A bill in India prohibiting children under the age of 14 from working has been criticised for a loophole UNICEF claims “could further disadvantage the most vulnerable”.
India’s upper house recently approved an amendment to the Child Labour Bill, adding in a ban on employing children under the age of 14. The amendment also introduced restrictions on employing of children aged between 14 and 17 in hazardous jobs.
However, the new rules allow children to work in “family enterprises”, raising concerns manufacturers could be encouraged to push work out of factories and into homes.
UNICEF said overall it welcomed the latest amendments to the bill, but it “strongly recommends” the removal of the family enterprise exception.
As well as the exception for children working in family businesses, the bill “substantially” reduced the list of professions deemed hazardous, said UNICEF.
UNICEF said this could further disadvantage poor children, who are more likely to help in family businesses.
“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,” said Euphrates Gobina, chief of education at UNICEF India.
Family and home-based work in India is often hazardous and can include working in cotton fields, making jewellery, rolling tobacco or traditional beedi cigarettes, carpet weaving or metal work, said UNICEF.
Bidisha Pillai, advocacy director for the charity Save the Children, told the Financial Times: “You have now given manufacturers the leeway to push more manufacturing out of their factories into homes, and then say, ‘We don’t know what is going on in our supply chain’.”
UNICEF estimates there are more than 10m children currently working in India.
Although this number has been declining, there has been an uptick in child labour in urban areas, “mainly due to children migrating or being trafficked to work in hazardous small scale industries or construction sites”, said UNICEF.