Labour rights and labour laws have always been a source of contention in every society. The worldwide economic slump induced by the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread deployment of children being driven into child labour. There is an estimate of 152 million children under the age of 14 working around the globe, with 73 million undertaking hazardous work. They may be found in a variety of industries, ranging from domestic service and agriculture to more hazardous ones like diamond mining, and glass industries. India boasts 1/5th of the world's children, but it also has one of the highest rates of child labour, with an estimated 33 million child labourers. While the number has decreased over time, and legislations to combat the issue of child labour especially in hazardous industries are at place, there still exists in a variety of forms, child labour in India, particularly in hazardous sectors that remains widespread and constitutes an insidious barrier to the correct execution of laws.
The Glass Bangles industry in India is mostly concentrated in and around Firozabad. The children employed in the glass factory of Firozabad depict a horrifying picture of child labourers spending the entire day crouched in front of the burner with high temperature, inhaling flue residues from coal furnaces and unventilated working conditions. For decades, impoverished families involved in bangle making and finishing have enlisted the help of their children in testing and packaging the finished items for sale. Working in dark, ill-lit, and tight quarters, the children assist their parents, whose labour often comprises connecting and smoothing the edges of bangles.Despite the fact that child labour has been removed from the industries where it once flourished by specifically prohibiting and penalizing employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous industries, it is still practised in informal settings. This is due, in part, to the ambiguity that exists in the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 which is regarding the employment of minors in family-run businesses that are conducted out of private residences.Henceforth, it is believed that a century-old industry like Glass Bangle Factory of Firozabad, known for its bad name in practising child labour, requires a debate and revamp with the apparatus of contemporary Child labour laws in India.
CRITICAL LEGAL ANALYSIS
Recently, the Labour Ministry of India has claimed that it does not have any statistics on child labour in India, due to the lack of financial allocations that were planned for the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) project, which was monitoring the issue for around three decades since the NCLP and Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan amalgamated in 2016, the Ministry has no records of child labour. The most recent data is from the 2011 Census, which indicates that there are more over a million child labourers in India. Even though India is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), it was only in 2017, India ratified ILO Conventions No. 138 and 182.
India has had legislation to control and regulate child labour for more than 120 years. The Factories Act, 1881 featured the earliest legislation regulating the employment of children in India. Similar measures were included in subsequent legislations, including the Mines Act, 1901, the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933, the Employment of Children Act,1938, and the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is the major crucial legislation governing the subject matter at hand that talks about preventing children below the age of 14 from being employed in hazardous family enterprise.Whatsoever, it was never sufficient to totally free India of the plague of child labour especially in hazardous industries due to a number of problems which is discussed further.
The Glass Bangle Factories of Firozabad- Just one Instance: Around the town of Firozabad, about 140 miles southeast of New Delhi and the centre of India's glassware sector, 50,000 child labourers live in abject poverty.Traditional techniques for creating bangles have been handed down through the years. Many child labourers solders bangles in gloomy rooms that line the alleys. The manufacturers ceased directly hiring children and started subcontracting their labour to "home units," or workshops like the small, gloomy room that operate in deplorable circumstances. The Firozabad Glass bangle factory is just an instance of many other such bangle making industries across India that still rampantly practices child labour. Very recently, in May 2022 nine children were rescued from glass bangle factory in Jaipur where they were found in small, dark, ill-ventilated rooms.  This only highlight that even though there are laws and regulations prohibiting child labour in hazardous industries such as glass factories, this concern seeks serious deliberation even today.
Judiciary’s Active Role in prohibiting Child Labour in Hazardous Industries:
In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, the Supreme Court took notice of children working in hazardous carpet businesses and ordered district magistrate searches, which liberated 144 children from their owners' custody. In Sheela Barse v. Union of India,the Supreme Court rescued chemically exposed and coal-dust-covered industrial children. The Supreme Court ordered the government to eliminate child labour in M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Naduby conducting surveys to identify working children, withdrawing them from hazardous industries, and educating them in appropriate institutions. The Court suggested that “while it is possible to detect child labour in the organized sector, which accounts for a negligible portion of all child labour, the issue pertains primarily to the unorganized sector, where the most attention must be given, especially in hazardous industries like mining, glass, and textiles”.
