Eradicating Child Labour in Punjab

child labour, bonded labour, Punjab Prohibition of Child Labor at Brick Kilns Act 2016, Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Ordinance 2016, Employment of Children Act 1991, hazardous work, worst forms of child labour, Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016

Introduction

In 2016, Government of Punjab enacted two laws to eradicate child labour from the Province. One was sector specific and the other was general in nature and thus applicable to all sectors. Punjab Prohibition of Child Labor at Brick Kilns Act 2016[1], promulgated first as an Ordinance in January 2016, prohibits employment of children (under the age of 14 years) at brick kilns. Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016[2], promulgated first as an Ordinance in July 2016, prohibits employment of children (under the age of 15 years) in any type of establishment. This Act further restricts the employment of adolescents (under 18 years) in any hazardous work (a list of 38 hazardous works) in an establishment. Both the Acts indicate the initiative and will of the Punjab Government to fight with the menace of child labour.

Estimating Child Labour in Punjab

Before we further analyze these laws, let’s have a look at the state of child labour in the province. Last child labour survey was done in 1196 however Labour Force Survey data provides useful insights. Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2014-15 reveals that 3.042 million children (10-17 years), representing 16% of the total children in this age group, are in employment in Punjab. Not all children in employment are considered child labour. The number of children involved in child labour in the entire age range, i.e., 10-17 years is 2.083 million. Of this 2.083 million, 1.19 million (57%) are in the 10-14 years range while the remaining are in 15-17 years age group and engaged in hazardous work. We have also looked at this data disaggregating it on the basis of gender and area. Of the children aged 10-17 years in child labour, 68% (1.40 million) are males and 80% (1.68 million) come from rural areas. The share of those engaged in hazardous work (15-17 years) is 43% (0.886 million) of total children engaged in child labour (2.083 million).

What is New?

The Act raises the minimum age for employment to 15 years however what distinguishes Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 from similar other child labour laws in the country is that it prohibits trafficking, debt bondage and serfdom, forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment for use in armed conflicts. It further bans the use, procuring or offering of a child or adolescent for prostitution, production of pornography or for pornographic performances, and illicit activities, including the production and trafficking of drugs. ILO Convention 182, ratified by Pakistan in 2001, refers to these as worst forms of child labour. A person convicted of above crimes would be liable to punishment with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years (minimum for three years) and with fine which may extend to one million rupees (minimum 0.2 million rupees).

Analyzing Coherence

Though, Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 is a commendable step taken by the Government of Punjab to contain child labour in the province, it not only has contradictory provisions with earlier Brick Kilns Act 2016 and Penal Code 1860 but also does not conform to the provisions of ILO core conventions on child labour (i.e. Conventions 138 & 182; both ratified by Pakistan).

The Brick Kilns Act allowed engagement of children in brick kiln on attaining the age of 14 years while this general Act has set the minimum age as 15 years. It is a good step to raise the minimum age however if the current Act is not applicable to brick kilns, it means that the brick kiln owners have been given the license to hire children (under 15) which cannot be employed elsewhere.

The penalties and fines are higher in the brick kilns Act than under the general Act which can rather persuade employers to engage children in establishments other than brick kilns.

While the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 repeats the list of hazardous process and occupations which was made part of Employment of Children Act 1991 in 2005, it still does not include brick kilns in the list of hazardous occupations where no one under the age of 18 years should be engaged. Interestingly, it also adds “ship breaking” as a hazardous occupation for adolescents in Punjab – an industry which does not even exist in Punjab and found only in Balochistan.

Though the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 includes punishments for worst forms of child labour, its provisions contradict to the provisions of Penal Code 1860 amended in March 2016 to include punishments for trafficking and child pornography. Moreover, it is not clear whether compliance with these provisions would be ensured by the labour department or the home department and police since none of the worst forms of child labour include formal employer-employee relationship. In all this new set up, what would happen to the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau in the province established under Punjab Destitute and Neglected Children Act 2004.

The Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016 must also have raised the minimum age for full time employment to 16 years, in line with the provisions of Article 25-A of the Constitution and the corresponding law, i.e., The Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act 2014. Now since the minimum age for employment is 14 years (at brick kilns) and 15 years (in all other establishments) while the minimum age for compulsory education is 16 years, Punjab government is actually persuading children to engage in employment and leave education. The Act must also have set the working hours for school going children (maximum 14 hours per week for children aged 12 years and above up to 16 years) after school hours by specifying ‘light work’ as required under ILO Convention 138. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has set a good example in this regard and its law provides for light work.

 While the intentions of law makers are to eradicate child labour from the province, no tangible results would be achieved. Laws simply cannot have contradictory provisions, on the one hand requiring compulsory education and on the other hand allowing children to engage in full time employment before they complete compulsory education. Similarly, laws cannot have different cut-off age for child labour and then different penalties for the same crime under different laws. Unless coherent reforms are made in the labour laws, children will remain engaged in abusive working conditions and worst forms of child labour



[1] Referred to here as Brick Kilns Act

[2] referred to here as general Act

 

Iftikhar Ahmad

The writer is  Labour Law specialist with WageIndicator Foundation.

iftikharahmad@wageindicator.org

 

 

 

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