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The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act ,1986 was enacted by the parliament of India with an intention to prohibit employment of children below 14 years of age in hazardous works and works in factories, mines etc. and to regulate conditions of work for children in some works. The Act extends to whole of India. The Act was enacted as a result of the deliberations and recommendations of Gurupadaswamy Committee on Child Labour (1979). The responsibility of effective enactment of the Act was given to Central Industrial Regulation Machinery in the Ministry of Labour and Central Advisory Board on Child Labour which was constituted in addition.

The Act consists of 26 sections and a schedule. The schedule is divided into two parts A & B. Sec. 3 of the Act prohibits employment of children in certain occupations and processes which are mentioned in Parts A & B of the schedule. Some occupations included in part A of the schedule are those works connected with transport of passengers and goods by railway, other works in railway premises such as cinder picking, clearing of ash pits etc. or works related with construction of railway stations or railway lines, selling of crackers and fireworks in shops etc. Processes included in part B of the schedule are bidi-making, carpet weaving, cement manufacturing, shellac manufacture, cloth printing, tanning, soldering processes in electronic industries etc. According to Sec. 2 of the Act a ‘child’ means a person who has not completed his 14th year of age. Sec. 4 of the Act clearly says that Govt. could amend the schedule. According to Sec. 5 of the Act a Child Labour Advisory Committee shall be constituted with not more than 10 members including the Chairman. The committee is constituted for effective enactment of the Act. Sec. 7 of the Act says that no child shall be permitted to work more than three hours and no child shall work between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. As per Sec.13 of the Act every child employed must be provided with safe and healthy working conditions. Sec. 14 of the Act deals with penalties for those who employ children in violation to Sec. 3 of the Act. Sec. 17 of the Act speaks about appointment of inspectors for the purpose of securing compliance with the Act and the inspector shall be deemed to be a public servant under Sec. 45 of Indian Penal Code 1860. Sec.22 of the Act says that with the enactment of this Act. The Employment of Children Act 1938 is repealed and the provisions are saved to this Act.

The constitution of India provides for a strong foundation to this Act. Article 24 of the constitution recognizes protection against child labour as a fundamental right guaranteed under part III. Art.39 (f) of the constitution says that children shall be given opportunities and facilities to grow in a healthy manner and should be protected from exploitation. Art. 21 A. inserted in the constitution by 86th amendment provides for free and compulsory education to children between six to fourteen years of Age, that means no child below fourteen years of age could bunk his class and go for work.

Other Act parallel to this Act is Children (Pledging of Labour) Act 1933. In addition to this Juvenile Justice Act 2000 was also enacted for protecting the rights of the children. The Indian factories and Mines Act, 1952, the Merchant Shipping Act 1952, the Motor Transport Worker’s Act, 1951, the Plantation Labour Act, 1951, the Bidi and Cigar workers(Conditions of Employment) Act,1966 and the Apprentices Act 1961 also prohibits employment of children in hazardous works. In the landmark case M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu (AIR 1997 SC 699) the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that children below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in any hazardous industry, mines or other works and has laid down guidelines for the protection of the economic, social and humanitarian rights of millions of children working illegally in public and private sectors.

ILO Convention No.138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to employment, 1973, ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour 1999, ILO declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 1998, United Nation’s convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 are the measures taken in international arena for protection of children against child labour.

While discussing about the implementation of the Act we could not say that the Act achieved its prime objectives so far because in the case Bachpan Bachao Andolan v. Union of India (AIR 2011 SC 3361) children were exploited in the Circus. Many children were brutally tortured and they were forced to live in worst surroundings than that of animals in the circus. As per 2011 census more than 43 lakhs of children are facing the worst situations of child labour till then. Unfortunately all these above said legislation which shall stand against child labour and also for the protection of children to far extend belongs merely in papers and are completely outdated. The government authorities those who are intended for the protection of these children’s rights are also found helpless. So a comprehensive change in this regressive law itself is considered necessary to overcome these issues. Let’s hope for the best.