children between the age of 14 to 18 years as adolescent, mandates that they cannot be employed in hazardous enterprises. This bill was passed in the upper house Rajya Sabha earlier this week on July 19.
The biggest loophole, many say, is the caveat that differentiates hazardous and non-hazardous occupations.
Whereas 83 occupations were considered hazardous earlier, only three will now be considered hazardous. Occupations like construction, automobile repair, beedi making, brick kilns, and garment manufacturing, notorious for employing young children, have not been considered hazardous.
Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi says that he was waiting for one struggle to finish and another to begin, but unfortunately, that was not to happen.
"I thought that the struggle of implementation will begin. It was heartening to see strong concerns and voices coming across party lines, and yet, it is ironical that in the land of Buddha and Gandhi, children will be viewed as an economic entity," Satyarthi told DNA. "The divine right of childhood has been robbed, and the new definition of family is going to be open to wide interpretations."
One of the strongest oppositions to the Bill came from member of parliament Varun Gandhi, the son of women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi. Calling the provision under which only repeated offenders among parents will be penalised, Gandhi said that it is not "leniency, but lunacy."
Gandhi said that 81,000 schools do not have a blackboard and in 20 per cent of schools there is only one teacher, and that we have the largest child labour numbers in India with 30 million children engaged in labour, as per estimates by NGOs.
"Until we have a situation in a country where 10 per cent of the population earns 80 per cent of income, where we have economics of competition which is demanding cheap labour and children to fulfil that gap, until we have a system where we do not train our children for employment, how on earth are we going to move forward as a country," said Gandhi.
Amrita Madhukalya/ DNA