08/02/2006, 00.00
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Delhi bans child employment in homes and restaurants

As from October, children aged less than 14 will not be allowed to undertake several tough jobs. But experts say laws already in force are not respected because hunger forces many children to work.

Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As from 10 October, children aged less than 14 can no longer be used as domestics or stable boys. This was decided by the Indian government yesterday.

Jobs to be banned include work in teashops, restaurants, hotels, and recreational centres. There are estimated to be more than 12.6 million child workers in India, especially as domestic helps or in small roadside restaurants.

"The decision was based on the risk factors involved in any industry as reported by the Technical Advisory Committee on Child Labour," said an official in the Labour Ministry, SK Srivastava. "The aim is to avoid psychological and also sexual abuse." Violations will be subject to sanctions ranging from a fine to imprisonment for anything between three months and two years.

India already has a law (since 1986) that prohibits the employment of children in dangerous or very difficult work, but abuses are widespread. Thousands of children continue to work in firecracker and matchstick factories or in carpet weaving or embroidery, or stitching footballs. Some are even employed in factories producing chemicals and toxic substances. Often children as young as five or six are sent by their parents to work in other people's homes or in factories, sometimes just so they can eat. Work conditions are often insanitary and the children work long hours for miserable wages.

So many child protection agencies are skeptical about the effective capacity of the government to impose the ban, seeing that it has been incapable of enforcing respect for already existing laws.

Raj Mangal Prasad, who works for such an organisation, said: "Unless there is a mechanism for the rehabilitation of such children who are forced to work for their survival, such laws will be ineffective." They will be "good in spirit but [in fact] a mere cosmetic exercise".

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