The Loopholes in the latest Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016
The Parliament updated the main legislation thirty years after the Act's passage in 2016 with a hope to address the issue of child labour by stringent imperatives and penalties against engaging children in hazardous industries. Unfortunately, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, seems to have left several significant concerns unanswered.
1. Undermining Both the Intent and the Principles of the Parent Act
The Amendment Act per se undermines the impact of the broad prohibition on child labour in all sectors by adopting a clause under Section 3(2) which says, "when the child assists his family or family business beyond school hours or during holidays", the restriction is declared unenforceable”. In a society where child labour is a feature of economic life, it's hard to defend policymakers' goal to strike a balance between education and India's socio-economic realities by permitting children to work as 'helpers'. The legislation disregards the facts that it is trying to regulate, as it was previously mentioned that the Faizabad Glass Industry has a high rate of child labour in home-based businesses where families puts their children as young as five to provide the necessary pressure to the bangles, which could otherwise shatter to increase the bangle production for their masters. The word "help" makes the child's relationship with their family even more ambiguous, which creates a tremendous opportunity for exploitation in hazardous working situations. The Indian Constitution's Article 39 (e) explicitly outlines the responsibility of the state to prevent abuse of children while they are still young and to prevent individuals from being pressured by economic need to engage in occupations that are not appropriate for their physical development.
2. Limiting the List of Hazardous Occupations
The most retrograde change made by the Amendment Act of 2016 was the elimination of Schedule Parts A and B attached to the parent legislation. It has replaced the hazardous 18 occupations of Part A and the hazardous 65 processes of Part B with just 3 occupations (mines, inflammable substances, or explosives) and 29 processes as mentioned in the Factories Act, 1948.Additionally, it excludes the unorganised sector, which is where the issue of child labour is more rampant. This, in turn, provides a legal sanction that allows children to be involved with their family or family business under the guise of 'helping' in occupations and processes such as glass bangle industries, garages, handloom industries, chemical mixing units, brick kilns, gem polishing, lock making, ceramic industries, stone cutting, zari making etc. In addition, as a result of the Amendment Act, the Central Government has a greater capacity than before to exclude from the miniature Schedule any potentially hazardous occupations or processes which elevate the masters of the unorganised businesses to a greater pedestal at the expense of robbing children of their dignity, health, education, and youth.
CONCLUSION CUM SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATION
In spite of laws and regulations prohibiting child labour, the problem of child labour in India is increasing. With an increasing number of children falling victim to forced labour and the circumstances of present child labour worsening, children's access to education, appropriate nutrition, and other crucial conditions for their development and health have all experienced substantial setbacks.
It is suggested that the government conduct routine inspections of all workplaces, with an emphasis on those that involve the performance of potentially dangerous activities or procedures. There is a need for a specialised surveillance system in order to investigate allegations of underage labour. As a result of this, in addition to the District Magistrate, it is necessary to establish independent vigilance and monitoring Committees at the state and district levels in order to supervise the implementation of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. The present enforcement mechanism for executing Child Labour Act requirements is very inadequate. Most other labour rules are enforced by inspectors, who are frequently tasked with more urgent and regular problems like as wage payment and adherence to safety requirements. As a result, they are unable to dedicate much time to child labour. If the enforcement of child labour regulations must be prioritised, then increasing the number of law enforcement officers in relation to workload and filling empty law enforcement officer positions expressly for this reason is advised. A training and orientation course for inspectors to sensitise them to the complicated issue of child labour, as well as the establishment of a legal cell at the district level to assist enforcement officers in connection with labour law prosecutions, would be a welcome move.
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