“Ignorance of Law is no excuse”. This is one of the most commonly heard statements in the field of law, and indeed the statement stands true in all respects. However, this statement is not necessarily to be followed by the individuals, always; but sometimes the Government should follow it as well and should try not to run away from its responsibilities. One such responsibility is the education of children. The Government of India seems to be turning a blind eye in respect to this matter in the context of the above mentioned statement and also in respect of its responsibility to this effect. In India we can find many children working in restaurants, dhabas, tea stalls etc. These children are stripped off their Right to Education and are also victims of their circumstances which force them to indulge in such jobs and revoke their precious Right to Education.
Child Labour was prohibited back in 1986 and the Right to „Compulsory‟ Education was introduced in 2002 by the Constitution Eighty Sixth Amendment Act, 2002. Article 21-A of the Indian Constitution makes it abundantly clear that free education must be given to a child until the age of 12. The Supreme Court of India also passed a landmark judgement to this effect in the Society for Unaided Private Schools v Union of India [(2012) 6 SCC 1] where it said: “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years and the obligation is on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children of specified age.”
Although this judgment makes it crystal clear that educating a child is the responsibility of Government but there aren‟t many concrete efforts being put in from the Government‟s end to curb child labour and focus on Right to Education of Children. Moreover, let‟s not assume that opening Government Schools would be a discharge of responsibilities towards Right to Education. The responsibility mentioned in the abovementioned case would only be discharged when the Government starts focusing on the Child Labour Laws in India and their effective implementation. Now, a pertinent question which arises for the effective implementation of this scheme is, HOW SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT DISCHARGE THIS RESPONSIBILITY? This question might be a nightmare for the Government but surely it has to be answered.
However, I would like to suggest a possible solution to this question and I don‟t think it‟s a unique solution, but just a proper implementation of our Black and White Statutes which our Government should have followed (but, you know, sometimes things just don‟t work out between Couples, i.e., Government and Statutes and then one mutual friend has to path them up again, i.e., Me).
So, the solution lies in Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (CLPR Act). Section 2B of the CLPR Act clearly states that school hours should not be compromised even if a child is working to help the family. Furthermore, Section 11 of the Act obliges the establishment to maintain a register to monitor the basic workings hours of the child along with the pay, Section 17 of the same Act vests a duty on the local inspector to keep a regular check on such establishments which might employ children.
The responsibility under section 11 and section 17 are two folded, one states the responsibility of Establishments employing such children and the other states the responsibility of Government (Inspector) to keep a check on such establishments and their conduct. So, all that the Government has to do is, honestly keep a check on such establishments (after all, loyalty is the key of healthy relationship) and help such downtrodden children grow through education, and, those establishments which do not maintain such registers should be penalized and fined for the same. There should also be a proper implementation of National Child Labour Project whose main aim is to rescue the children in the age group of 9-14 years from being pushed to work.
A nationwide study by V V Giri National Labour Institute of the CLPR Act observed that in Uttar Pradesh most of the accused were acquitted under the Act due to lack of documents related to the child. Hence, it should be required that such registers be maintained as they not only ensure a safe education, but also act as proof in the court of law.1 Only a strict approach will work to eradicate illiteracy and child labour, rather than a lousy one.
1 Areeb Uddin Ahmed; Aligarh’s Dhaba Culture is Normalising Child Labour: Right to Education and Child Labour laws