As The World Ends Child Labor, India Passes Laws To Allow More

As The World Ends Child Labor, India Passes Laws To Allow More

While child labor is decreasing worldwide, India is taking firm steps to go in the other direction.

Friday was World Day Against Child Labor, where activists hoped to raise awareness of areas where children are most vulnerable to being exploited.

One of those areas activists are paying particularly close attention to is India, where certain forms of child labor were recently legalized and rates of child labor are skyrocketing in urban centers.

An estimated 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 in India are engaged in work, according to UNICEF.

Activists fear those numbers will spike even higher after an amendment passed last month loosened the restrictions on the Child Labour Prohibition Act, the country's legal framework for child labor.

The amendment permits children to work in “family enterprises” after school hours or during vacations. Such enterprises account for a large variety of jobs including helping family work in the fields and forests, domestic work, carpet weaving and matchbox making.

The amendment was designed to cultivate an “entrepreneurial spirit” among children, but advocates say it will just unravel years of progress for under-served kids while allowing business owners to benefit from cheap labor.

"All our campaigns to end bonded child labor, starting from the 1980s, will go up in smoke,” said Shamshad Khan, head of the Centre for Rural Education and Development Action “Schools will be emptied out and poor children will be back to working in sheds and makeshift factories that will all go by the nomenclature of family enterprises.”

Over 100 child activists signed a letter protesting the reform, calling it “retrogressive.”

Since 2000, global child labor has dropped by one-third, according to the ILO, but India is bucking the trend.

A recent report by Child Rights and You found a mere 2.2 percent drop over the last decade.

At that pace it will take more than a century for the country to completely eliminate the practice.

Yet in individual areas, the child labor is actually on the rise, and increased a stunning 53 percent between 2001 and 2011.

To combat the lack of progress the ILO is calling for improved access to quality education. India has been singled out for its poor education system which discourages children from wanting to attend school.

The organization is pushing for free, compulsory education for all children, until they reach the minimum age for employment. It would also like to see opportunities for children who were forced to work, thus missing out on early education.

“It is clear that the persistence of child labor remains a barrier to progress on education and development,” said the ILO. “If the problem of child labor is ignored or if laws against it are not adequately enforced, children who should be in school will remain working instead.”

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