Protecting the innocent children from the exploitation by the unscrupulous wealth-seekers is not only an ethical value publicly espoused by the society but a solemn obligation of the State
ARTICLE 24 : No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment
International Charter and Convention:
This Article relates to (i) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (ii) The European Social Charter.
The spirit Article also pervades in the text of Articles 39 and 45 of the Constitution and the letter of this Article resonates in Section 67 of the Factories Act 1948.
Article 39. Certain principles of policy to be followed by the State: The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing
(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means to livelihood;
(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;
(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;
(d) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women;
(e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength;
(f) that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment
Article 45. Provision for free and compulsory education for children The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
Statutory Mechanism to implement the obligations of the State: THE CHILD LABOUR (PROHIBITION AND REGULATION) ACT, 1986
Employment of children below 14 and 15 years in certain prohibited employments have been prohibited by various Acts but there is no procedure laid down in any law for deciding in which employments, occupations or processes the employment of children should be banned. There is also no law to regulate the working conditions of children in most of the employments where they are not prohibited from working and are working under exploitative conditions. Accordingly it was decided to enact a comprehensive law on the subject. To achieve this objective the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Bill was introduced in the Parliament.
STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS
There are a number of Acts which prohibit the employment of children below 14 years and 15 years in certain specified employments. However, there is no procedure laid down in any law for deciding in which employments, occupations or processes the employment of children should be banned. There is also no law to regulate the working conditions of children in most of the employments where they are not prohibited from working and are working under exploitative conditions.
- This Bill intends to–
(i) ban the employment of children, i.e., those who have not completed their fourteenth year, in specified occupations and processes;
(ii) lay down a procedure to decide modifications to the Schedule of banned occupations or processes;
(iii) regulate the conditions of work of children in employments where they are not, prohibited from working;
(iv) lay down enhanced penalties for employment of children in violation of the provisions of this Act, and other Acts which forbid the employment of children;
(v) to obtain uniformity in the definition of “child” in the related laws.
- The Bill seeks to achieve the above objects.
Factories Act- Section 67: Prohibition of employment of young children.—No child who has not completed his fourteenth year shall be required or allowed to work in any factory.
Factories Act enumerates the hazardous processes in Schedule 1 thereto.
The expression ‘Hazardous Employment’ is wide enough to include construction industry (People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. UOI , AIR 1982 SC 1473 (paras 6, 11, 15, 16).
We find spirit of Article 24 in the entire spectrum of labour laws.
The Supreme Court has directed that children should not be employed in hazardous jobs in factories and positive steps should be taken for the welfare of such children as well as for improving the quality of their life. (M.C. Mehta v State of Tamil Nadu (1991) 1 SCC 283 (paras 5, 7, 8, 9, 11) and the employers of children below 14 years must strictly comply with the provisions of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act providing for compensation, employment of their parents/guardians and their education (M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu (1996) 6 SCC 756).
For the purpose of elucidating the judicial view of the subject, the observations of Hon’ble Bench of Apex Court in the aforesaid case are reproduced as under;
“5. We are of the view that employment of children within the match factories directly connected with the manufacturing process up to final production of match sticks or fireworks should not at all be permitted. Article 39(f) of the Constitution provides that ‘the State Should direct its policy towards securing that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.’
- Children can, therefore, be employed in the process of packing but packing should be done in an area away from the place of manufacture to avoid exposure to accident. We are also of the view and learned Counsel on both sides have agreed that minimum wage for child labour should be fixed. We take note of the fact that the tender hands of the young workers are more suited to sorting out the manufactured product and process it for the purposes of packing. We are, therefore, of the opinion that in consideration of their special adaptability at least 60% of the prescribed minimum wage for an adult employee in the factories doing the same job should be given to them. Our indicating the minimum wage does not stand in the way of prescription of a higher rate if the State is satisfied that a higher rate is viable.
- It is necessary that special facilities for providing the quality of life of children should be provided. This would require facility for education, scope for recreation as also providing opportunity for socialisation. Facility for general education as also job oriented education should be available and the school time should be so adjusted that employment is not affected.
- We are happy to notice that the learned Counsel for the State of Tamil Nadu has suggested the creation of a Welfare Fund to which the registered match factories can be asked to contribute. Government can decide as to whether contribution should be at a fixed rate per factory or made commensurate to the volume of production. Learned counsel for the State of Tamil Nadu has agreed that the State would be ready to contribute a matching grant to the Fund and even if necessary, a little more funds could be provided so that facilities for education and recreation can be provided for the children working in the factories we direct that the State of Tamil Nadu shall take appropriate steps in the matter of creating the welfare fund and finalising the method of contribution and collection thereof so that the welfare fund may be set up by 1st January, 1991. The matching contribution by the State can be put into the fund by the end of the financial year 1990-91 so that the consolidated money would be available for implementing welfare scheme.
- We are of the opinion that compulsory insurance scheme should be provided for both adult and children employees taking into consideration the hazardous nature of employment. The State of Tamil Nadu shall ensure that every employee working in these match factories is insured for a sum of Rs. 50,000 and the Insurance Corporation, if contacted should come forward with a viable group insurance scheme to cover the employees in the match factories of Sivakasi area. The premium for the group insurance policy should be the liability of the employer to meet as a condition of service.”
The tiny hands of children must hold, in their daily routines, the felicitous weight of books and writing materials in the salubrious ambience of learning centers and not the treacherous burden of heavy tools in the workplaces. This article wakes up the State to its solemn obligations.