A landmark step —India ratifies ILO conventions on child labour

With the ratification of ILO Conventions No. 138 and 182 – India now has ratified six out of eight ILO fundamental conventions. Comment by Ms Panudda Boonpala, Director of the ILO Country office in India.

Comment | 13 June 2017
Ms Panudda Boonpala, Director of the ILO Country office in India
Today, June 13 2017, is a momentous day in the efforts to end child labour. The Indian Government presents to the Director General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, the ratification instruments for ILO Conventions No. 138 on Minimum Age to Employment  and No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. during the  106th International Labour conference underway in Geneva.

On this occasion, ILO Director General said, “This is a historic step. From today, Convention 182 will cover more than 99 per cent of the world’s children and the coverage of Convention 138 will leap from approximately 60 per cent to almost 80 per cent.” He added that with these ratifications, India has indeed sent out a strong message that it will not tolerate child labour in any of its forms.

India’s ratification of the two most comprehensive international treatises on child labour is consequential. First, it will bring almost half a billion Indian children and adolescents up to 18 years of age under the protection of the provisions of these instruments and reinforce the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. Second, it brings India to join the 169 of the 187 ILO member States that have ratified Convention No. 138 and 180 member States that have ratified Convention No. 182. India’s experience is valuable as the global community redoubles efforts to achieve Agenda 2030’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7, which calls on all parts of society to “secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers; and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.

In the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, India for the first time has set a general minimum age (14 years) below which it will be illegal for children to work. Also for the first time, outside sector-specific law, it brought all 14 to 18 year olds into the fold of the law for protection by setting the minimum age for hazardous work to 18 years. It was primarily these two changes that brought the amended law to be more in line with the minimum standards set forth in the two Conventions, thereby moving the Government towards the ratifications.

Following the ratifications, India can further draw on the expertise and advice of the ILO’s international supervisory system that supports countries, through social dialogue and technical cooperation, to implement the Conventions they ratify. Under Article 22 of the ILO Constitution, each Member State is obligated to report to the ILO supervisory system annually on measures taken to give effect to the provisions of the ratified Conventions.

The ILO has also worked in close partnership on the issue with the Government of India and its social partners — employers’ organizations, trade unions, State Governments and the civil society.

Going forward

Going forward, the ILO will build on this longstanding collaboration to address child labour issues, particularly in the framework of India’s Decent Work Country Programme.

Framing of enforcement Regulations

The ILO will continue to offer technical advisory services, for instance in the framing of the enforcement Regulations to the Act and putting in place measures to maximize protection for all children under the law. These are important next steps in bringing the Act in line with the Conventions, particularly in view of the exceptions that are granted in the Amended Act in relation to minimum age in the case of family enterprises and the scope of hazardous work.

Leveraging action on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Child labour is a complex problem that calls for coordinated and integrated responses to support multi-agency efforts. The UN in India is well positioned to provide wide-ranging support in the context of SDG 8 on “Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

Leading action on the South Asia Regional Action Plan on the Eradication and Prevention of Child Labour

The Regional Action Plan was launched at the South Asia Consultation on SDG Alliance 8.7 in Bhutan in July 2016. The Indian Ministries of Labour and Employment and Women and Child Development, together with the two ministries from each of the other seven SAARC countries, endorsed the Action Plan developed with their participation, by the SAARC Apex body on children —South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) — with support from the ILO.

Supporting the follow-up on Recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee

Some recommendations made during the discussions on the Amendment in both houses of the Parliament can be addressed in implementation. These pertain to:
  • Vigilance and monitoring committees: Given the family enterprise exceptions, this is critical.
  • New Child Labour Policy: The 1987 Policy on Child Labour needs to be revised in consultation with stakeholders.
  • Inspection of places of employment: with family-based work being permitted, the inspection system will need to see how such work places can be reached so as to ensure protection against hazardous work.
The ILO congratulates the Government, social partners, and many stakeholders, on the historic ratification of the two Conventions. We look forward to continued close collaboration in their implementation.