NCPCR Guidelines To Protect Child Actors in Films, OTT: Why Are They Necessary?

The rule prohibits the involvement of child artistes for more than five hours a day.

5 min read

"Child artistes are a glamourised form of child labourers," said Vidyasagar Ramamurthy, a former child protection specialist at United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) office for Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

"India's approach to eradicating child labour is problematic. Take, for instance, the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (CALPRA). While the Act debars those under the age of 14 from all occupations, children working in the entertainment industry have been kept out of its purview," he explained.

Acknowledging this, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) recently said that child actors are at grave risk of exploitation since they lack the legal right to the earnings they generate, safe working conditions, and lack of knowledge about adequate protections via labour laws, as it finalised guidelines to regulate their participation in the entertainment industry.

In a first, the guidelines also cover social media and OTT platforms, NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo said.

So, what do the guidelines exactly state? Does it regulate the number of hours such an artiste can work? Why are they important? We explain.


What Do the Guidelines Say?

The guidelines primarily state that:

  • A producer would need a nod from the district magistrate concerned before a child participates in an audio-visual media production or any commercial event.

  • They also state that junk food, including carbonated beverages, chips, and other snacks and drinks, shall not be advertised during a programme meant for children or on a channel meant exclusively for children, Kanoongo added.

  • Any producer of an audio-visual media production or a commercial event involving the participation of a child will need to ensure that there has been no abuse, neglect, or exploitation of such a child during the entire process of the production and shooting, he said.

  • A disclaimer to this effect may be displayed at the beginning of films, episodes of TV serials, reality shows, and content posted on social media platforms, the guidelines said.

  • The rule also prohibits the involvement of child artistes for more than five hours a day.

  • It further states that about 20 percent of their salary would need to be directly deposited in a fixed deposit account.

  • The guidelines state that children or adolescents should not be made to share dressing spaces or rooms with adults, especially those of the opposite gender.

  • The guidelines also state that at least one parent or a legal guardian shall be present at all times if the child is below the age of six years.

Why Are the Guidelines So Important?

The child rights body said that the advent of social media, OTT platforms, and accessibility of content on the internet has opened up a Pandora's box – and in addition to the problem of wrongful use of children in the creation of entertainment content, unsuitable content has also easily become available for children.

"In view of the vulnerability of children, it is important to ensure a healthy work environment for them with minimal physical and psychological stress," it said.

Further, a closer look at data reveals that India's child labour burden is formidable. The 2011 census put the figure at 1 crore, of which around 12,000 were estimated to be working in the entertainment industry where, according to some calculations, 25 percent are child actors.

Meanwhile, a 2022 study titled 'Child Artists in India' by Child Rights and You (CRY), an NGO that works towards ensuring children's rights, suggests that the overall number of child artistes is estimated to be between 6,059 and 12,334, based on the Media and Entertainment Skills Council estimates for 2017 and Census 2011.

Ramamurthy explained that while it is clearly mentioned in CALPRA, 1986, that no child shall be allowed to work for more than five hours in a day, and for not more than three hours without rest, most cases child artistes are, however, overworked.

"Especially, when a child artiste is participating in a reality show, the shift hours get stretched beyond the mandated five hours. What we have observed is that during day time, the kids are engaged in practising for their performance, and during night, the shooting happens, leaving a child with little or no time for studies."

That child artistes are often overworked was noted even by the study conducted by CRY. The study found that the work shift stretches to 12-13 hours for six days a week by production houses because guardians/parents often do not interfere in the scheduling.

Contracts drawn between parents and producers have clauses that do not allow the parent or the child artiste to refuse shooting for 12 hours straight. If the child is the protagonist of the film, she/he is required to shoot for 25 days out of the 30-day shoot schedule.

"It was observed that parents too did not have many reservations about letting their children work overtime. This is also evident from their (parents') willingness to have their children available for odd shooting hours and skip school days," the report said.

It noted that in most cases, these child artistes are the sole breadwinners of their families, which leads to increasing their vulnerabilities/exposure to exploitation in the work setup.


How Are Reality Shows Making Things Worse?

In 2017, filmmaker Shoojit Sircar had urged authorities to ban reality shows as it is "destroying them [children] emotionally and their purity."

Even Parzan Dastur, who is known for portraying a Sikh kid in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and now owns a production house, said that in a reality shows, there is an added pressure on children.

"What happens is that when parents see that their child, who is good at either singing or dancing and gets selected for a reality show, they put pressure on the child to overexert themselves to win the prize, get to the goal etc. And sometimes, that comes at the cost of education," he told The Quint.

“When I was working as a child actor, my parents made it very clear to me that my acting career was just a hobby or rather an extracurricular activity and that my first priority was my education. I was not allowed to miss tests, exams, just because of my shooting schedule,” he added.


How Can This Impact a Child?

Such kind of an environment can have adverse effects on a child's well-being, according to Dr Sameer Kalani, a consultant psychiatrist at Fortis Memorial Research Institute.

"What is essentially happening is that the child is being taken away from his/her formative years, from a tried and tested environment (school), away from his peers, and then being placed with people who they cannot relate to. While the child may excel at the task that has been assigned to him, the brain development may slow down, which may not lead to development of skills such as social skills, cognitive skills etc," he explained to The Quint.

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