August 2, 2006

India bans child labor in homes, hotels

By Kamil Zaheer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India, home to the largest number of
child laborers in the world, has banned children under the age
of 14 from working as domestic servants or at hotels, tea
shops, restaurants and resorts.

The labor ministry said the ban would come into effect from
October 10 and those violating it could face a jail term up to
two years and a maximum fine of 20,000 rupees ($430).

Children working in lower-end restaurants and highway food
stalls are a common sight in many parts of India, and many
urban households and shops hire young boys and girls under the
age of 14 from poor families as servants or maids.

"The committee...while recommending a ban on employing
children in these occupations, had said that these children are
subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma and, at
times, even sexual abuse," a government statement said,
referring to the Technical Advisory Committee on Child Labor.

"These children are made to work for long hours and are
made to undertake various hazardous activities severely
affecting their health and psyche," it said, in a statement
released late on Tuesday.

Under India's 1986 Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation)
Act, children under 14 are already banned from "hazardous"
industries such as making fireworks and glass-making.

But the ban is poorly implemented due to red tape and
corruption, activists say, and given the government's poor
record, some do not expect the latest ban to be effective.

"But it gives us moral support to fight child slavery,"
said Kailash Satyarthi, chairman of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan
(Save the Childhood Movement).

Government data shows there are more than 11 million child
laborers under 14, but Satyarthi said this was a gross
underestimate and the figure was closer to 60 million.

"Unless the government is honest about the magnitude of the
problem, how can we solve it?"

The International Labor Organization (ILO) welcomed the ban
but said its implementation was a challenge, as many of the
children worked in homes and away from public view.

"Children working at homes or in eateries have very long
hours and face isolation, and are far away from support
systems," said Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, ILO's India representative.

"Often, these children take care of more privileged
children, seeing the world that they don't have."

The ILO has called for punitive steps such as fines and
imprisonment for people violating the ban.

Labor ministry spokesman M.L. Dhar said children working as
domestic servants and in street restaurants, were vulnerable
because crime against them often went unreported.

"For children working in houses, it is an difficult area
(to investigate) as there is a question of privacy of people
living there," Dhar said. "But the government will evolve some