The amendment to Child Labour Act is welcome, but it's hardly enough

By Dr Renu Singh

After a prolonged wait, the Cabinet on Wednesday finally gave its approval to banning all kinds of child labour under the age of 14 years.

This was primarily to align itself with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which makes education a fundamental right for all children in the age group 6-14 years. While the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 banned the employment of children up to the age of 14 in hazardous occupations, this proposed Amendment bill prohibits employment of children below 14 years in all occupations and processes. The term child labour refers to the subset of children's work that is injurious, negative or undesirable to children and that should be targeted for elimination.

The amendment to Child Labour Act is welcome, but its hardly enough

A school girl runs a small store after school hours. Image: Young Lives India Study

The cabinet, however, has allowed a small exemption—children below the age of 14 can work in family enterprises, farm lands but only after school hours and on holidays. The condition is that such enterprises should not involve any hazardous occupation.

India has seen a tremendous spurt in school enrolment particularly at the elementary level, due to efforts made by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) as well as the Right to Education Act, 2009.

Since 2001, the number of out-of-school children has decreased from 32 million to 2.2 million in 2012-13 (MHRD, 2014). The number of children in paid occupations has also reduced accordingly from 12,666,377 in 2001 to 4,353,247 in 2011 (Census 2001 and Census 2011). There is, therefore, much to be appreciated in the government amending the CLPRA Act.

Young Lives, a longitudinal research study following 3,000 children in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana since 2001, has gathered information on children's occupations and time spent in paid and unpaid work across all age groups, along with educational status of children.

The data shows that enrolment trends reveal a declining trend as children grow older. Though 98 percent of the children surveyed were enrolled in schools at age eight, this decreased to 90 percent at age 12, 77 percent by age 14-15 and a low 48 percent by the time the children turned 19 years of age (Fig 1). It is also evident that children who were least poor or belonging to the bottom tercile were more likely to leave school than those who were not.


The focus group discussions held with caregivers in Andhra Pradesh, revealed that most parents would like their children to go into paid work only after the age of 15. Qualitative interviews and group exercises carried out in 2008 with children then aged around 12- 13, also mirror the survey data and demonstrate that most of the children were engaged in household activities, although differently for boys and girls as shown in the tables above.

While girls are engaged in household tasks inside the home (washing, cleaning, laundry, cooking and fetching water) boys are more likely to be engaged in tasks outside.

At age 12 , we found that a third of the older group children were working for pay in rural areas, compared to only 12 percent in urban areas. The incidence of children working for pay was highest in the third age group among the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.

However, what is interesting from the longitudinal analysis is that we find many of the children who were combining school with paid and unpaid work at age 12 (Round 2) have managed to complete higher secondary education. While a third of the children combining paid work and schooling have successfully completed higher secondary examinations, 47 percent of those combining unpaid work and schooling have completed Grade XII.


This evidence corroborates the government’s view that many students belonging to poor families may have no option but to work after school.

Moreover, time use related to hours spent in studying after school is a very significant factor, especially as a child progresses to higher grades. This is evident when one looks at children who have completed secondary education as against those who were unsuccessful in doing the same. We find that children spending three or more hours at work at age 12, are highly unlikely to complete secondary education.

Also, when children were asked to rank their daily activities, results showed that they liked school the most, followed by domestic tasks. Farm work was disliked by most of the children. Children from households who had some land were also required to work on the family farm during the peak agricultural season, which affected their time spent in school.

Children were required to juggle school, home and farm work for two to three months a year (from the end of August to November). Unable to strike a balance between the different forms of work, some children missed school and then found it difficult to continue attending. Not only does this show the seasonal pressures on children, but that children may be formally enrolled in school and yet be missing a large part of instruction during certain periods such as the harvesting season.

Young Lives believes that children manage home, school and work activities in complex ways and this is further complicated by a large number of factors including wealth status, land holdings, gender, caste, parental ill health, number of siblings and quality education.

While the Amendment is definitely a step in the right direction, we will need to ensure that children who are working in family enterprises are given the time and space to attend school regularly and more importantly be provided the encouragement and opportunity to study after school as well.

- Dr Renu Singh is Country Director at Young Lives India. She has trained as a Montessorian and special educato. Her doctoral study was on the inclusion of marginalised children. She has served on various government committees and working groups.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2015 11:27:16 IST

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