Earlier this year, the Punjab government promulgated the Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016. As much as the long-awaited law received appreciation from national and international labour organisations, there were those who saw it as a move to ruin their business — the brick kiln owners, who banded together to reject the law as partial.
The law dictates that children over the age of five and up to 14 years shall not be made to work at brick kilns during school hours. In this connection, the government arrested dozens of people and sealed over 30 brick kilns, for violating the child labour laws. The kiln owners were charged with non-bailable offence, with six months’ imprisonment, a fine of Rs500,000, or both.
The kiln owners, under their umbrella organisation, went up in arms and threatened to continue with their strike for an indefinite period of time, if their demands are not paid heed to.
On the other hand, it is business as usual at most kilns. The children continue to work here, mostly in tandem with their families — the parents, the siblings, even the grandparents — helping with kneading, moulding, piling, baking, releasing, stacking and any other work related to the manufacturing process.
It has also been observed that the kids (employed at the sites) are dressed up in school uniform. Some see it as a cheat, on the part of the kiln owners who would like the outsiders to believe that the children just returned from school.
The question that arises is: are we good at implementing the laws we make? Surely, it is not enough to catch the culprits. An effective implementation of the law is what is required.