UNICEF Expresses Concerns Over India’s Child Labour Bill

UN agency UNICEF has expressed its concerns regarding provisions in India’s Child Labour Amendment Bill, 2016 that allows a child to help out in family enterprises after school hours. The agency claims that the amendments will negatively impact children from lower socio-economic backgrounds and will legitimise family work.

The bill makes employing a child below 14 years of age in any occupation except their family enterprises, punishable by a jail term of up to two years and includes a penalty for parents. While the bill is largely a welcome amendment as it prohibits children under the age of 14 from working, UNICEF India has expressed its concerns about a provision that allows children to work ‘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.’

UNICEF Chief of Education in India, Euphrates Gobina, said,

“Under the new Child Labour Act, the more invisible forms of child labour and exploitation may go unseen and the most vulnerable and marginalized children may end up with irregular school attendance, lower levels of learning,”

Thus, UNICEF has urged the removal of certain provisions and has asked the Indian government to create a robust monitoring mechanism with a thorough list of hazardous occupations for a stronger child protection framework. Child rights advocate and Nobel Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi told the Times of India that the changes would lead to further “victimisation of children” in their poverty.

In India, many children are forced to leave school to work. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 10.2 million children working in India. A 2015 report by the International Labour Organization claimed child workers in India from ages five to seventeen made up 5.7 million, out of 168 million child workers globally. While India has witnessed an overall decline in the number of children working, child labour has increased as a result of urbanisation, forcing many children from economically disadvantaged communities to migrate or be trafficked to work in hazardous small scale industries or construction sites. Family work in family businesses for children in India can often involve hazardous conditions with work ranging from working in cotton fields, making bangles, rolling tobacco, carpet weaving and metal work, UNICEF said.

The Indian government, on the contrary, claims that exemptions to family enterprises aim to strike a balance between the right to education and the reality of India’s economic landscape, as many families rely on children due to poverty or to pass on the traditional family trade.

“The purpose of this very act is that we should be able to practically implement it,” Bandaru Dattatreya, India’s Labour and Employment Minister, told the Indian parliament. “That’s why we are giving some exemptions,” he said.

Nishtha Sharma