(Note: This is one of the Chapters from ‘Citizens’ Report on 4 Years of NDA Government’ – a Civil Society Initiative Coordinated by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan.)
Data collection and enforcement of laws and conviction key to ending child bonded labour
As per the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour of the International Labour Organisation (ILO Convention), a “child” is a person under the age of 18, and the “worst forms of child labour” comprises all forms of slavery or practices like slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. The ILO Convention having been ratified by India, along with the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) followed by enacting the required laws have fallen short of curtailing bonded child labour.
The Bondage Trap
A report by Save the Children ranked India at 116th out of 172 countries on the index ranking for loss of childhood, analyzed on parameters of child health, education, marriage, labour, childbirth and violence. Whatever be the forms of bonded labour, they are inherently detrimental to children’s all-round development and mars their self-esteem. Bonded child labour is a situation wherein the children along with their parents have pledged their labour until the debt in current by the parents to in times of exigencies are not repaid to the local moneylender. The undue long hours of work at abysmally low wage or nil wage under exploitative conditions, the exorbitant rate of interest, violence, and threats ensure their servitude to the money lenders for years on end, making it impossible for them to repay the debt.
Labour migration and bonded child labour are closely intertwined. The movement of seasonal labourers between states goes largely unregulated, leaving significant gaps in which exploitation flourishes. Unofficial estimates put the numbers at tens or even hundreds of millions. Children are naturally more vulnerable to exploitation as they too migrate with their parents. A common form of child bonded labour involves children being taken by the creditor to pay off their parents’ debts by working in another state, far away from their homes. These children are sent from rural areas to work in an urban labour market, making them unable to escape. The lack of government data on child bonded labourers, sparing the estimates from civil society studies and other related state statistics, makes it impossible to estimate the real number of child bonded labourers. In a prevalence study on bonded labour in Tamil Nadu, labourers employed outside their home district were found to be bonded at more than three times the rate of those in their home district.
The Lost Childhood: In 2016, 9034 children (boys 4123; girls 4911) were trafficked as per the National Crime Records Bureau. Trafficking takes place for various reasons, one major motive being cheap labour. Likewise, the Tamil Nadu State Crime Records Bureau (2017) revealed that from 2015-August 2017, of the several hundred trafficked children many were employed as labourers. This information gives an insight into the larger scenario wherein children from impoverished backgrounds get trafficked for labour from different states namely, Assam, Karnataka, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
Once bonded, a series of abuses, both physical and sexual and humiliations are unleashed on them upon failing to meet rigorous demands of the creditor. Their right to education, health, growth and development, and to simply be children is violated. Subjected to both verbal and physical abuse including sexual abuse and harassment, these inflictions leave behind scars of severe lasting trauma undermining the dignity of the child.
The Constitution of India has provided specific clauses focusing on child welfare which further guided enactment of various laws for the protection and development of children. The key legislation to eliminate child bonded labour include the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and Amendment, 2016 (CLP & R Act) prohibiting employment of children under 14 years into hazardous occupations. The 2016 amendment to CLP&R Act by the NDA Government permitted engagement of children in ‘family enterprises’, thereby creating ample opportunities for the factories/industries to engage children in the out-sourced homes based assignments..
Furthermore, the amendment gives opportunities to engage children in work at different levels of the supply chain like procurement, transport, manufacturing, and distribution, as the process is divided into various stages. Hazardous occupations too have been reduced to a small list of mining, manufacturing of explosives and occupations mentioned in the Factory Act; work in chemical mixing units, cotton farms, and brick kilns among others are no longer considered hazardous for children.
Hence, the CLP & R Act stands diluted in its scope and runs contrary to the fundamental right to education guaranteed in the Constitution of India (Art. 21A), and the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Additional legal measures relating to child bonded labour include the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000; and the Indian Penal Code (Section 370) both of which have failed to generate data on child bonded labour, a sin-quo-non to abolish it.
Global Initiatives: Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030)
The United Nations has set in motion a plan to build a more prosperous, equal and secure world by 2030 through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Three targets relate specifically to the subject of bonded child labour and trafficking;
5.2 –Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
8.7 – Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
16.2 –End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
National Initiatives viz-a-vis SDGs
The most significant commitment made recently by the NDA towards the eradication of child bonded labour is the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment’s vision for the abolition of bonded labour by 2030’, and revamping of the Central Sector Scheme (CSS) for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer with effect from May 17, 2016. Under the revised scheme, the government has committed to identify, release and rehabilitate 18 million bonded labourers in the country, by undertaking (i) state surveys on bonded labour twice annually; (ii) strengthening of the prosecution machinery aiming at 100 percent conviction rate through trial and judgement delivered on the same day; (iii) Seven-year strategy (2017-18 to 2023-24) with the aim to bring down the number of bonded labourers by 50% of the present estimate and (iv) three-year action plan (2017-18 to 2019-20) to create a district level rehabilitation fund with a minimum corpus of Rs 10 lakhs at the disposal of each district magistrate for immediate cash assistance for released bonded labourers.
