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The UN Children’s Fund has voiced concern over the amended Child Labour Bill in India, saying it could legitimise family work and further disadvantage children from poor families.
The UN programme urged the removal of certain provisions of the bill and establishing a robust monitoring mechanism with a thorough list of hazardous occupations for a stronger child protection framework.
“Under the new Child Labour Act, some forms of child labour may become invisible and the most vulnerable and marginalised children may end up with irregular school attendance, lower levels of learning and could be forced to drop out of school,” UNICEF India’s Chief of Education Euphrates Gobina said.
“Secondary enrolment is still lagging behind, especially for the most vulnerable children, many who are working,” Gobina said.
While welcoming the recent approval by Rajya Sabha to amend the Child Labour Bill prohibiting children under the age of 14 from working, UNICEF India said it was concerned about a provision which stated that “where the child helps his family or family enterprises, which is other than any hazardous occupations or processes set forth in the Schedule, after his school hours or during vacations.”
This provision raises serious concerns as it not only legitimises family work but it also could further disadvantage the most vulnerable children from poor families, it said.
The amended Bill might substantially reduce the list of professions considered hazardous, potentially leading to more children working in unregulated conditions, it added.
In order to strengthen the Bill and provide a stronger and more protective legal framework for children, UNICEF India strongly recommended the removal of “children helping in family enterprises”, which will protect children from being exploited in invisible forms of work, from trafficking and from boys and girls dropping out of school due to long hours of work.
A robust monitoring mechanism was also urged to ensure that accountability of all stakeholders is essential, especially because there is no reference to trafficking of children for work in the current Bill.
UNICEF India further suggested an exhaustive list of hazardous occupations to be included and a system be developed to periodically review the same, and include more occupations as they emerge.
According to UNICEF, there are approximately 10.2 million children working in India.
There has been an overall decline in the number of children working, although child labour has increased in urban areas due to children migrating or being trafficked to work in hazardous small scale industries or construction sites.
Family or home-based work for children in India is often hazardous and includes working in cotton fields, making bangles and bidis, rolling tobacco, carpet weaving and metal work, the agency said.
It added that according to the 2011 census, child labour rates in India are highest among Scheduled Tribes (ST) at 6.7 per cent and Scheduled Castes (SC) at 3.9 per cent.
In both groups, children in rural areas are more likely to work than children from cities and many children are forced to leave school to work.
The Child Labour Amendment Bill, which was passed by Rajya Sabha last week has provisions stating that no child should be employed in any occupation or process except where he or she helps his family after school hours or helps his family in fields, home based work, forest gathering or attends technical institutions during vacations for the purpose of learning.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and human rights activist Harsh Mander have also stated that the bill will expose millions of marginalised children to hazardous occupations in the “garb of” employing them in family enterprises.