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No convictions in India despite child labour ban

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is failing to enforce a ban on child labour, with not a single conviction almost three years after the law came into effect, leading child rights activists said on Friday.

A child labourer shows his hands smeared with what he says are chemicals as he sits inside a police station in New Delhi in June 12, 2009. India is failing to enforce a ban on child labour, with not a single conviction almost three years after the law came into effect, leading child rights activists said on Friday. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

More than 12 million children below the age of 14 are working as domestic servants or other jobs such as in stone quarries, embroidery units, mining, carpet-weaving, tea stalls, restaurants and hotels, according to government data.

A law prohibiting employing children in homes and in the hospitality industry came into effect in October 2006. There have only been 1,680 prosecutions and not a single conviction.

“Since the law came into effect, the government has only found 6,782 child workers in jobs like domestic service and roadside restaurants,” said Kailash Satyarthi of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement).

Children working in lower-end restaurants and highway food stalls are a common sight in many parts of India, and many urban middle-class households hire young boys and girls from poor families as servants.

The law -- where violators face a jail term of up to two years and a maximum fine of 20,000 rupees ($420) is an extension of a previous 1986 ban prohibiting children from working jobs deemed too “hazardous” for minors such as in factories and mines.

Child rights campaigners say like the previous ban, the 2006 law has never been properly implemented or enforced.

“There are serious discrepancies at every stage in process of dealing with child labour issues in India,” said Satyarthi.

“First, the government numbers are underestimated, then authorities do not carry out comprehensive inspections on establishments employing children,” he said.

Priya Subramanian, communications manager for Save the Children India, said problems in identifying the age of children was another reason why there were no convictions.

“Many of the children are from rural areas and have no formal identification and so the onus is often not on the employers as they just plead innocent,” said Subramanian.

Authorities say results from the recent ban will not come overnight.

“There are difficulties in implementing this law, but you know these things take time,” said a senior official from the ministry of labour, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to make statements to the media.

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