The revamped scheme provides for substantially increased rehabilitation assistance to released bonded labourers. On January 17, 2017, immediate cash assistance was enhanced from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 under the District Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Fund. Additionally, the total financial assistance has been increased from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2 lakhs for special category beneficiaries including children, orphans, those rescued from organized begging rings or other forms of child labour, and women. The total financial assistance has been increased to Rs. 3 lakhs in cases of bonded labour involving extreme cases of deprivation or marginalization such as transgenders, or women or children rescued from ostensible sexual exploitation such as brothels, massage parlours, placement agencies etc, or trafficking, or in cases of differently-abled persons, or in situations where the District Magistrate may deem fit.
However, in response to the question of naught cases of full compensation under the CSS raised by a Member of Parliament in Tamil Nadu the Minister of State (IC) for Labour and Employment confirmed the same to be true. Except the immediate assistance of up to Rs. 20000, the CSS didn’t allow disbursal of entire rehabilitation assistance to child bonded labourer until the conviction of the accused. The Central government denied receiving any such proposal from the states for the release of full amount of rehabilitation assistance, which itself speaks volumes for low conviction rate in cases of child bonded labour.
The Way Forward: Strategies for Progress
- Data collection
The Government must undertake data collection through surveys prescribed by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, as a means of monitoring bonded labour and holding to account those responsible for implementing this law.
- The government should conduct inspections of work sites in areas or industries prone to bonded labour as provisioned in Sections 13 and 14 of the Act through the Vigilance Committees at the District and Sub-divisional levels. Secondly, the Labour Department is mandated to conduct a survey to ascertain the prevalence of bonded labour once every three years. The CSS provides funds to State governments for the completion of these surveys.
- The government should ensure registration of adolescent child labourers as per Sections 9 and 11 of CLP & R Act (amended 2016) and the registration of interstate migrant labourers as per Sections 7 and 8 of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Central) Rules Act, 1980.
- Conviction and Deterrence
- The government should set deterrence mechanisms through timely trial and conviction in cases of child bonded labour to end impunity. Conviction and stringent punishment by itself would deter the offender from exploiting the children.
- Swift and effective prosecutions should be publicized widely to spread the awareness, citizen’s vigilance, and message of intolerance for bonded child labour.
- Implementation of Supreme and High Court orders
- The Government must strictly implement the orders of the judiciary spelled out in the BBA vs. Union of India, wherein the Supreme Court ordered the children missing for more than 4 months to be considered as trafficked, and subsequent action is taken.
- Enforce the order of the Madras High Court (HCP No.881/2016) to set up exclusive sub-units of the Anti-Human Trafficking Units in the cities and districts with adequate manpower for timely investigations and tracing of the missing children.
The system should adopt a proactive preventive approach to pre-empt children from being risked into labour bondage. The law enforcers-(labour inspectors) must conduct thorough examinations to detect bonded labour -police officers must investigate, rescue and register complaints in a timely manner; and the judiciary must bring about justice by awarding sentences according to appropriate sections of the laws against child bonded labour (Section 370 IPC ranges from 7 years to life) to enable timely realisation of complete rehabilitation assistance to the victims.
- Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018
Urgently enact the new comprehensive Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018, which has received Cabinet’s approval, and introduces punitive measures for all kinds of trafficking, from using victims as bonded labour or as child soldiers to forced begging.
- Integrated Progress on SDGs
To accomplish the global commitments in this regard. the Government must,
– Determine and implement national action plan corresponding to the legal frameworks, policies, and schemes for each goal; improve indicators and systematic monitoring of these targets backed with comprehensive disaggregated data on child bonded labour and inter-related issues. Adopt relevant indicators to estimate the prevalence of child bonded labour as the current indicators proposed for Target 8.7 (annual total crimes relating to human trafficking and an annual number of children missing) is inadequate to do so.
Continue the good practice of reporting on the progress on SDGs vis-à-vis child bonded labour on international fora, like the Voluntary National Review Report on India’s progress on the SDGs presented to the High-Level Political Forum at the United Nations in July 2017 by the NITI Aayog.
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