India child labour bill amendments criticised by UN

Indian children work nearby to their parents at a construction project in front of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on January 30, 2010 in New Delhi, India. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Unicef estimates that there are 10.2 million children working in India

India has come under criticism after its parliament approved several controversial amendments to the country's child labour bill.

The new bill prohibits children under the age of 14 from working - but makes an exception for "family businesses", including extended family.

It also reduces the number of jobs 15-18 year olds are banned from doing.

The government says the law will help poor families earn a living and give children a chance to acquire skills.

However, the UN children's agency Unicef and Indian Nobel prize winner Kailash Satyarti are among those to have criticised the bill.

'Invisible labour'

Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya told parliament that the exemptions would allow the government to "practically implement" the act.

"We have enabled many safeguards in the new bill," he said.

Under current legislation, children younger than 14 are only prohibited from working in jobs that are defined as "hazardous".

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Indian government proposes younger children be allowed to work

The new bill, which is awaiting assent from President Pranab Mukherjee, will expand the ban on child labour to all sectors and increase penalties for those employing children.

But activists say that the exemption that allows children to work for family businesses after school hours and during holidays clears the way for children to be employed in industries like diamond cutting, scavenging, brick kilns, slaughterhouses or as domestic help.

"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 in a statement.

The agency estimates that there are approximately 10.2 million children working in India.

Indian Nobel peace prize winner Kailash Satyarti said the bill was a "missed opportunity" for India.

"The definition of family and family enterprises is flawed. This Bill uses Indian family values to justify economic exploitation of children. It is misleading the society by blurring the lines between learning in a family and working in a family enterprise," he said in a statement, adding that the government had failed its children once again.

More on this story