A recent tweet by film director Shoojit Sircar expressing his concern and sensitivity for children engaged in the entertainment industry and demanding an urgent ban on all reality shows involving children has gone viral. In the past we have seen another filmmaker, Amole Gupte, known for his immensely popular film Stanley ka Dabba, structuring the shooting time in accordance with the child actor’s school schedule. It is indeed commendable for people like Sircar and Gupte to voice their concerns and be sensitive about children on the sets. When concerned individuals come together as champions of child rights, it paves way for finding solutions that can be suggested to authorities and ensure that existing rules are adhered to till better provisions are made.

If we look at the legal framework related to this issue, the recent amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 puts a blanket ban on all children in all occupations with exceptions of her/him helping the family (other than hazardous occupations and processes) after school hours and vacations and child artists in the audio-visual entertainment industry. This means that legally, it is allowed for children to work in television and the audio-visual entertainment industry.

The Amended Act defines child artists as children who perform or practise any work as a hobby or profession directly involving him as an actor, singer, sportsperson or in such other actively related to the area of entertainment or sports. While the law recognises the work by child artists and also the need to regulate it, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendments define certain minimal safeguards only.

Besides the legal framework, we also have National Commission for Protection of Child Rights guidelines released in 2010-11 (Guidelines to regulate Child Participation in TV Serials, Reality Shows and Advertisements) that attempt to safeguard children.

School education must not stop

The recent amendment to the Child Labour rules mandates the producer of any production house or any commercial event to seek the District Magistrate’s permission before involving children. The producer, according to the rules, would have to submit an undertaking to the District Magistrate along with the list of child participants’ names, consent of parents or guardian and details of the person responsible and accountable for the safety and security of the child. It is also mandatory for the production house to appoint one responsible person for every five children to ensure the protection, care and best interest of the child.

The undertaking to the District Magistrate shall have to clearly state the provisions for the child actor’s education, safety, security and reporting of child; timely nutritional diet; safe, clean shelter; and compliance to all laws applicable for the time being in force for the protection of children, including their right to education, care and protection, and against sexual offence.

The rules also emphasise on ensuring that the child shall not be subjected to any discontinuity in school education and no child shall be allowed to work consecutively for more than 27 days. The rules allows a child artist to work up to five hours a day (and for not more than three hours without rest) without actually clarifying the total number of days which a child can work in an academic year. Besides this, the Child Labour Rules do not provide for any differential protective provisions for children under six years, including infants.

While these regulatory processes intend to ensure that children are safe and their schooling or education is not compromised with, what is ignored is the child’s right to leisure and recreation in order to grow to his or her full potential.

Implementation is key

The other worrying question is that how much of these regulations can actually be brought to implementation, especially since there is no mechanism to track the number of different places a child artist could be working at simultaneously. Also, how the monitoring happens when a child has to travel overseas with the film unit?

There remain other questions too. In an industry that is largely adult-dominated both in structure and content, there are instances in which child participants are subjected to competition the way competitive exercises are perceived and defined by the adult domain. And in doing so, we don’t often take into account the amount of emotional stress children may have to go through. We as duty bearers need to be aware of what an impressionable young mind feels. Children are well appreciated and accepted among masses as child artists. However, the risks of them handling rejection or the journey thereafter when the limelight and success fades away is not well thought through or even discussed with adequate sensitivity.

While parents are in charge of their children’s welfare, both parents as well as production houses need to be very careful that their guardianship does not treat children as commodities to be profited from. Moreover, even though the state has put together certain norms, there is scope enough to sharpen them and ensure a more robust monitoring mechanism in place working in the best interest of the child.

Komal Ganotra is the Director of Policy, Research and Advocacy at CRY – Child Rights and You.