Children for hire in poll campaigns despite ECI directives

In our series to highlight how Election Commission directives are going for a toss ahead of General Elections 2024, Tehelka Special Investigation Team has exposed the persisting unethical and illegal practices through the cover stories – ‘Crowd on Rent’ and ‘Booth Capturing for Cash’.  The third exposé, ‘Minors for Poll Campaigns’ recorded on hidden cameras shows that despite popular belief, the problem of illegal hiring of children during elections has not been remedied as yet and the practice persists. It may be recalled that the ECI had flagged four Ms that were worrying the Election Commission- Muscle, money, misinformation, and model code of conduct which are posing a daunting challenge in conducting free and fair elections. Tehelka’s investigation by SIT to get to the bottom of the issue has revolved around these ‘Ms’.  The latest expose’ points out how children are being used to be part of election rallies, and campaign-related activities such as pasting posters, hanging banners, shouting slogans, and carrying placards. This is happening with impunity though Election Commission of India has issued strict directives warning of zero tolerance towards the use of children in any election-related activities such as political campaigns and rallies in any manner.

The Election Commission has even emphasized to political leaders and candidates that they should not use children for campaign activities in any manner including holding a child in their arms, carrying a child in a vehicle, or in rallies to create the semblance of a political campaign in any manner including use through poem, songs, spoken words, display of insignia of political party or candidate, exhibiting ideology of political party, promoting achievements of a political party or criticizing the opponent political parties and candidates. Directing legal compliance, political parties and candidates have been told to ensure strict compliance with the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, as amended by the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. The Commission directives also highlighted the Bombay High Court order in a Public Interest Litigation (Chetan Ramlal Bhutada vs State of Maharashtra and others) which had stressed the need to ensure that political parties do not allow participation of minor children in any election-related activities. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has also made it clear that no candidate or party should use children below 18 years of age for campaigning because child labour is regulated under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA).

Tehelka’s cover story in this issue reveals how agents are willing to provide minor children for poll campaigns in exchange for cash. Agents hide minor children from the watchful eyes of the Election Commission by not bringing them to the forefront of a political rally until the main political figure, who would address the gathering, arrives. It is time for regulatory authorities to check such blatant violations to strengthen public trust in the world’s largest democracy.