Kerala HC: Employment of a child in households held permissible to the extent that child is not kept in bondage

Kerala High Court: In a petition filed to quash the ongoing prosecution against the petitioner under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 against the petitioner, the Bench of B. Sudheendra Kumar, J., while observing that the prosecution failed to prove that the minor girl working in the petitioner’s house was under bondage or was doing forced labour, also dealt with the issue of employment of children in households and of exploitation of child employees with special emphasis on the interpretation of Sections 79, 75, 76 and 78 of the 2015 Act. It was held by the Court that, employment of a child in households is permissible to the extent that the child is not kept in bondage.

The petitioner had been accused under Sections 75 and 79 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 which deal with Punishment for Cruelty to Child and Exploitation of a Child Employee, respectively for allegedly engaging a minor girl as domestic help in his house. It was argued by the counsel of petitioner that there was no allegation that the minor victim girl was employed by the petitioner in bondage; therefore Section 79 of the 2015 Act is not attracted

It was observed by the Bench that in order to constitute an offence under Section 79, it must be looked whether the victim girl was employed by the petitioner in bondage. Since the term ‘bondage’ has not been defined in the Act, the Court had to rely on meanings provided for the term in various dictionaries. Also relying on other Central legislations and several International Conventions, the Court came to the conclusion that “engaging a child for the purpose of employment as such is not prohibited under Section 79 of the Act, if the engaging of the child for the employment is not by keeping the child in bondage.” It was further observed that the fundamental difference between ‘employment in bondage’ and ‘employment without any bondage’ is that a labourer does not have the liberty to leave the employment without the permission of the employer in the former; whereas, a labourer has the liberty to leave the employment without the permission of the employer in the latter. Though the victim had been employed as a house maid with the petitioner, it was established that she had not been kept in bondage; the petitioner had not withheld the earnings of the child or had used them for his purpose; and she had also not been physically or mentally harassed by anyone in the house. Therefore, further proceedings against the petitioner were quashed. [A. Nizamudhin v. Station House Officer, 2017 SCC OnLine Ker 7324, decided on 30.05.2017]

 

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