The owner of a factory in Jaipur has been convicted of and punished for engaging in child labour – a result which has won acclaim from campaigners.
The owner in question was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined Rs Rs 1.3 lakh, which Narendra Sikhwal – head of the Rajasthan state capital’s child welfare committee – called “just the beginning.” The ruling, he said, “is a first for Rajasthan – and possibly the country – that a man engaged in child labour has been sentenced to life and not just let off after paying a fine, as is the norm. We are hopeful that many more such verdicts will follow.”
International campaigners have welcomed the ruling too. Richard Hawkes, chief executive officer of the British Asian Trust, called it “hugely significant” and expressed hope that the verdict will “act as a massive deterrent to others.” Ultimately, Hawkes said, “our aim is to make Jaipur a child labour free city…right at the heart of this is getting the legal process to work effectively.”
The factory owner was convicted of employing children as young as ten to work in a factory making bangles, in a city where there are approximately 250,000 child workers. Of these, more than half are aged between ten and fourteen. Nationwide, 11.8 percent of children aged aged between five and seventeen are involved in child labour. Jaipur is believed to have one of the highest rates of child labour in the country.
UNICEF identifies “the poverty and illiteracy of a child’s parents, the family’s social and economic circumstances, a lack of awareness about the harmful effects of child labour, lack of access to basic and meaningful quality education and skills training, high rates of adult unemployment and under-employment, and the cultural values of the family and surrounding society” as being among the reasons why child labour proliferates. Such a practice is illegal in the country.
Child labour in India is prohibited under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, which bars the employment of anyone below the age of fourteen in anything other than family-based work. Furthermore, fourteen-to-eighteen year-olds cannot be employed in hazardous work, which includes work handling toxic materials, mining, and warehousing. Further legislation guarantees the right to education for those between six and fourteen years. Meanwhile, the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill – passed last year – instituted severe penalties for exploitation of children, including via child labour.
Concerns have been expressed that existing legislation is weakly enforced, making it a boon for child welfare that such a penalty has been handed down. With campaigners optimistic that this will translate into lasting change, the onus is upon authorities to ensure that those who exploit children for profit are held to account.