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Child labour rampant in State due to Dispur's lopsided policy

Legislators and bureaucrats continue to employ children as domestic help

SAVE OUR SOULS
*     The Centre last year amended the Child Labour Act 1986 and changed it to Child and Adolescent Labour (Protection & Regulation) Act.
*    The amended Act imposes a blanket ban on child labour (below the age of 14 years)
*    Adolescent means a person between ages 14 to 18 years
*    Amendment permits employment of adolescent labour only in non hazardous occupation and in a very child friendly condition
*    The amended Act stipulates increased penalty and imprisonment for child labour employers  

BY OUR STAFF REPORTER
GUWAHATI, Nov 10: Two years back there was a hue and cry in the State when a 13-year old boy was rescued from then Congress MLA Rumi Nath’s official residence at Dispur where he was working as a domestic help. The recovery of the boy from Nath’s residence within the Assam Assembly compound raised many eye brows and questions about public representatives’ knowledge and awareness about child labour and Dispur’s sincerity on enforcing the anti-child labour laws effectively in the State. The incident generated widespread protests and demand for an effective State’s policy to end child labour. 
Cut to 2017 and nothing has changed. Rather, engagement of child labour in the domestic sector has increased in the State. Even the heart of the State administration in Dispur is not free of this malaise.
In blatant violation of anti-child labour laws and making a mockery of Dispur’s efforts to ensure free education to children up to 14 years of age, a section of MLAs and top babus are still allegedly engaging children below 14 years as domestic help at their official as well as personal residences.
Sources in the State Labour department told The Sentinel that since MLAs and bureaucrats use their clouts in Dispur, it is very difficult to rescue child workers from their residences and take action against the employers. “They often tamper with the age data of child workers and claim that these children are staying at their residences to pursue education as their parents cannot afford to send them to school,” the source said.
According to sources, the Labour department has already lost many cases in the courts against powerful and influential child labour employers as the latter could ‘manage’ the Health department to fudge age data of child workers. The age of child workers are often shown to be above 14 years in several cases where such children were rescued.
Apart from a section of MLAs and bureaucrats, incidences of engaging child labour as domestic help is rampant among the general populace in the State due to Dispur’s utter failure in implementing a comprehensive and effective anti-child labor policy. Such situation is prevailing despite amendment of the Child Labour Act, 1986 in 2016, imposing a complete ban on engagement of child workers in any sector.  
“Even though the Labour department has been rescuing child workers from different parts of the State almost every day with the help of police and administration, the role of the department is restricted to rescue and handing over the child under law to the Child Welfare Council and social Welfare department. Post rescue rehabilitation of child labour is crucial to prevent their poor parents from reengaging rescued children under different employers.
“Post rescue rehabilitation of child labour by Social Welfare department, Health department and Education department is very poor in the State, forcing the children to go back to work to earn a livelihood for survival,” the source said.
Setting year 2021 as deadline to curb child labour, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had last year launched the State Convergent Plan of Action for Child Welfare — bringing at least 23 departments to work jointly and rescue children engaged in hazardous work, provide care and education, prevent exploitation and trafficking.
Sources, however, said soon after the BJP regime came to power in May 2016, the State Convergent Plan started gathering dust since it was formulated during the previous Congress regime. 
Even though the Labour department has been successful in drastically reducing the incidences of employment of child labour in commercial establishments in recent years, source said the menace is still rampant in the domestic sector due to lopsided policy of the State government.  Sources said the task force constituted in every district and headed by deputy commissioners at the instruction of the Centre to curb child labour — is yet to function effectively. 
A Labour department official said his department and police alone cannot eradicate child labour menace. “Unless and until there is a concerted effort by various government departments, a section of children in the State will continue to lose their joyful and innocent childhood by engaging in hazardous work to earn a livelihood for their survival,” he said.