LAHORE: Following fierce sloganeering demanding accountability of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the opposition benches in the Punjab Assembly walked out of the House on Monday, allowing an unopposed passage of as many as three government bills, including the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Bill, 2016.
With the passage of the child labour law, employing a child aged less than 15 years, or an adolescent aged between 15 and 18 years in hazardous occupations are now crimes punishable by jail time as well as monetary fines.
Punjab criminalises child labour
Called the Punjab Restriction on Employment of Children Act 2016, the law has been enforced at once and will also be applicable to the entire province.
As many as 38 occupations have been identified as hazardous under the law in connection with the employment of an adolescent. Primarily these include those exposing an adolescent to toxic or explosive chemicals, bangles manufacturing, textile processes, stone crushing, tobacco manufacturing, cinemas and cyber clubs.
The law proposes the constitution of a committee – the Provincial Committee on Child Labour – that will advise on legislative and administrative measures for the eradication of child labour and propose a minimum age for purposes of employment.
Other provisions for adolescents include a mandatory day off in a week as well as working hours in a day that should not exceed three hours, and if required to should allow for a mandatory one-hour break.
It allows for a maximum of seven hours of work in a day for an adolescent that would include the one-hour break further binding that working hours should not hinder the adolescent’s educational or vocational training.
Penalties under the law include a jail term of a maximum of six months and a fine up to Rs50,000 for employing or permitting a child to work or for allowing the same for an adolescent in hazardous occupations.
For employing a child or adolescent in slavery, prostitution or for illicit activities, including production and trafficking of drugs, the convicts shall be imprisoned for up to seven years and fined up to Rs1 million. The law also recommends penalties for repeated offenders and abettors.
Amendments to the Provincial Motor Vehicles Bill, 2016 pertaining to making fitness certificates a prerequisite for grant of route permits, mandatory registration of vehicles and display of security featured number plates and penalties for counterfeiting or preparation of unauthorised number plates were also passed by the House.
The Punjab Halal Development Agency Bill 2016 was also introduced in the House.
What was initially a light-hearted exchange between the treasury and the opposition benches over the sorry state of affairs of Punjab prisons, took a nasty turn as Opposition Leader Mehmoodur Rasheed accused the government of ‘preparing lists’ of PTI leaders to detain before their November 2 protest in Islamabad.
The House soon started echoing with the patent slogans of both the opposition and treasury benches.
Ordinance banning child labour promulgated in Punjab
The continuous failure of the parliamentary Home secretary, Mahar Ijaz Achlana, to respond to the lawmakers’ queries did not help much to end the mockery being created in the House, as lawmakers invited each other to visit jails in their district in jest to be aware of the ground realities.
A persistent Zaeem Qadri, the Punjab government spokesperson, demanded the jail manual be revised, resulting in the matter being referred by the chair to the parliamentary committee on home affairs.
He also took a jab at the opposition leader for potentially being in a position to comment over the situation in the jails after November 2.
Incessant remarks from the government MPAs hinting at a potential crackdown on the PTI ahead of the Islamabad lockdown irked the opposition, with the opposition leader Mehmood not only warning the government against a crackdown but also offering his arrest after the session. If the government did resort to aggression, it would solely be responsible for the PTI’s movement taking a violent turn, he forewarned.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2016.
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