The Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns was passed by the provincial assembly on Monday, with no more than 30 members present in the house at the start of the session. The law provides for the inclusion of a written contract, to be forwarded to a labour inspector, a cap at Rs 50,000 as the advance (peshgi) allowed to be given to the employee and setting the age of a child labourer. Owners of brick kilns, hotels/restaurants and workshops would undergo six to seven years’ imprisonment if found having child labour. Besides, the guilty party would have to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 500,000.

These are positive changes, but the age was set at 14 and not 16, which is the constitutionally defined age until which children must receive free and compulsory education. There is also a lack of a clear-cut definition on labour inspectors and their role. Had it been well debated and analysed, a better arrangement could have been made for these children. Yet, at least a step has been taken in the right direction.

The passage of this law will not be enough to eliminate the issue of child labour in the Punjab. Brick kiln owners do not currently adhere to pre-existing laws on torture and the protection of other basic human rights and this will just be another paper thrown at them that they will ignore. Documentation can easily be forged, and in many cases parents themselves make sure that their children are employed and bringing home some income.

Employment records of brick kilns, and other sectors where child labour and bonded labour exist, need to be strictly monitored. It is not just that some employers are out to exploit cheap labour, but that living conditions of people are so poor that they have to resort to such labour. A long term plan for rural uplift via schools and infrastructure is needed.