New Delhi: A UN body on Tuesday expressed serious concern over the changes made in India's child labour law which allows children to work in family enterprises and reduction of hazardous professions, saying it could lead to more children working in unregulated conditions.
Although UNICEF India welcomed the law which prohibits children under the age of 14 from working, it also expressed concern over the provision of children working in family enterprises as it could further "disadvantage" the most vulnerable children.
Referring to the 2011 census, which says that 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, UNICEF India said that in both groups, children in rural areas are more likely to work than children from cities while many girls and boys working are forced to leave school.
"The provision, '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' raises serious concerns, as it legitimizes family work and could further disadvantage children from poor families," the body said.
The body further added,"UNICEF India is also concerned that the amended Bill substantially reduces the list of professions considered hazardous, which could potentially lead to more children working in unregulated conditions."
Rajya Sabha on 19 July passed the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill which prohibits employment of children below 14 years in all occupations or processes except where the child helps his family, with the provision for imprisonment up to two years for any violation.
The bill makes employment of children below 14 years as cognizable offence for employers and provides for penalty for
"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.
"Secondary enrollment is still lagging behind, especially for the most vulnerable children, who are working," said UNICEF India's Chief of Education Euphrates Gobina.
The UN body said that there are approximately 10.2 million children working in India and there has been an overall decline in the number of boys and girls working, although child labour has increased in urban areas. This increase is mainly 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," it said.
To strengthen the Bill and provide a protective legal framework for children, UNICEF India recommended the removal of 'children helping in family enterprises'.
"This 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," the body said.
It said that a robust monitoring mechanism ensuring accountability of all stakeholders is essential, particularly because there is no reference to trafficking of children for work in the current Bill.
UNICEF India also recommended 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.